For the first time in his 30 year career, singer, parodist and accordionist “Weird Al” Yankovic has a #1 slot on the Billboard charts with his album Mandatory Fun.

What’s more, Al’s accordion-driven single “NOW That’s What I Call Polka!” has topped the Spotify Viral Chart in seven countries.

In Squeeze This! A Cultural History of the Accordion in America, Marion Jacobson tracks the uniquely American musical and cultural phenomenon of the accordion.

In the chapter titled “New Main Squeeze: Repositioning the Accordion in the Music Industry,” Jacobson writes of Weird Al’s “self-conscious” embrace of the squeezebox.

Weird Al (no relation to Frankie Yankovic the Polka King) and his flat, inexpressive style of accordion playing subverted this listener’s expectations of exaggerated virtuosity (“accordions can rock, too!”) or deliberately bad playing (“see how schlocky!”). What is Weird Al doing to/with the accordion? The answer to this question offers much insight into this chapter’s discussion, raising key moral and aesthetic issues. The accordion is present not as an object of parody but as the subject–an accomplice to Weird Al’s explicit attack on the popular music industry’s banality and endless repetitions of mediocre musical formulae (note the song title “It’s Just Billy Joel to Me”).


Julian Hawthorne hustled. An independent contractor par excellence, the son of Nathaniel Hawthorne reported on foreign wars and domestic politics, published novels, penned short stories, dreamt up theosophist blarney, raked muck, churned out ad copy, and wrote whatever else was necessary to support a wife, a mistress, and a bunch of little Hawthornes. Had he lived in 2014 he might’ve even lowered himself to blogging.

Dismissed as a prodigal son, an underachiever, a promising young writer gone bad—his own biographer, Gary Scharnhorst, calls him The Hack—Julian Hawthorne made a modest but noteworthy contribution to genre fiction. Archibald Malmaison, a suspense novel of amnesia and premature burial, earned praise from Wilkie Collins, while the Nation said, “The nervous should be warned off.”

The pulse-pounding conclusion:

She was kneeling with her face bowed forward on her arms, which rested on the seat of one of the low chairs. Her attitude was that of passionate prayer. Her thick brown hair was unfastened, and fell over her shoulders.

She made no movement. It was strange! Was she praying? Could she be asleep? Continue reading

Erica Lorraine Williams visited the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University to discuss her book Sex Tourism in Bahia: Ambiguous Entanglements.

In her talk, Williams examines the impact of Brazil’s tourism department using Black sexuality to promote their nation as a paradise of escape.  The author discusses how Afro-Brazilian women are viewed and treated in light of this marketing.

Peter Fritzsche is W.D. and Sara E. Trowbridge Professor of History at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and author of Life and Death in the Third Reich and many other books. He translated, from German, the Kalshoven family letters that comprise Between Two Homelands and he also wrote the Preface to the book.

Q: How did you come to be associated with Hedda Kalshoven, who assembled her family’s letters for this book?

Peter Fritzsche: I had used the German edition of the letters for my two books on National Socialism, GERMANS INTO NAZIS (1998) and LIFE AND DEATH IN THE THIRD REICH (2008), which Hedda noticed. She then got into email contact with me, told me about the newly discovered diary, and we decided to try and sell the project to American university presses to reach an English-speaking audience. This is probably the most important primary source on the motives and notions of non-Jewish Germans who were sympathetic to the Nazis. It is especially important because of the large cast of characters, the internal tensions, and the long time period of correspondence. Continue reading

Social activist and influential executive secretary of the National Urban League Eugene Kinckle Jones was born on July 30, 1885.

Felix L. Armfield‘s biography Eugene Kinckle Jones: The National Urban League and Black Social Work, 1910-1940 details the life an impact of this important agent for black social change in the early twentieth century.

In a January, 2012 Q&A with the Press, the late author pointed out some of the achievements of Eugene Kinckle Jones.

“While serving as the executive secretary of the National Urban League, worked to secure adequate jobs and housing for newly arriving southern black migrants to the often urban north,” Armfield noted. “In addition to jobs and housing, Jones continually worked with industry to make sure that sufficient job opportunities were made available to urban black people from 1916 to 1940.”









The Upper Mississippi River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge stretches for 261 river miles from Cordova, Illinois to the mouth of Wisconsin’s Chippewa River.

Dozens of bird species can be spotted at the Refuge, especially during migratory season. Perhaps most notable is that the the Refuge is a good place to spot bald eagles. Each winter large numbers of eagles fish in the partially frozen rivers and streams.

Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge is featured in Exploring Nature in Illinois: A Field Guide to the Prairie StateThroughout the book naturalists Michael Jeffords and Susan Post invite you to discover fifty preserves, forests, restoration areas, and parks in the Land of Lincoln.

Each Wednesday we’ll preview some of the unexpected beauty of Illinois’s prairies, lakesides, river bottoms, and woodlands found within the book. . . . just in time for you to plan a weekend trip.

You’ll find maps and descriptions of these wild places in Illinois, including many hard-to-find sites, within the pages of the book.

Darlene Clark Hine, co-editor of The New Black Studies Series, has been awarded with the 2013 National Humanities Medal.

President Barack Obama presented the award to Hine at the White House on Monday, July 28. She is one of 10 recipients of the award.

The National Humanities Medal honors individuals honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities and broadened our citizens’ engagement with history, literature, languages, philosophy, and other humanities subjects.

Hine is a leading historian of the African-American experience and is Board of Trustees Professor of African American Studies and Professor of History at Northwestern University. Her other UIP projects include The Black Chicago Renaissance and Black Europe and the African Diaspora.


José Ángel N. is an undocumented immigrant who lives in Chicago. In his memoir Illegal: Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant, José Ángel writes of his own journey from Mexico to find a new life in America.

The crisis of thousands of unaccompanied children arriving at the Texas border has again brought the issue of undocumented immigrants to the political forefront (and to tv and radio talk shows). However, much of the public debate has been conducted by elected officials and pundits and very few of the voices heard have been from the undocumented individuals who will be most affected by immigration reform.

In light of these issues, José Ángel N. has written an open letter to President Barack Obama, which has been published online at and El Beisman and

Dear President Obama,

I know you will probably never read this letter. But, as a good Mexican, I’ve been taught to expect disappointment in advance, so there is no harm in trying.

My name is José Ángel N., and I am an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. I have lived in Chicago most of my life, and the night you were elected U.S. President I watched with my face pressed against a chain-link fence as you delivered an impassioned speech at Grant Park.

I come from Guadalajara, a city that you visited during your first official trip to Mexico as President. What did you think of my city, by the way? I have not been home in two long decades, so your memory of it is more current than mine.

Like most people, I came to the United States because I heard that people here had a chance to start over. Actually, I didn’t hear that. The news of the riches of our neighbor to the north reached me in the form of shiny cars, designer clothes, flashy shoes, and impressive electronic gadgets that people in my neighborhood brought back with them when they returned from the United States. My knowledge of America was strictly empirical. That was not, incidentally, a word I knew when I first left Mexico at 19 years of age. I learned it first in English here in Chicago when I was almost 30 years old, during my freshman year in college. And only years later did I learn its Spanish equivalent, empírico, with its ostentatious accent mark on the second syllable, which gives the word a nice rounded sound, like a bubble that first bursts in your mouth and then closes gently. . . .

Read the rest of the letter here: An Open Letter to President Obama


Robert G. La France, co-editor of Lorado Taft: The Chicago Years, talks about the life and work of the influential sculptor in this video.

In the book trailer, La France, former Curator of Pre-Modern Art at Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois Urbana campus, shows off some of the museum’s Taft collection.



On July 26, 1971 the Apollo 15 mission lifted off from Kennedy Space Center with a mission to explore Earth’s moon.

Four days later, on July 30, 1971 Lunar Module landed on lunar surface. During the mission astronauts David Scott and James Irwin honored Ray Bradbury by naming an impact crater Dandelion Crater, after the author’s classic 1957 novel Dandelion Wine.

It was a tribute to a longtime supporter of their dream and their mission. Through speeches, interviews, and articles for Life magazine, Ray Bradbury spent the 1960s as one of the most enthusiastic public proponents of space exploration in general and the Apollo program in particular. To him, the race to the moon meant nothing less than a necessary step in the evolution of the human race.

When Apollo 11 made its historic landing on the lunar surface in 1969, Bradbury was in London taking his usual summer holiday with his family. He nonetheless found reporter Mike Wallace and did an interview broadcast via tape delay by CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite at NASA Houston. As Jonathan Eller notes in the forthcoming UIP book Ray Bradbury Unbound:

Bradbury presented space exploration as the great moral substitute for war: “War is a great toy to play with. Men and boys love war . . . let us eliminate war because the proper enemy is before us. All of the universe doesn’t care whether we exist or not, but we care whether we exist . . . this is the proper war to fight.”

There was no scientific introspection here; Bradbury was not capable of it, and never pretended to be. But Walter Cronkite’s live studio audience at NASA Houston burst into applause for the final words of the writer who still listened to the whispers of the boy within.