A small plate o’ University of Illinois trivia to help you pass that long Friday before the holiday break:

1. A fictional genius named Sivasubramanian Chandrasegarampillai created the HAL 9000 in Urbana. HAL went on to learn how to sing and play chess before stealing the show in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Author Arthur C. Clarke said that he gave HAL a U. of I. origin for which reason?

altgeld2. On campus, the building named for John Peter Altgeld commemorates the man elected governor in 1893. Altgeld became a major Progressive Era figure, but his term of office began inauspiciously when the Clerk of the General Assembly had to read most of his inaugural address for him for which reason?

3. George E. Morrow and Manley Miles established the original ten Morrow Plots in 1876 to study practical problems faced by farmers. Mumford Hall, the Observatory, and lawn eventually took up seven of the plots, but Numbers Three, Four, and Five remain and can claim which superlative?

[Answers below]





1. One of Clarke’s math instructors later became a professor at Illinois
2. Altgeld was sick after a post-Election Day nervous breakdown
3. It is the longest continuously farmed plot of land in North American

Lorado Taft was at the height of his powers when he created The Eternal Indian, the towering concrete statue that watches over the Rock River in Lowden State Park near Oregon. The ceremony to dedicate the statue took place on July 1, 1911, with Taft in attendance, along with other members of the Eagle’s Nest Art Colony, an institution Taft had founded thirteen years earlier. As Allen Stuart Weller wrote in his biography of Taft:

Taft had observed a reinforced concrete chimney being built at the Art Institute, and the thought came to him that he could make a reinforced concrete American Indian. In 1907, Taft interested John G. Prasuhn, a young German sculptor with engineering experience with the material. Taft created a working model six feet tall, but he decided that the finished work should be forty-two feet on a base of six feet. Prasuhn worked throughout the bitter winter and early spring of 1911 to a successful conclusion of the monumental work.

Visitors quickly dubbed the statue “Black Hawk” and still use the name today. The Sauk chief Black Hawk had led an alliance of Native American peoples in the last Indian war fought east of the Mississippi River, the Black Hawk War of 1832, and he remained a vivid figure in state lore and history. Taft, however, had crafted the work with another idea in mind:

Taft himself did not seek to accurately represent the historic Native American person named Black Hawk, but formed a generalized likeness of the American Indian—a figure at peace with the world of nature, who did not understand or participate with the acquisitiveness of the white man. In this Taft accorded with a then popular notion in American sculpture of the “noble savage,” which the scholar Timothy Garvey summarized: “the Indian has long been thought to embody the purity and nobility of natural man uncorrupted by contact with higher civilization.”

Indeed, Taft’s contemporaries found his creation profoundly moving. On July 12, 1911, Daniel H. Burnham wrote to Taft: “Since the Black Hawk was unveiled, I have been coming: I am going again tomorrow. Each day I have had it in mind to hunt you up and tell you what a deep impression the statue made on me. It is the best thing of its sort done in my day, and the sort is the highest. . . . The superb simplicity of the thing! I congratulate you from the bottom of my heart.”

By the one hundredth anniversary of the unveiling, the statue inevitably needed repairs. A nonprofit raised most of the $900,000 needed to restore The Eternal Indian, but needed a promised $350,000 grant from the state to put the project over the top. That grant, like so much else, was delayed by the state budget fight in Springfield. The conservator in charge of the restoration bowed out in May of 2016 after disputes over pay and the methods of the project’s chief engineer. Taft’s work, meanwhile, remains cocooned in scaffolding.

Often overlooked in the literature written about American families, the Smiths of Western New York nonetheless have a claim over the Rockefellers and Adamses and all the other subjects of lap-breaking tomes put out by big name biographers. The Smiths played an instrumental part in creating a religion. That’s big.

From studies of the early Latter-day Saints community in southern Illinois to the first-ever biography of the Church’s most famous cultural institution, UIP has helped to curate Mormon history for many long years. That project includes a long association with scholars dedicated to the study of the fascinating family of Joseph Smith.

bushmanJoseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, by Richard L. Bushman
It is as history that Richard L. Bushman analyzes the emergence of Mormonism in the early nineteenth century. Bushman, however, brings to his study a unique set of credentials. He is both a prize-winning historian and a faithful member of the Latter-day Saints church. For Mormons and non-Mormons alike, his book provides a very special perspective on an endlessly fascinating subject.

Building upon previous accounts and incorporating recently discovered contemporary sources, Bushman focuses on the first twenty-five years of Joseph Smith’s life, up to his move to Kirtland, Ohio, in 1831. Bushman shows how the rural Yankee culture of New England and New York–especially evangelical revivalism, Christian rationalism, and folk magic–both influenced and hindered the formation of Smith’s new religion. Mormonism, Bushman argues, must be seen not only as the product of this culture, but also as an independent creation based on the revelations of its charismatic leader. In the final analysis, it was Smith’s ability to breathe new life into the ancient sacred stories and to make a sacred story out of his own life which accounted for his own extraordinary influence. By presenting Smith and his revelations as they were viewed by the early Mormons themselves, Bushman leads us to a deeper understanding of their faith.

newell and averyMormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, second edition, by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery
When Joseph Smith who announced that an angel of the Lord had commanded him to introduce a ‘new order of marriage,’ Emma Hale Smith had to confront the practice of polygamy head on.

As the authors note in their introduction, “Early leaders in Utah castigated Emma from their pulpits for opposing Brigham Young and the practice of polygamy, and for lending support to the Reorganization. As these attitudes filtered down through the years, Emma was virtually written out of official Utah histories. In this biography, we have attempted to reconstruct the full story of this remarkable and much misunderstood woman’s experiences.”

averyFrom Mission to Madness: Last Son of the Mormon Prophet, by Valeen Tippetts Avery
Brilliant and charismatic, David Hyrum Smith was a poet, painter, singer, philosopher, naturalist, and highly effective missionary for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In this richly detailed biography, Valeen Tippetts Avery chronicles the life of the last son of Joseph Smith and his first wife, Emma. Avery draws on a large body of correspondence for details of David’s life and on his poetry to reveal his personality and emotional struggles. She tells of his mental deterioration, starting with a probable breakdown early in 1870 and ending with his death in 1904 in the Northern Illinois Hospital and Asylum for the Insane in Elgin, where he had been confined for twenty-seven years.

SicaF15Emanuele Sica is professor of history at the Royal Military College of Canada. He answered some questions about his book Mussolini’s Army in the French Riviera: Italy’s Occupation of France.

Q: Was the occupation of the French Riviera in World War Two a “friendly” one?

Emanuele Sica: I would not categorize it as friendly, as we have to remember that any military occupation, particularly in the Second World War, is an intrusion in the everyday life of the local population. And that was the case too of the Italian occupation of France: curfews were enforced, troops were billeted in public buildings such as schools or French military barracks and officers in private houses, there were occasional round-ups of civilians. What I posit is that the Italian occupation, as opposed to the Italian one in the Balkans or the German one in southeastern France in 1944, never degraded into wanton violence and atrocities. This relative moderation stemmed from the conflation of two factors: the war contingency which humbled Italian commanders in seeking accommodation with the local populace and the cultural proximity between occupiers and occupied. Continue reading

GreenWorldofWorkerLate last week the eminent labor historian James Green died at age 71. Known most recently for his The Devil Is Here in These Hills, a portrait of West Virginia coal miners that became part of an American Experience documentary, Green changed the field with his pioneering book The World of the Worker. That book remains an essential text in labor history, a social history of twentieth century labor published when that was a bold idea and, as such, a book that opened up areas of inquiry today’s readers and students take for granted.

Historians appreciated Green’s knowledge, analysis, and capacity of research. But Green also had a wider readership, thanks in large part to his wonderful qualities as a writer. His most famous book, Death in the Haymarket, demonstrates how he could meld that gift to the rigorous side of working in academic scholarship, while his Taking History to Heart featured his ability to work his own life story into what he made his life’s work.

MMSF logo facebookThe Locus Science Fiction Foundation announced the winners of the 2016 Locus Awards on Saturday, June 25, 2016 in Seattle WA.

Some fantastic books were honored including Letters to Tiptree, edited by Alisa Krasnostein & Alexandra Pierce (Twelfth Planet), which took home top honor for a non-fiction book.

Also nominated in the Non-Fiction category were three books in the University of Illinois Press Modern Masters of Science Fiction series.

The Locus Awards were chosen by a survey of readers in an online poll that ran from February 1 to April 15, 2016.



union league smallerIn 1862, as the Civil War raged and a Confederate victory seemed quite possible, many of the tensions unleashed by the war found a stage in Pekin. There, on June 25, a group of pro-Union men organized the Union League. This organization, dedicated to the Union and abolition, met secretly on that June day, in part because the pro-slavery, secessionist Knights of the Golden Circle had embarked on an intimidation campaign in the town.

Like many central Illinois towns, Pekin had for a long time leaned pro-slavery. Yet the town also (secretly) was home to Daniel Cheever, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, as well as other abolitionists, and an influx of freedom-minded German immigrants in the 1850s had slowly brought the forces of slavery and abolition into something more approaching balance.

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The pride of Big Spraddle Creek, Virginia, or somewhere close to it, Ralph Stanley was performing at age eleven and still going strong at age 89. “His voice sounds like it has been here since time began,” said bluegrass musician Eric Gibson, a sentiment that echoed across the music world this morning as we received word of Stanley’s death from skin cancer.

Forming the Stanley Brothers with his sibling Carter Stanley, Ralph played a part in a string of iconic bluegrass recordings that both grew and defined the genre. The pair endured downturns in their fortunes—a mid-Fifties lull even forced them to take jobs at an auto plant in Michigan—and moved from Mercury Records, site of many of their greatest records, to Cincinnati-based King, there to become unlikely label mates with James Brown. When Carter died in 1966, Ralph took stock and decided to soldier on.

“I pulled myself up,” he wrote later, “and I made up my mind that music was all I could do, all I ever was meant to do, and I was going to do it.”

The roots music revival in the 1990s brought him new notice, and he saw a new peak when the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou? featured his “O Death” on its multimillion-selling soundtrack. Endless accolades followed him across the new century, as did audiences. Bluegrass historian Gary B. Reid noted in his award-winning The Music of the Stanley Brothers:

After the death of Carter Stanley, esteem for the duo continued to rise, and their music is more popular today than it was during their brief time together. They have been the subject of several comprehensive boxed-set reissue projects, and the Barter Theatre, the State Theatre of Virginia, presented a well-received theatrical portrayal of their lives in a play called Man of Constant Sorrow. Carter and Ralph Stanley are members of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Hall of Honor (renamed Hall of Fame in 2007). The duo’s popularity received its biggest boost with the inclusion of their music in the soundtrack of the runaway movie success O Brother, Where Art Thou? Ralph Stanley has maintained a successful forty-plus-year solo career that includes multiple Grammy awards, congressional and presidential honors, the erection of a state-of-the-art museum in his hometown of Clintwood, Virginia, and countless awards from music and civic organizations.

The month of June brings countless pleasures to the Midwest. Few exceed the overwhelming presence of fresh produce at semi-affordable prices. At last, we can put aside the beyond-tired apples and oranges of the cold months to exult in ripe apricots, peaches, nectarines, cherries, and -berries, you fill in the prefix of your choice.

As scurvy gives way to jogging and gray skin to a healthy pink/fiery red, the University of Illinois Press offers a sprawling marketplace of newly-picked fresh titles.

maclachlanFarmers’ Markets of the Heartland, by Janine MacLachlan
This must-have resource celebrates the growers, producers, and artisans who bring fresh, nourishing food to their local communities every week. Food writer and self-described farm groupie Janine MacLachlan embarks on an extensive tour of seasonal markets and farmstands throughout the Midwest, sampling local flavors and colors from Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

MacLachlan meets farmers, tastes their food, and explores how their businesses thrive in the face of an industrial food supply. Finding farmers’ markets in leafy parks and edgy neighborhoods, and even one nestled into a national park, MacLachlan tells the stories of a pair of farmers growing specialty crops on a few acres of northern Michigan for just a few months out of the year, an Ohio cattle farm that has raised heritage beef in the same family since 1820, and a Minnesota farmer who has made it her mission to get folks growing the Jimmy Nardello sweet Italian frying pepper. Along the way, she savors vibrant red carrots, slurpy peaches, vast quantities of specialty cheeses, and some of the tastiest pie to cross anyone’s lips.

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solomonWe live in an age when Iggy Pop adorns groovy travel bags and makes the scene at Cannes to support a Jim Jarmusch documentary about his iconic band the Stooges. Punk conquered the world long ago, thankfully, and if it failed to transform that world quite as much as one might like, well, we nonetheless bask in its joyous noise, its liberating attitudes, its boldly spoken dislike of our so-called betters and the world those %(&*#@@! chose to create.

William Solomon sees Iggy as part of a noble line that began long ago in the slapstick of another age. His new book Slapstick Modernism: Chaplin to Kerouac to Iggy Pop explores how it all happened.

Slapstick comedy landed like a pie in the face of twentieth-century culture. Pratfalls and nyuk-nyuks percolated alongside literary modernism throughout the 1920s and 1930s before slapstick found explosive expression in postwar literature, experimental film, and popular music.

Solomon charts the origins and evolution of slapstick modernism, that potent merging of artistic experimentation with the socially disruptive lunacy made by the likes of Charlie Chaplin. Romping through texts, films, and theory, Solomon embarks on a harum-scarum intellectual odyssey from high modernism to the late modernism of the Beats and Burroughs before a head-on crash into the raw power of punk rock. Throughout, he shows the links between the experimental writers and silent screen performers of the early century, and explores the potent cultural undertaking that drew inspiration from anarchical comedy after World War Two. For example:

…Depression-era reports of the death of comically affective zaniness turned out to be premature given what happened in the United States and elsewhere in the world in the 1950s and ’60s. A final return to Lester Bangs on the Stooges helps underscore the socially beneficial promise of such appeals to slapstick lunacy. For Bangs, the group’s music functioned as a dialectical remedy for contemporary ills, or at least was intended to serve as a homeopathic treatment for the “sickness in our new, amorphous institutions”.

Admittedly, aspects of the band’s music exhibit “a crazed quaking uncertainty, an errant foolishness that effectively mirrors the absurdity and desperation of the times,” but it nevertheless carries “a strong element of cure, a post-derangement sanity.” The Stooges return to the exhausted masses their exploited energies, in effect recharging them: “Power doesn’t go to the people, it comes from them, and when the people have gotten this passive, nothing short of electroshock and personal exorcism will jolt them and rock them into some kind of healthy interaction”. The Stooges work deftly within the “seemingly circumscribed confines of this fuzz-feedback territory” to reenergize their audience. The “‘mindless’ rhythmic pulsation repeating itself to infinity” that they produce is a key element of “one of the most powerful esthetic experiences of our time”. Putting on stage “the secret core of sickness” we all share, the band poses a threat, albeit one that “is cathartic.”

The final goal is freedom: “the end is liberation”. For Bangs, then, the group’s raucous music had a restorative thrust, was designed to function as a remedy for modern maladies. On the basis of their curative aspirations, the Stooges’ “super-modern” intervention merits high praise, though “you better never call it art or you may wind up with a deluxe pie in the face”.