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”.

 

Lizzie Andrew Borden stood trial in New Bedford, Massachusetts, for the ax murders of her father and stepmother. This first of many American trials of the century began on June 5, 1893. Lurid details included allegations of poison and rotten mutton, an ax head of dubious suspicion, and the accused fainting at the sight of the Bordens’ skulls when the prosecution presented them as evidence. On June 20, it took the jury ninety minutes to acquit Lizzie. She went on to live a relatively quiet, if ostracized, life in Fall River, Massachusetts, before pop culture appropriated her name and/or life for an opera, a heavy metal band, and countless TV shows and movies.

carlsonIn The Crimes of Womanhood, A. Cheree Carlson places Lizzie beside Mary Todd Lincoln, Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard, and other women to study the powerful influence ideas of femininity brought to courtrooms in the nineteenth- and early twentieth century. It’s an innovative study, one that clearly shows how women had to walk a very narrow line, since the same womanly virtues that were expected of them—passivity, frailty, and purity—could be turned against them at any time. Carlson shows how these riveting trials reflected the attitudes of their broad audiences, indicating which forms of knowledge are easily manipulated and allowing us to analyze how the public and press argued about the verdict.

Whatever happened to love? If you think there’s not enough of it in this old world, don’t blame Barry Manilow.

Born on this day in 1943, he arrived on an ethereal wave of catchy melodies and superb orchestration before learning his trade as a prodigious child musician. Music turned psychedelic and funky in the late Sixties but Manilow—neither psychedelic nor funky—paid the bills as one of the top jinglemeisters in show business. In addition to singing in many ads, he gave us the immortal soundtracks to product pitches for State Farm and Band Aids. The early Seventies turn to singer-songwriters provided him with an opening and he further honed his chops playing piano in a bathhouse, dazzling those demanding shvitzers while he played the keys and arranged the band for Bette Midler during her saucy Seventies phase. His profile rose until his hit “Mandy” put Manilow on the charts and in our hearts, where he remains.

Barry wrote the songs. But he’s not the only one.

In recent times the UI Press has published lavishly on Manilow’s siblings in musical creation. The Man That Got Away traces the life and music of Harold Arlen, composer of classics like “Over the Rainbow” and “Stormy Weather,” and a man who met and worked with next to everyone. Next month we will send to stores A Cole Porter Companion, a look at many facets of the pop genius who gave us “I Get a Kick Out of You” and made possible a clutch of essential albums by Ella and Sinatra. Henry Mancini, like Manilow a man who worked fascinating corners of our pop culture, gets a first-ever full-book treatment by John Caps in Henry Mancini: Making Film Music.

You can own all these books. Could it be magic, you ask? No, my friends, just publishing, the UIP way.

Ninety-eight years ago, the founders of the University of Illinois Press considered its mission. Academics will disagree, of course. Debates raged. Memos were strongly worded.

But it all worked out in the end. The founders thankfully put aside any temptation to publish research on, say, deep water diving, a sport that in Illinois is usually associated with certain organized crime figures—the ones on the outs, as they say in the (family) business. Instead they created an institution known today for its commitment to music, labor history, cutting-edge feminism—and, of course, the history of the Land of Lincoln, with its rivers gently flowing and its prairies verdant growing.

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