john deere logoFleeing debt, John Deere made his way from Vermont to Illinois with a dream: to earn big money making tools. The blacksmith settled in the charmingly-named Grand Detour, Illinois, and he soon lived up that town’s name by eventually turning his one-man tool business into one of the great Midwestern success stories.

Deere’s cast steel plow, fashioned from a saw, changed prairie and plain, allowing farmers to plow a field without constantly cleaning the tool. Iron and wooden plows went by the board. People flocked to the middle of the country to buy and use them on inexpensive land, and an agricultural revolution followed.

The company behind The Plow That Broke the Plains eventually made its home in Moline, in order to use the Mississippi River for transport. History tells us that Deere’s company shipped over 10,000 plows per year by the mid-1850s.

Until International Harvester mounted a challenge in the implement business in the early 1900s—a challenge Deere & Company met with its gasoline-powered tractor—John Deere’s brainchild ruled the roost. By then, Deere himself had retired to run a bank and the public library, before taking a term as Moline’s mayor. Deere died on May 17, 1886, leaving behind a business that included a nine-acre manufacturing operation under all-electric lights.

Deere’s tractor trade began in the early 1910s, when the company tested a three-wheeler. It didn’t turn out so well, and the company leaders had less than total enthusiasm for tractors, anyway, perhaps because they had already failed with bicycles.

But the company entered the tractor business by the end of the decade, once again changing agriculture—worldwide, no less. Today’s Deere & Company makes all kinds of machinery, including earthmovers and lawnmowers, and the trademark green is a ubiquitous part of the landscape from Ohio to the Rocky Mountains, and beyond.

harper coltraneMichael S. Harper had a claim on the title of poet-historian, for he drew on the vast histories of African Americans as well as the United States to create works celebrated for their scope and jazz-influenced rhythms. “My poems are rhythmic rather than metric,” he once wrote. “The pulse is jazz; the tradition generally oral; my major influences musical; my debts, mostly to the musicians who taught me to see about experience, pain and love, and who made it artful and archetypal.”

Harper died this weekend. He was 78.

Born in Brooklyn, Harper moved at a young age with his family to Los Angeles. A failed gym class put him on the vocational track at his school. His parents went to all lengths to get that decision reversed, as part of their encouragement toward his studying medicine. Harper had perhaps less interest in a medical career than they did. He found his way into letters, both the writing—of poems—and the carrying—of mail, as a postal worker. In 1961, he entered the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. There, he was the only African American student in his classes and lived in segregated housing.

Harper’s first collection, Dear John Dear Coltrane, brought him immediate attention. Keith D. Leonard wrote:

In the volume, John Coltrane, who Harper knew, is both the man and his jazz, the talented and tragic musician, and his wholistic worldview and redemptive music. With an understanding of black music similar to W. E. B. Du Bois’s in his description of the African American “sorrow songs,” Harper includes the music of poetry as similar affirmation of the importance of articulating suffering to gain from it and survive it. Here, as in Harper’s later volumes, musical rhythm replaces traditional metrics in the poetry without sacrificing craft.

As Harper himself told NPR:

…the most important thing you learn from musicians is phrasing. And you learn it from the singers , you know, the Bessie Smiths, the Billie Holidays, the Mamie Smiths, the Aretha Franklins even. But you also learn, more than anything else, about the authenticity of phrasing because musicians take you to places that you might not necessarily want to go. And they go instantly to the transcendent and of course the mastery of their playing is not technical mastery. It is spiritual mastery. It is to take you to a place that perhaps is not your mode. And when we are in performance with musicians, they take us to places sometimes we don’t want to go. We’re not prepared to go. They take us instantly there.

In 1970 he joined the faculty at Brown, where he taught until 2013. Along the way he was awarded a Guggenheim and other honors, received a National Book Award nomination for his collection Images of Kin, and won the Melville-Cane Award from the Poetry Society of America. Harper became the first state poet of Rhode Island in 1989.

begin3Camille Bégin is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Sensory Studies at Concordia University in Montreal. She answered some questions about her book Taste of the Nation: The New Deal Search for America’s Food.

Q: What was the goal of Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) when it came to documenting how people eat?

Camille Bégin: In most FWP projects, documenting food was only incidental. Some of the FWP’s most well-known projects were folklore studies and guidebooks for states and cities. Historians can glean a lot of food and sensory information from these, but it was not their main focus. Yet, through these projects, the Washington-based editors realized that food was a topic worthy of attention and they developed a food-focused project.

That project was American Eats. Its goals evolved as it developed, between 1941 and 1942. The one thing that stayed constant is that the editors knew they did not want to produce a cookbook. The goal was not for the book to be used in the kitchen, but read in the living room. Their examples were tourist guidebooks, not cookbooks. It was to be an entertaining read rather than a pedagogical one. They insisted on this throughout the project because many of the state-based contributors kept sending in recipes. At first, the goal of America Eats was to write what we would now identify as a sociological, or anthropological, account of American foodways and taste. The editors were inspired by recent anthropological breakthrough and were looking for “patterns of eating.” They wanted the essays to be descriptive, precise, and sensorial—as we would expect to find in today’s food writing. They understood food as part of culture and wanted to show the uniqueness of the American table, especially towards Europe. This last goal became more and more important as the project grew. With the looming involvement of the country into World War II, America Eats, while keeping its entertaining tone, became much more about strengthening patriotism. Writers from western states such as Texas or Wyoming latched on this new goal, celebrating the meat-heavy, masculine character of their diets. Food fit for a nation at war. Of course, this was before wartime food rationing began. Continue reading

whitmanThe well-read are abuzz over Walt Whitman’s recently discovered journalistic work Manly Health and Training. Published in an obscure newspaper in 1858, Whitman’s dive into the medical science and ubiquitous quackery of the day offers one of those rare opportunities for today’s mass and social media to act smart by referencing a towering literary figure.

Observers have already noted Whitman’s pro-meat diet and his pointed urging that we maintain an active lifestyle, lest we become choleric or some other ungodly thing. Whitman had not become a nurse yet. That would happen during the Civil War. But he clearly had done some thinking on the topic of the (manly) body. Or maybe he was just getting paid by the word.

The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review provides the full text but, always interested in keeping our readership healthy and in sweet breath, we would like to provide an excerpt.

Among the signs of manly health and perfect physique, internal and external, are a clear eye, a transparent and perhaps enbrowned complexion (the latter not necessarily), an upright attitude, a springy step, a sweet breath, a ringing voice and little or nothing of irritability in the temper.

Putting on his prophet’s hat, Whitman looks past the pen and paper of his day to warn future generations like us:

If you are a student, be also a student of the body, a practiser of manly exercises, realizing that a broad chest, a muscular pair of arms, and two sinewy legs, will be just as much credit to you, and stand you in hand through your future life, equally with your geometry, your history, your classics, your law, medicine, or divinity. Let nothing divert you from your duty to your body. Up in the morning early!

As of Thursday at midday, Manly Health and Training had been downloaded over 20,000 times. Why not? Belief in the benefits of, and route to, physical fitness never fundamentally change. We just find new ways to avoid exercise. Let’s commit to the Whit. Tonight, eat a big steak and then do some blacksmithing. Let nothing divert you! Especially Instagram!

On May 13, 1905, the War of 1812 passed finally out of memory, for Hirum Cronk, the last surviving veteran of that still-misunderstood conflict, died in Ava, New York, aged 105.

The career shoemaker stood in defense of Sackets Harbor, New York, in 1814. At the time the U.S. Navy had a major shipyard in the community. Later it became Naval Headquarters for the entire Great Lakes as we sought to force our Canadian rivals off those fine, fresh waters. The British attacked the area by sea and by land and, as Donald R. Hickey tells us in his acclaimed history The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict, kept it under close watch in order to disrupt American naval movements:

Captain Stephen Popham, who was on detached duty from the main British squadron, discovered [American commandant Melancthon] Woolsey’s presence. Convinced that the American flotilla was undefended, Popham led a flotilla of gunboats carrying 200 British soldiers, seamen, and marines into the creek to mount an attack. Although the Oneida Indians fled, Popham’s force was cut to shreds by the American artillery and riflemen. More than seventy British soldiers were killed or wounded before the rest surrendered. The American force sustained only two casualties. . .

With the British squadron nearby, Woolsey could not hazard moving his precious cargo back into the lake, so most of the guns and rope were transported to Sackets Harbor overland. But there was one cable intended for the Superior that was so large that it would not fit into any wagon. It was 300 feet long, seven inches in diameter, and weighed a staggering 9,600 pounds.

After some delay, Colonel Allen Clarke’s regiment of New York militiamen offered to carry the hope on their shoulders. Part of the rope was loaded into a wagon, while the rest was carried by the men, perhaps 100 in all. The men marched for a mile at a time and then rested. Many padded their shoulders with straw to cut down on the chafing. Although some men dropped out along the way, others appeared to take their places. Thirty hours after departing from Sandy Creek, the militia arrived at Sackets Harbor with the cable. As a reward, the men were given a barrel of whiskey and a bonus of $2 a day.

Enlisting with his father and two brothers, Hirum became part of a massive military buildup that in time left Sackets Harbor the third-largest city in the state after New York City and Albany. Once discharged, he worked as a shoemaker and received a federal military pension of $12 per month ($25 after 1903, plus a special pension from the state of New York). He fought at a time when Native Americans played a part in New York military conflict. He died when film could be taken of his funeral.

Humanity has undoubtedly told stories since forever. Possibly our ancestors acted or danced them before speech found its way into our brains. Writing brought religious texts and Gilgamesh but even then, tale-telling remained a largely oral art until literacy became widespread, whatever that date may have been for a given culture.

Even here at UIP we have an evolving body of folklore. It includes shared jokes, inside references, and whole stories like “The Security Officer’s Lecture on Hobos.” Animal stories have also sprung up, for instance the many tales grouped under the scholarly heading “That Gigantic &*%*#@* Millipede in the Men’s Bathroom.” No doubt we staffers absorb the impulse to create folklore from our surroundings, for University of Illinois Press publishes a range of book series, stand alone tomes, and scholarly journals on folklore and its related practices.

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ChowdhuryF16By Dawn Durante, Acquisitions Editor

The University of Illinois Press is pleased to share the news that Elora Halim Chowdhury is the new editor of the Dissident Feminisms series. Dr. Chowdhury is Associate Professor and Chair of Women’s and Gender Studies at University of Massachusetts Boston. She is the author of Transnationalism Reversed: Women Organizing Against Gendered Violence in Bangladesh, which received the 2012 Gloria E. Anzaldúa Book Prize from the National Women’s Study Association. She serves on the editorial or advisory boards of Studies in South Asian Film and Media, Journal of Feminist Scholarship, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, and the Bangladesh Development Initiative. Continue reading

HarperS16May 11-13, 2016, the publishing industry will descend upon the City of Big Shoulders for the textapalooza that is BookExpo America.

BEA, held at Chicago’s McCormick Place this spring, is the “leading book and author event for the North American publishing industry,” and the show has moved for this year from NYC to the Second City.

As authors, publishers, booksellers, librarians and readers flock to the exhibition hall, one BEA attendee will be recreating a transatlantic pilgrimage from the past.

In 1979, British music fan Alan Harper scrounged together his scant resources and flew from the UK to Chicago to live, at least temporarily, in the home of the blues. Once in the city, he knocked around the clubs and rubbed shoulders with legends like Big Walter Horton, soaking up the sounds and witnessing the changing character of a scene with one foot in the rural country blues and one in the electric domain of guitar aces.

In 2016, the University of Illinois Press published Harper’s chronicle of his blues expedition, Waiting for Buddy Guy: Chicago Blues at the Crossroads.

And so it is that Alan Harper will return to the home of the blues to sign copies of Waiting for Buddy Guy at BookExpo. You’ll find him at booth #614 on Thursday, May 12 at 11:00am. Stop by and pick up a signed copy of the book (complimentary, while supplies last for all BEA attendees) and maybe chat with Alan about the great clubs like Kingston Mines and B.L.U.E.S.


Clip from “Pride & Joy, The Story of Alligator Records”, dir. Robert Mugge, Courtesy of MVD Visual.



HayloftGangThe National Barn Dance was the nation’s most popular country music radio show during the 1930s and 1940s, predating the popularity of the Grand Ole Opry and serving as a precursor to the youth movement of that rose with rock and roll.

In The Hayloft Gang: The Story of the National Barn Dance, editor Chad Berry, curates the recollections and analysis of this national phenomenon with colorful commentary of performers and former listeners.

The story continues in the 2011 documentary film, The Hayloft Gang narrated by Garrison Keillor. The documentary weaves in performance footage, home movies, interviews and, of course, a lot of great music.

Central Illinoisans can see the documentary and meet producer-director Stephen Parry during the post-screening conversation at the Champaign Public Library. Parry is also a contributor to the UIP book.

The screening and director Q&A will be held Sunday, May 15 at 2pm.  The event is presented in partnership with the Illinois Humanities Road Scholars Speakers Bureau as part of the library’s month-long tribute to the 1940s.

I wouldn’t try being a mom for a million bucks. I’m not just talking about all the surgery it would require. Fatherhood is definitely its own cross to bear, don’t get me wrong. There’s a reason men die at a younger age on average. But if you’re a father, you get a lot of credit just for being present, and “present” gets stretched to include monkeying with power tools or watching television.

Society demands mothers be involved, and it never ends, because a child—let alone multiple childs—keeps finding a way into things: activities, friendships, art, sports, self-improvement, jaw traps, mud, coyote dens, and Lego addictions, just for starters. A mother, forced to deal with a larval life that’s always in flux, never gets to be laid back, a mindset the father takes for granted. Not only does she have to raise a child according to some unrealistic vision of the kid’s potential, she takes the lead role in parenthood’s most fundamental task: keeping a precocious ape alive long enough for it to develop some minimal sense of self-preservation.

We salute all mothers here at the UI Press. We also publish books about them, their history, their hard work, their health, and their role in civilizing humanity against its stronger, dumber instincts.

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