lewisA few months ago, a friend and I discussed one of those pop culture questions that go just right with a pint of beer. Which living celebrity has been famous for the longest period of time?

We quickly altered the rules to celebrities who have actually achieved something other than being born; this caveat eliminated royalty (Queen Elizabeth II, known around the world since her childhood in the 1920s-30s) and the children of now-deceased celebrities (for instance Isabella Rossellini, famous long before she became a model-actress thanks to her mother being Ingrid Bergman).

Mickey Rooney, long the hands-down reigning champ, had already died by the time of our conversation. The best we could do initially for a date-to-beat was 1949, when Kirk Douglas made the film Champion and received a nomination for Best Actor. Hockey icon Gordie Howe then trumped Douglas, as in 1948 Mr. Hockey began to make waves for the Detroit Red Wings. Baseball star Yogi Berra, though debuting a year earlier, really gained fame as an All-Star catcher in ’48. Continue reading

June 1, 2015, is the next application deadline for the NWSA/University of Illinois Press First Book Prize.

From the NWSA press release:
The National Women’s Studies Association and the University of Illinois Press are pleased to announce a competition for the best dissertation or first book manuscript by a single author in the field of women’s and gender studies. Applicants must be National Women’s Studies Association members.

Possible topics may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Activism
  • Coloniality, postcoloniality and neo-imperialism
  • Cultural production (media, film, music, literature)
  • Feminist knowledge production
  • Feminist pedagogy
  • Feminist politics
  • Feminist science and environmental studies
  • Feminist theory
  • Gender and disability
  • Gender and globalization
  • Gender and labor practices
  • Gender and militarism
  • Gender and queer sexuality
  • Gender and violence
  • Gendered experiences of people of color
  • Girls studies
  • Global and transnational feminisms
  • Institutions and public policies
  • Intersectionality
  • Theories and practices of coalition
  • Transgender studies
  • Women of color feminisms

If a winner of the competition is selected, he or she will receive a publication contract with the University of Illinois Press and a $1,000 advance.

The 2014 winner of the Book Prize was Ethel Tungohan, the Grant Notley Postdoctoral Research Fellow in political science at the University of Alberta. Tungoham won for her project, “Migrant Care Worker Activism in Canada.”

Previous winners include Erica Lorraine Williams’ Sex Tourism in Bahia: Ambiguous Entanglements (published 2013), Sophie Richter-Devroe’s manuscript How Women Do Politics: Peacebuilding, Resistance, and Survival in Palestine, and Christina Holmes’ Ecological Borderlands: Decolonizing Body, Nature, and Spirit in Chicana Feminist Praxis.

parry-gilesSome would say Hillary Clinton makes news. But in the national mind it sometimes seems that Hillary Clinton is news, its very personification, an irresistible-to-media hybrid of politico, symbol, and celebrity sentenced to have every action scrutinized and elaborated upon to a degree virtually unheard-of for a sitting politician, let alone one who, like Clinton, currently lacks a job.

Has it always been thus? In Hillary Clinton in the News, Shawn J. Parry-Giles ventures into  the past to reveal that, oh yeah, it’s always been thus. Since Clinton first acquired a national profile in 1992, the media has cast her in roles with enough variety to challenge Meryl Streep: surrogate campaigner, legislative advocate, financial investor, international emissary, scorned wife, senator, political candidate, Secretary of State, and (at present) presumptive presidential candidate. Whatever your thoughts on what’s happening with this email business, the unbridled amount of coverage is nothing new. Nor is the fact that questions surrounding authenticity and gender unleash a certain kind of frenzy in those providing the coverage:

Members of the press could hardly stand the anticipation of getting Hillary Clinton into the political arena. The excitement ultimately produced some rather bizarre metaphors. Chris Bury from Nightline used “catnip” references to mark the buildup to a Clinton-Giuliani race: “a matchup between Mrs. Clinton and New York Mayor Giuliani is pure catnip for politicians and pundits desperate for a post-impeachment fix.” Resorting to salivation language, Chris Wallace of ABC’s Nightline noted that the New York press was “already salivating over the prospect” of a Clinton campaign. Also staying with a food motif, James Carville, appearing on NBC Nightly News, talked of how the New York press was “licking their chops” for such a dream campaign. The most hyperbolic reference came in the form of a sexualized (and masculine) metaphor used by Jack Newfield of the New York Post, when he suggested on Nightline that Clinton’s entrance into the Senate race “would be Viagra for the media.”

These linguistic references associated with an impending campaign of a political woman ranged from insatiable sensations of hunger and pharmaceutically induced sexual arousal to plant-induced stimulations in cats. These metaphors alone showed the confusion journalists faced in comprehending Clinton’s senatorial run. The reference to Viagra in particular reinforced the ongoing masculinization and sexualization of the political sphere for women.

ehrlich and saltzmanIn a century-plus of popular culture, journalists have appeared as cynical scandalmongers, noble crusaders, nicotine-soaked cynics, and the mild-mannered alter egos of super-powered Kryptonians.

The latest UIP debut Heroes and Scoundrels covers the whole waterfront of newspersons depicted in our pop entertainment. Matthew C. Ehrlich (Journalism in the Movies) and Joe Saltzman (proprietor of the web site The Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture) creatively wield media artifacts to lead thought-provoking forays into fundamental issues like how pop culture mythologizes and demythologizes key events in journalism history, how portrayals of journalists influence our thinking on what they do, and how the entertainment industry’s treatment of the Fourth Estate deals with issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation on the job. It’s multidisciplinary. It’s insightful. It’s excellent inspiration for your Netflix queue:

On Mikael Blomkvist:[A]lthough Blomkvist is scrupulous in documenting his reporting, he makes no effort to be neutral, much as his creator Stieg Larsson eschewed neutrality in his own journalism aimed at exposing right-wing extremism in Sweden. “For Blomkvist, the golden rule of journalism was that there were always people who were responsible,” wrote Larsson. “The bad guys.” Investigative journalism commonly tells tales of guilty villains wronging innocent victims, and it has been criticized for focusing too much on individual malfeasance as opposed to systemic failings and for fostering corrosive cynicism. Blomkvist does not escape such criticisms entirely; his own cynicism is such that he refuses to vote and believes that every corporate executive is a “cretin.” But his dedication to justice is genuine: “A managing director who plays shell company games should do time. A slum landlord who forces young people to pay through the nose and under the table for a one-room apartment with shared toilet should be hung out to dry.”

Continue reading

GradelS15Political corruption isn’t just about under-the-table dealings. A major factor that contributes to a system that many see as broken in the state of Illinois and throughout the country is a culture of patronage that, although obfuscated, is perfectly legal.

Campaign contributions pay for more than a few amenities enjoyed by politicians without breaking any laws. What do the contributors get for their investment?

As Corrupt Illinois co-author Thomas Gradel told WBBM Chicago political editor Craig Dellimore, “The only thing that distinguishes campaign money from out and out bribes, is that it’s legal.”

The real distinction is that political contributors can’t openly ask for favors in return for the generous donations. Yet the unspoken message is often one of quid-pro-quo.

“It’s very obvious when you look at the track record,” Gradel says, citing reporting from the State Journal Register that is quoted in Corrupt Illinois. “40 percent of the people who contributed to the Governor’s campaign in the period they were covering got state contracts.”

Listen to the full interview here:


Digital Depression author Dan Schiller is a professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science and the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In light of the recent FCC ruling on net neutrality, Schiller weighs in on the economic re-composition that continues since the boom of information and communications technologies.

SchillerF14Late in February, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission reclassified broadband Internet service to place it within its Title II Telecommunications rules. This vital decision resonates with my discussion in Digital Depression: Information Technology and Economic Crisis.

The legal rationale for treating broadband as a public utility-type common carrier is straightforward: some industries perform such a widely essential function that a referee is needed, to ensure that they live up to their “duty to serve”—neither discriminating against nor gouging their users. Broadband Internet service unquestionably falls into this category. Not only has the Internet become an essential service throughout daily life, and for the conduct of commerce and politics. It also is used today by many more subscribers, proportionately, than was the telephone when the telephone was made subject to common carrier regulation many decades ago. Continue reading

Smith_CreolizationF13The Creolization of American Culture: William Sidney Mount and the Roots of Blackface Minstrelsy by Christopher J. Smith has been awarded the Irving Lowens Book Award by the Society for American Music (SAM).

The SAM award committee had this statement upon the announcement of the honor:

[The Creolization of American Culture] comfortably disrupts our contextual understanding of minstrelsy and the points of cultural transference between black and white musicians in nineteenth-century America. Significantly, [Smith] employs the term creolization, the mixture of cultures, instead of insisting on the equal-but-separate racial paradigm, while always giving agency to African-Caribbean-American musicians. The book combines a careful critical overview of the existing literature on minstrelsy, close analysis of a wide variety of historical sources (especially of works of visual art), and a thorough knowledge of musical style and performance techniques to provide a persuasive demonstration that early minstrel culture created a vernacular style rooted in the working class, a style that integrated Anglo-Celtic and Afro-Caribbean practices into an original synthesis.

A paperback edition of The Creolization of American Culture was released in the fall.

You can read an interview about the book with author Christopher J. Smith here.


ClampittS15Food historian and travel writer Cynthia Clampitt recently answered some questions about her book Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland.

Q: What was the importance of corn to Native Americas before European contact?

Cynthia Clampitt: To a certain degree, it had an importance similar to what it has had for Europeans. It made it possible for fewer people to raise more food. Plus women and even children could do the work, particularly harvesting. In most cases, that meant the ability to support large cities and expand empires. It enabled the Maya to pursue astronomy and mathematics. A thousand years ago, Cahokia, along the Mississippi River, was one of the largest cities in the world. The great empires of the Americas all depended on corn. In the Roman Empire, it took 19 rural workers to support one resident of the city of Rome. In the Americas, corn reversed that ratio.

Q: Biologically, what makes corn suited to growing in so many different environments?

Clampitt: Nothing else hybridizes as easily as corn. I’m not speaking of the intentional hybridizing of the last century, but simply the fact that corn produces huge amounts of pollen, all of it scattered by the wind—nothing so precise as an insect or bird—so a stand of corn was always being pollinated by any other corn in the neighborhood. Corn also mutates easily. Native Americans took huge advantage of these traits, and by the time Europeans first appeared, there were more than 200 varieties of corn that had been either developed or identified, nurtured, and crossbred by Native Americans. Continue reading

Locomotive to Aeromotive coverWhen aviation pioneer Octave Chanute died in 1910, no one could have dreamed that man would not only conquer the air, but venture into outer space. Five years after Chanute’s death the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA, was formed. The organization was the precursor to today’s NASA.

On March 3rd, 2015, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum and the NASA History Program Office hosted a special symposium to commemorate a century of aerospace research and development.

NASA Chief Historian William P. Barry moderated a discussion on the history of aviation with UIP author Simine Short alongside Tom D. Crouch of the National Air and Space Museum and Laurence Burke of Carnegie Mellon University.

Aviation historian Simine Short’s book Locomotive to Aeromotive details the life and his immeasurable contributions of Chanute to engineering and transportation.

“Back then farming was people,” says Alan Guebert.

Guebert has written about agribusiness issues in “The Farm and Food File” since 1993. But the syndicated columnist notes that he would always get the greatest reader response from the times he’d write about his youth on a southern Illinois dairy farm.

Those experiences of “living the good life at 50 cents an hour” are chronicled in The Land of Milk and Uncle Honey. In the book Guebert, remembers the people that made the farm what it was, like Jackie the farmhand and his gentle and kind, yet destructive, Uncle Honey.

Alan Guebert talks about Uncle Honey and the roots of his book in this video: