June 1, 2014, 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.


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.

Cheryl Janifer LaRoche is a lecturer in American studies at the University of Maryland. She answered some questions about her book Free Black Communities and the Underground Railroad: The Geography of Resistance.

Q: You write that the Underground Railroad is a “well known but poorly understood icon of American lore.” Why do you think the national perception is so muddled and the contributions of free Black communities, Black Churches and fraternal societies are left out of the story?

Cheryl LaRoche: Well, think of it as a perfect storm. Several factors converge leading to the lack of understanding of the contributions and involvement of free Blacks and their organizations in the Underground Railroad. If you rely on standard research strategies you are going to miss much of the story of African American involvement in the Underground Railroad. The organization and activism of free blacks and those who escaped from slavery had to be very secretive since kidnapping and re-enslavement were constant threats and slavery loomed as a very real possibility even for those who had been born free. The story of Solomon Northrup in Twelve Years a Slave is a perfect example. Add to this the fact that those who wrote about the Underground Railroad did so from their own vantage point, often years after the fact, and generally did not have access to, or even know to look for, the stories of black communities, their  churches and fraternal societies. Black church histories began mentioning their active role in the Underground Railroad many, many years after the fact.  So we end up with the most common and accessible stories repeated over and over until they became part of American lore.

Q: How does archaeology play a critical role in learning about the Underground Railroad?

LaRoche: Archaeology adds another piece to this complex puzzle. As we bring fresh ideas and a new understanding to the geography of the Underground Railroad, the tools that archaeologists use such as surveying, mapping, historical documentation, ethnography all can have a major impact on the discovery of previously unknown sites before a shovel ever goes into the ground. Once we first identify and then locate a community, archaeologists using excavation techniques can give us some idea of the layout and where and how particular families might have lived. Depending on the conditions and the state of preservation, we could possibly learn about what people were growing in their gardens and farms, what they were eating and the material conditions of their lives. And of course, if people think they have tunnels or other underground features we are right for looking more deeply into those controversial questions.

Q: What are the different components of the geography of resistance and how was the land “used in support of freedom?”

LaRoche: Well, I spend an entire chapter laying out the different components of the geography of resistance because it is not just one or two things. Briefly, I would say that the quality of the land where these black settlements can be found, its desirability, or lack of desirability, is probably the key indicator of where African Americans settled in the pre-Civil War period. Add to that the locations of prominent abolitionist centers and their proximity to free black communities, and you can begin to predict where to look for black settlements in relationship to the Underground Railroad. But there is another aspect to the geography of resistance—one that involves the use of the land while freedom seekers are moving through the landscape and physically escaping slavery. River banks, iron furnaces, hollowed trees and caves all become part of the landscape of escape that supported freedom. The heavens too, primarily the North Star figure into that geography of resistance.

Q: Why did you chose to focus on the geographical elements of the Underground Railroad?

LaRoche: Well, I am an archaeologist, after all. But also, if you think about it, the Underground Railroad is a land based operation so focusing on the landscape makes sense. Those escaping slavery had to physically move through the various geographies that I discuss in the book. Whether they were moving from one location to another or finding sanctuary in a community or home, it all had a geographic position. So it seems natural to study the Underground Railroad from that vantage point. It adds an immediacy to the topic. We get to move through the land with those who are escaping slavery and be with them as they get lost or try to navigate their way out of slavery through unknown territory. You can almost feel the freezing river or experience the anxiety that physical obstacles provoked. I think you get a much better understanding of what it really took to escape when you study the geography of the Underground Railroad.

Q: Why were the AME, Baptist Churches, Prince Hall Masons and Quakers so crucial to the Underground Railroad?

LaRoche: These were among the activist organizations involved in the Underground Railroad. While anti-slavery societies often receive the attention of historians and researchers, the churches and fraternal societies were the community action arm where the work was taking place on the ground. All of these are community organizations. People came together to form churches; they had to gather for fraternal meetings so a seamless, logical structure that had nothing to do with escape from slavery was already in place. These denominations, institutions and organizations generally had buildings associated with them, all of this made them useful for the work of the Underground Railroad while not arousing too much suspicion. Repeatedly, the most successful escapes and the most successful operators relied on an air of normalcy combined with astuteness, respectability, piousness and trust as they subverted the slaveholding system.

Q: What role did Black activism in the form of slave narratives, speeches and newspapers etc. have in the Underground Railroad and publicizing methods of escape?

LaRoche: Always, there was a tension between telling too much and not saying enough. Slave narratives and newspapers alerted the public to both the hardships and the dramatic role that the Underground Railroad was playing in helping escapees come out of slavery. At the same time, the methods of escape and those involved also had to be protected. Those who had the ear of the public spoke out against slavery and in some instances people like Jermain Loguen openly taunted slaveholders by describing their work on the Underground Railroad. Most activists were far more vocal about the fact of escape rather than the methods of escape.  We are still figuring out those methods and that has been one of the most intriguing aspects of the stories in the book. As I say in the book, they did such a good job that 200 years later we are still trying to figure out exactly how it all operated. And it is the work of free blacks and black communities that has been the most important contribution to the new story of the Underground Railroad. This is the new narrative landscape of the Underground Railroad for the 21st century.


Shelton Jackson ”Spike” Lee was born March 20, 1957.

With a long varies career that has spanned independent films such as his debut She’s Gotta Have It (1986), to mainstream, big-budget films including Inside Man (2006), Lee has often examined social issues, gained acclaim and courted controversy.

In his Contemporary Film Directors series book Spike Lee Todd McGowan writes:

Spike Lee is a filmmaker of excess. Excess characterizes each of his films, through unconventional shots, extreme characters, improbable scenes, and many other ways. Lee’s films employ these types of excess to intervene in critical issues that trouble the contemporary world—the question of the subject’s singularity, the role that fantasy plays in structuring
our reality, the political impact of passion, the power of paranoia in shaping social relations, the damage that the insistence on community inflicts, the problem of transcendence, and the struggles of the spectator.



Elvira Arellano, a Mexican immigrant rights advocate who made headlines when she took refuge in a Chicago church in 2006, has asked refuge in the United States on humanitarian grounds.

Arellano was deported to Mexico in 2007 after a lengthy sanctuary in the United Methodist Church of Adaberto.

UIP editor and contributor Maura Toro-Morn writes:

Arellano’s life story must be viewed in the larger context of the history of Mexican labor migration to the United States and the changing labor needs of the U.S. economy.  Gomberg-Muñoz  (2010, 27) writes that “there is a common misconception that labor migration from Mexico to the United States is fueled by a lack of economic development in Mexico.”

Toro-Morn profiles Arellano’s story in the collection Immigrant Women Workers in the Neoliberal Age.

Hear Maura Toro-Morn discuss the book and the civil rights of immigrant workers in this radio interview: WJBC AM-FM, Beth Whisman interview.


Alex Goodall is a lecturer in modern history at the University of York, where he specializes in the history of revolutionary and counterrevolutionary politics in the Americas. He answered some questions about his new book Loyalty and Liberty: American Countersubversion from World War I to the McCarthy Era.

Q: Your book examines events in countersuberversion leading up to the McCarthy Era. Was there a turning point event (or two) that led up to the full blown “red scare?”

Alex Goodall: The growth of political policing was something that took place in fits and starts. Most historians have focused primarily on the “Great Red Scare,” which took place just after World War One and saw widespread political repression of union activists, left-wingers, Jews and African Americans, among others. But between 1920 and the 1950s, things did not go entirely quiet. Nor did the history develop in a linear way. Indeed, much of my book is about showing how support for federal political policing declined in the 1920s and by the Great Depression was in a kind of crisis. It was really only with the New Deal, and Franklin Roosevelt’s willingness to use the federal state much more actively than in the past, that the state’s capacity for this kind of repression began to grow again. It was under FDR that the Federal Bureau of Investigation began a new phase of growth, for instance. It’s very ironic, then, that the New Deal became one of the primary targets for anticommunist red-baiting in the late 1930s and 1940s, since they had arguable done more than any others to make federal countersubversion a practical possibility. Continue reading

On Friday, March 14, 2014, Koritha Mitchell, author of Living with Lynching:  African American Lynching Plays, Performance, and Citizenship, 1890-1930, spoke at the James Madison Memorial Building of the Library of Congress.

At the event Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee presented the author with a Certificate of Congressional Recognition.

The program, which was presented by the Library’s Humanities and Social Sciences Division, was taped by C-SPAN for a future airing on BookTV.

Sheila Jackson Lee (left) and Koritha Mitchell.  Photo of courtesy of Koritha Mitchell.


Author William Gibson, regarded as the Godfather of “cyberpunk” was born on March 17, 1948.

Gibson coined the term “cyberspace” in his 1982 short story “Burning Chrome.” The well-regarded author is best known for his Sprawl series, which began with the novel Neuromancer.

Gary Westfahl writes in his Modern Masters of Science Fiction series book William Gibson:

In the early 1980s Gibson amazed science fiction readers and critics with his shift away from space opera into the virtual worlds of information science; heroes that were scruffy, streetwise outsiders struggling to stay alive in societies dominated by multinational corporations; and a pyrotechnic prose style that combined extravagantly metaphorical language with an unprecedented “hyperspecificity” in describing old and new technologies.

Read a Q&A with author Gary Westfahl.

German composer Josephine Lang was born March 15, 1815.

Lang, a prodigiously talented pianist and dedicated composer, participated at various times in the German Romantic world of lieder through her important arts salon.

In her book Five Lives in Music: Women Performers, Composers, and Impresarios from the Baroque to the Present Cecelia Hopkins Porter writes:

Even from the tender age of fifteen, Lang was composing songs that surpassed conventional lieder and piano compositions of the day.  The harmonic fluidity and essentially diatonic basis of her music was edged at times with sudden, turbulent dissonance and audacious chromatic elements in both the voice and piano parts, these often erupting in brazen modulations to a key far from the central, established key of the composition. Many of Lang’s finest and most original examples are marked by equally wrenching melodic and harmonic passages. Also, the vocal line in her songs often makes dramatic shifts of register (pitch level) over broad intervals while the piano, in true romantic fashion, frequently is assigned an independent prelude, interlude, or postlude, or all three.  These reinforce the imagery and emotions of the song—that is the piano is not mere accompaniment.

Certain members of the UIP staff circle March 14 on their calendars.  And with good reason.

3.14 is Pi(e) Day: during which both mathematical principle and carbohydrates are well celebrated at the Press by those with culinary skill and also those who, although they may have less baking skill, still have mouths.

And thus, those mouths were stuffed with pie.  Witness:



Thanks goes out to all who offered up their talents for Pi(e) Day.

Any “during” pictures were omitted to protect the innocent, the guilty, and because such sights should not be witnessed by small children.


Carole Boyce Davies is a professor of Africana studies and English at Cornell University. She is the editor of the three-volume Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora: Origins, Experiences, and Culture and several other collections in African and Caribbean studies and black women’s studies internationally.

Boyce Davies recently answered some questions about her new book Caribbean Spaces: Escape from Twilight Zones.

Q: Tell us about the title of you book, Caribbean Spaces: Escapes from Twilight Zones. How do you define “Caribbean Spaces” beyond geographical location?

Carole Boyce Davies: Caribbean Spaces reaches beyond island fragmentations, small spaces and geographic separations for a much wider, more expansive internationalized understanding of how we see and understand the Caribbean and its impact on world cultures. Caribbean Space incorporates contexts that come out of dance and carnival like “taking space” and challenges us to see the in-between spaces as not empty spaces. The expanding scientific meanings of space provides us with additional opportunity to think of any space beyond geographical limitations. Caribbean Space has always reached for international circulations of ideas, people, political movements, cultural practices like carnival. Continue reading