Wilson&DavisF08On August 21, 1858 upstart challenger Abraham Lincoln entered into the first of seven debates with incumbent Senator Stephen Douglas in Ottawa, Illinois.

Lincoln was challenging Douglas to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate. The now-famous Lincoln-Douglas debates didn’t propel Lincoln to victory, but the engagement over the issue of slavery and the looming impact of the policy of human bondage captured nationwide attention.

Today we look upon the duel as a clash of titans. Not so in 1858. The Illinois electorate considered Douglas as the great man of his state. As Rodney O. Davis and Douglas L. Wilson note in their introduction to the debates, even Lincoln understood his place in the second rank. In 1856, the future president wrote of his longtime rivalry with Douglas. “With me,” he said, “the race of ambition has been a failure–a flat failure; with him it has been one of splendid success.”

Douglas had indeed earned the nickname of the Little Giant. A Senate powerhouse, he had authored the Kansas-Nebraska Act, not out of any deference to slavery, but to facilitate railroad routes to the Pacific Ocean that ran, as it so happened, from Chicago. The Act opened up the possibility of slavery in two new territories. The Republican Party, already an ardent foe of Douglas, gained votes and popularity as Kansas devolved into “Bleeding Kansas,” a running battle of violence and fraud between proslavery forces and the Free State Kansans. A combination of political chicanery and Free Stater boycotts allowed a proslavery minority government in Lecompton, Kansas’s territorial capital, to issue a constitution that allowed Kansas to retain slavery.

Yet Douglas, with the savvy of a professional politician, broke ranks with the rest of the Democratic Party and opposed the Lecompton Constitution.

He vowed to senatorial colleagues that “if this constitution is to be forced down our throats, in violation of the fundamental principle of free government, under a mode of submission that is a mockery and an insult, I will resist it to the last.”. . . . Looking at his prospects in the campaigns of 1858 and 1860, and remembering how he had misread the political signs before promoting the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Douglas had to take the position that would be most acceptable in Illinois and in the North generally.

In taking the position, he allied himself with Republican opinion, and threatened to split their caucus.

It was as an underdog that Lincoln approached Douglas:

with regard to “an arrangement for you and myself to divide time, and address the same audiences during the present canvass.” Within a week they were in agreement that a series of seven debates should take place between them at central points within each congressional district in which they had not previously made major speeches. Douglas, as the challenged party, was also able to insist that Lincoln only meet him “at the times specified,” to which Lincoln acquiesced.

With that, the stage was set.

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates, The Lincoln Studies Center Edition, edited by Rodney O. Davis and Douglas L. Wilson is now available in paperback.

fox_coverfinalThe release of the film Get On Up in early August rekindled interest in the life and music of James Brown. One of the most staggeringly influential entertainers in American culture, a man for whom we need to invent a new grunting and huhn-ing language with terms that go beyond legend and icon, Brown began his fifty-some year recording career on King Records.

The Cincinnati-based indie label specialized in unearthing genius in out-of-the-way places (and music forms). But company owner Syd Nathan (played by Fred Melamed in the film) never topped James Brown. Arguably, nothing ever topped James Brown. “He took the heavy funk into America’s living rooms,” Jon Hartley Fox tells us in his new paperback edition of King of Queen City: The Story of King Records. The man deserved Nobel Prize for that alone!

Brown enjoyed his first hit with “Please, Please, Please,” a song Nathan hated, and then released nine straight duds. Brown faced being dropped from the label when he presented Nathan with “Try Me.” As Fox tells it:

Brown had thoroughly road-tested his original song and knew that it had caused pandemonium at his shows. Nathan rejected it out of hand. “I’m not spending my money on that garbage,” he told Brown, who offered to pay for the session himself. Brown booked the studio time and musicians and cut the song. Nathan still hated it, said it “didn’t make sense,” and he didn’t want it for his company. So Brown took the tape with him…

Brown then had a few copies of the record pressed and took them around to the disc jockeys he knew. When WLAC started playing it, the orders flooded into King—for a record that didn’t exist. Nathan held firm until the orders represented 20,000 records. He then called Brown and said, “Well, James, I’ve decided to give the song a try.” Brown thanked him, but insisted on re-recording the song. On Nathan’s dime this time.

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Cheryl Janifer LaRoche‘s book, Free Black Communities and the Underground Railroad, examines the “geography of resistance” and tells the powerful and inspiring story of African Americans ensuring their own liberation in the midst of oppression.

LaRoche shows how landscape features, such as waterways, iron forges, and caves, played a key role in the conduct and effectiveness of the Underground Railroad. LaRoche focuses on free African American communities and the crucial help they provided to individuals fleeing slavery, and the terrain where those flights to freedom occurred. Outstanding among them was Boston’s powerful community on the north slope of Beacon Hill, considered the nexus of the abolitionist movement.

The author visited Boston to discuss the book at the African American Meeting House. A video was archived by the WBGH Boston Forum.




HicksHippydom’s high holy day, August 15, marks the anniversary of those three days of peace, love, and mud known as Woodstock. Those who care about the iconic rock festival know that Joan Baez performed while pregnant, Pete Townshend brained Abbie Hoffman with a guitar, and Jimi Hendrix closed out the concert in the early morning sunshine of the fourth day. Hendrix gave the exhausted thousands before him an unusual sight: he played an encore, quite a rarity in his career.

In Sixties Rock: Garage, Psychedelic, and Other Satisfactions, Michael Hicks delves into the history of “Hey, Joe,” the song Hendrix performed as his encore:

In January, 1962, William Moses Roberts Jr. copyrighted yet another song entitled “Hey Joe.” This song, however, rejected the lightheartedness of earlier “Hey Joe” songs. A crime ballad with a question-answer format, Roberts’s song dwelt on jealousy and retribution. . . .

Several things about this “Hey Joe” have led people to question whether Roberts really wrote it. Because it draws on so many well-established song conventions, the song seems considerably older than the date of copyright. In his most fanciful account, Roberts claims that the words came to him as he walked with a young woman on an East Coast beach. He wrote the words in the sand, but, of course, the tide washed them away. It was also the last time he saw the woman, his only witness to the occasion.

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ShortF11Simine Short is an aviation historian who has researched and written extensively on the history of motorless flight. Her first book, Glider Mail: An Aerophilatelic Handbook, received numerous research awards worldwide and is considered a standard reference by aerophilatelists and aviation researchers. She recently answered some questions about her book Locomotive to Aeromotive: Octave Chanute and the Transportation Revolution, released this August in paperback.

Q: Your book chronicles the achievements of Octave Chanute, a renowned civil engineer of the nineteenth century. What were Chanute’s most well-known contributions to ground and air transportation?

Simine Short: During his long career Chanute made many contributions to our modern world, notably to the improvement of long distance rail transportation, the development of urban elevated public-transit rail lines, preservation of wooden railroad ties, and the beginning of the practical flying machine. Continue reading

For the month of August we have lowered the e-book list price of three major titles in the University of Illinois Press catalog to $2.99.

Cover for bodroghkozy: Equal Time: Television and the Civil Rights Movement. Click for larger imageEqual Time: Television and the Civil Rights Movement by Aniko Bodroghkozy
TV news turned the Civil Rights Movement into the U.S.’s first major televised domestic story. Equal Time looks at how the networks covered the 1965 Selma voting rights campaign, the University of Mississippi integration riots, the March on Washington, and other events, and looks at how programmers at ABC, NBC, and CBS sought to represent new ideas of “blackness” and “whiteness” on shows like Julia and Good Times.

“Thoughtful, provocative, and well-researched. . . . This is an important book.”–Journalism History

Buy the Kindle version here. Buy the Kobo version here. Buy the Google Play version here. Buy the Nook version here.

Cover for grivno: Gleanings of Freedom: Free and Slave Labor along the Mason-Dixon Line, 1790-1860. Click for larger imageGleanings of Freedom: Free and Slave Labor along the Mason-Dixon Line, 1790-1860 by Max Grivno
Max Grivno’s vivid portrait of rural communities in the Baltimore hinterlands explores relationships between slave and free labor, the everyday lives of free black and white farmhands, and the struggles of blacks to liberate themselves and loved ones via manumission.

“A thickly descriptive and nuanced account of the ‘evolution of race, class, and labor regimes’ in Maryland from just after the American Revolution up to the Civil War.”–Civil War Book Review

Buy the Kindle version here. Buy the Kobo version here. Buy the Google Play version here. Buy the Nook version here.

Cover for Brown: Hear Our Truths: The Creative Potential of Black Girlhood. Click for larger imageHear Our Truths: The Creative Potential of Black Girlhood
by Ruth Nicole Brown

Drawing directly from her experiences in the radical youth intervention Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths, Ruth Nicole Brown argues that when Black girls reflect on their own lives, they articulate radically unique ideas about their lived experiences. Brown documents the creative potential of Black girls and women who are working together to advance theories, practices, and performances that affirm complexity, interrogate power, and humanize Black girls’ lives.

“This impressive and refreshing book explores the creative potential of Black girlhood and offers a variety of options for ways to engage Black girls and work with them to become the very best of who they are destined to be.”–Gwendolyn D. Pough, author of Check It While I Wreck It: Black Womanhood, Hip-Hop Culture, and the Public Sphere

Buy the Kindle version here. Buy the Kobo version here. Buy the Google Play version here. Buy the Nook version here.


A celebration of the life of our longtime colleague Judy McCulloh will be held this Saturday, August 16th at 2:00 PM at Smith Hall (805 South Mathews) on the campus of the University of Illinois, Urbana.

A reception will follow immediately in the lobby.

Judy began working at the Press as an assistant editor in 1972.  Before her retirement in 2007 she had been serving as assistant director and executive editor.




The Summer 2014 issue of Visual Arts Research is a special issue called “(tidbits) The easiest thing I ever published”. In his introduction, editor Jorge Lucero explains how this unique issue came to be:

“I put out a call for something that I thought was somewhat unserious. I asked contributors to submit short works that had been either forgotten or didn’t cleanly fit into their research portfolios—marginalia, if you will. Of course, this became a very serious proposal almost immediately because it turned out that this type of “call” was intriguing to many practitioners and researchers in the visual arts and its education.”

Read more about VAR and the special issue here.

Economic inequality has been making headlines, and so have mitigating measures like living wage bills, which have passed in several cities. There is no denying the importance of such reforms. But they address only one side —the income side—of hard-pressed Americans’ economic equation. On the outlay side, the major variable is the rocketing cost of housing. Amid this crisis we could learn from the history of an alternative approach to housing.

The mainstream approach is ownership, celebrated in media as “the American Dream.” Owner-occupied, single-family suburban housing became a norm after World War II as federal agencies teamed up with private businesses to lower costs and promote sales. The homeowner, in turn, assumed the role of normative, or “solid,” citizen. Postwar suburban development yielded appreciable benefits for many: new owners enjoyed low payments on their state-subsidized mortgages while building material equity and gaining cultural status as solid citizens. Builders and bankers made money hand over fist. So did the automotive sector, which supplied the cars needed to navigate the sprawling dreamscape.

But the ownership obsession also took tolls on individuals, groups, and democratic society. Blue-collar homeowners who faced sporadic layoffs lived in fear of losing everything if they missed a mortgage payment. People of color were usually dealt out of the home-equity game entirely by racist realtors, redlining banks and biased federal lending codes. Meanwhile tenants, who constituted majorities in many cities, were demoted to second-class status by an ideology that tied solid citizenship to property ownership.

Most recently, the rupture of the “housing bubble”—the spree of buying and selling at inflated prices—has wrought havoc not only on vulnerable individuals but also on the larger economy.

Were there alternatives? Yes, and a chief proponent was the tenants’ rights movement in New York City. Gotham’s tenant activists, my research has found, challenged the homeowner society’s practices and principles. Tenants pushed New York to enact the nation’s first bans on housing segregation. They also lobbied for rent regulation and affordable development, struck against landlord negligence, and protested the city’s “urban renewal” program, which called for bulldozing low-rent, racially heterogeneous neighborhoods. Continue reading

Three UIP titles are available in paperback editions today.

Locomotive to Aeromotive: Octave Chanute and the Transportation Revolution

Earth, water, airOctave Chanute grappled with the very elements themselves. He built the massive Chicago and Kansas City stockyards, bridged the so-called unbridgeable Missouri River, and pursued an extensive post-retirement involvement with flying machines that brought him into the confidence of the Wright Brothers. Locomotive to Aeromotive examines Chanute’s incredible engineering contributions—the twelve-winged gliders! the strut-wire braced wing structure!—and offers an epic portrait of an age of irrepressible invention and of a man who helped give us wings.


The Lincoln-Douglas Debates: The Lincoln Studies Center Edition

The divisive issues of our time fuel a hundred bilious cable blowhards, spark demonstrations and even violence, ruin family holidays and decide elections. Roll all of those issues into one and you have slavery in 1858. The seven debates on slavery between Senate powerhouse Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln became the most consequential clash of ideas in U.S. history. This edition provides the first text founded on all known records. The result is the fullest and most  accurate account ever published, with annotations, extensive introductory material, and commentary that takes readers as close as possible to the original words of these two political titans.


King of the Queen City: The Story of King Records

James Brown’s popcorn repertoire included uber-funk masterpieces “The Popcorn,” “Mother Popcorn,” and “Let a Man Come In and Do the Popcorn (Part One).” The Godfather recorded them all for King, the defining outsider record company. King’s diverse roster included Grandpa Jones’ banjo-and-yodel stylings, bluegrass legends the Stanley Brothers, R&B pioneers the Dominoes, and blues master Freddie King. All came together under entrepreneur Syd Nathan, tsar of a record operation that not only mentored a generation of industry execs but birthed an indie approach to hitmaking that rewarded gut instincts, big dreams, and a willingness to embrace the music others ignored.