Labor Library ExhibitAn exhibit titled “Working for Change: Stories of Labor History in Illinois” greets visitors as they enter the North-South Corridor of the main library on the UIUC campus. A series of six cases filled with objects ranging from flyers and course schedules to photos and news clippings draw on archival materials held at the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections, the University Archives, and the Champaign County Historical Archives.

These cases—and the helpful posters above them—tell the story of the many labor activists who pursued better working conditions for themselves and their co-workers. A walk along the hallway will teach you about early UAW efforts, the laundry strike led by women workers in Champaign-Urbana in 1937, and the labor struggles in Decatur in the 1990s, among others.

The display, which runs through the end of July, celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Steelworkers Summer Institute, one of several labor institutes hosted by the School of Labor and Employment Relations at UIUC.

The University of Illinois Press is pleased to be among the very best labor studies publishers in the country. For further reading on Illinois labor, labor education, and women in the work force, check out these recent titles:

CarrWorking Class to College: The Promise and Peril Facing Blue-Collar America

Working Class to College exposes an education class divide that is threatening the American dream of upward social mobility and sowing resentment among those shut out or staggering under crushing debt. The book addresses ways to reduce college costs and shares the inspiring accounts of those who have endured all sorts of hardship—homelessness, an incarcerated parent, dangerously low self-esteem–and fought their way to college and commencement.

 

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zim birdsBorn on July 12, 1909, Herbert S. Zim taught at the University of Illinois in the 1950s. It was during his years in Champaign-Urbana that Zim penned or cowrote several of the Golden Nature Guides that taught generations of schoolchildren about stars and planets, American birds and mammals, and dozens of other topics in natural history.

Though a bit dated these days—the Guides predate some rather world-changing breakthroughs in genetics, astrophysics, and humanity’s ability to shoot space probes to Pluto—the books remain accessible, basic introductions to their topics. The New York Times summed it up: “concise, engaging and comprehensible to children without being simplistic.” The text also benefited from attractive illustrations. Indeed the Guides, in particular the early books illustrated by James Gordon Irving, present a jarring contrast to today’s children’s nonfiction, a genre/product dependent on dull photo archives and Legos and whatever can be pulled from Wikipedia for free.

Zim graduated from Columbia in 1933 and taught throughout the 1930s and 1940s. He landed at Illinois in 1950 and taught education for seven years. By then, he already had made a mark writing about mechanical marvels—submarines, zeppelins, and the like—for children. The pocket-sized Golden Nature Guides series, originated by Zim, kicked off in 1949. He also steadily published magazine articles and worked in professional organizations. Meanwhile, across America, children took millions of the Guides on road trips or scouting excursions, picking out the highlights on pond life or watching the trees for a flash of the downy woodpecker.

gannThe following is an excerpt from Kyle Gann’s new book Charles Ives’s Concord: Essays after a Sonata.

In January 1921 a prominent insurance executive in New York City sent copies of a piano sonata he had written to hundreds of total strangers. It sounds like a setup for a lively and eccentric novel, but it actually happened. Even stranger, a couple of decades later that sonata turned out to become one of the most celebrated musical works of the twentieth century.

It was unlike any piece of music the recipients had ever seen before. Its very look on the page was alarming, with massive, dissonant chords; clusters piled high in adjacent notes, some to be played with a wooden board; pages of relentless fast notes up to the exceedingly rare 128th note; often four or five lines of counterpoint at once in complexly varied layers; extended sustain-pedal markings that blurred whirlwinds of notes into sonic chaos; and rhythms that sometimes required computation to puzzle out. No music remotely similar had yet reached any degree of public visibility. It might as well have been music from Mars. But it was also, ostentatiously, music from the United States, for just as
peculiar were the movement titles—“Emerson,” “Hawthorne,” “The Alcotts,” “Thoreau.” This was a piano sonata purporting to portray figures from American literary history, or perhaps their ideas or writing style. The attachment of such incomprehensible music to such familiar names must have only heightened the provocation. While the recipients might have been braced for the latest nosethumbing avant-gardisms from Europe, for an American to tread confidently into such brash new territory could only seem like the effrontery of a charlatan or a total amateur. Adding to the bizarre debut of the sonata score was that it came accompanied by a book purporting to explain it without actually doing so, titled Essays before a Sonata.

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civitelloLinda Civitello teaches food history in southern California. She is the author of Cuisine and Culture: A History of Food and People, winner of the Gourmand Award for Best Food History Book in the World in English (U.S.). She recently answered some questions about her book Baking Powder Wars: The Cutthroat Food Fight that Revolutionized Cooking.

Q: How did you first stumble upon the fascinating history behind baking powder?

Linda Civitello: When I was teaching at a culinary school in Southern California, a colleague made an off-hand remark about “when baking powder was invented.” It stopped me in my tracks. I bake all the time, but I had never thought about baking powder at all, much less about somebody going to the trouble to invent it. I started looking into it, figuring I wouldn’t find much. First I looked at cookbooks, and was surprised at all the different leaveners women experimented with, and how difficult baking was before baking powder. Then I came across an article by the celebrity muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens. It was about corruption, using the baking powder business bribery of a state legislature as an example. That led to court cases—yes, about baking powder!—and advertising in magazines and trade cards and cookbooks, and government documents, and company records, and comic strips and cartoons. I knew I had hit the mother lode—every writer’s dream.

Q: You mention that food history has long been ignored by philosophers, historians, and anthropologists. Why is food history important?

Civitello: Food history is important because anything that is in the culture is in the food: who is allowed to cook or even touch which food, to eat it, in what circumstances, etc. Americans routinely eat baking powder-leavened cakes, pancakes, waffles, muffins, and other sweet things for breakfast, while many places in the world eat soup. Men and women eat together, with or without children. Races eat together. Cookbooks are an extremely valuable source of information about a culture.  Who writes them and who reads them is an indication of literacy, which is why early cookbooks were ALL written by men. Is the cookbook raising money for a church? In the U.S., churches are not supported by the government, so they need to raise money, and women discovered this way to do it. Who is left out of cookbooks is also important, like the African American cooks who were not given credit for the food they created. That is why I included cookbooks and recipes from Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and others, to show how baking powder was part of the assimilation process, of learning to become American by learning to “eat American,” either voluntarily or forcibly.

Q: What does baking powder specifically illuminate about food history?

Civitello: Baking Powder Wars is the story of American Exceptionalism and industrialization. Baking powder did not begin and catch on like wildfire in the United States by accident. Women and men both wanted this product because of conditions specific to America, such as baking in the home instead of having commercial bakeries controlled by guilds, as they did in Europe. Americans were more open to new things and willing to experiment. We also had the technology and infrastructure, especially communications and transportation, to create baking powder and ship it across the country and the world, and to educate people about how to use it. Americans used baking powder to make cake and donuts and so many other foods uniquely ours, even if they originated elsewhere in a different form. Baking powder biscuits are America’s bread: white, light, and fluffy; easy to make and quick to bake. They are the versatile little black dress of baked goods. They can be dropped onto a cookie sheet and baked, or rolled out and cut into shapes. They can be sweet or savory, with gravy, as dumplings on top of soup, the topping on cobbler, the shortcake in strawberry shortcake, or just sliced and stuffed as a slider.

Q: How is food history connected to women’s history?

Civitello: American women were the motive force behind the drive for chemical leaveners. Spending one full day each week making bread for large families that consumed approximately 1 pound of bread per person per day was backbreaking labor, and women wanted shortcuts. Also, the tremendous moral pressures on women in the 19th century, from the medical profession, academia, and ministers like Sylvester Graham, are still with us. At my speaking engagements, the first thing I ask the audience is how many people bake bread. One or two hands go up. Then I ask how many people feel guilty because they do not bake bread, and almost every woman in the room raises her hand. These ridiculous pressures are still with us.

Baking Powder Wars also shows how resilient women are. Two hundred years ago, women found time to share recipes and teach each other about new technology like baking powder, just the way they wrote to each other and campaigned to get the vote. They invented an entirely new kind of American cookbook, the community cookbook. These are the cookbooks where everyone contributes a recipe, and the proceeds go to charity. It really warms my heart to see that women are doing the same things now on the internet: sharing life tips/hacks and recipes, telling personal stories, helping each other. The messages haven’t changed, just the medium.

Q: Baking powder seems like it is connected to everything—nationalism, morality, gender, literacy, technology, business. What is the single most interesting fact you learned while researching and writing this book?

Civitello: Baking powder IS connected to everything:  the Indianapolis 500, gingerbread, Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown winners, biscotti, the Wizard of Oz, fry bread, Good Housekeeping magazine, the U. S. Supreme Court, birthday cakes, the Missouri Legislature, pancakes and waffles, the Home Economics Association, and cupcakes, among other things. The cutthroat business of baking powder a century ago really highlighted for me how corporate greed can masquerade as enlightened public policy, and how easily intelligent people can be bamboozled. Constant vigilance is needed.

crab nebulaOn July 4, 1054, an extraordinary event attracted the attention of peoples around the world. A supernova appeared in the constellation Taurus. This guest star, to use a Chinese term, suddenly appeared beside a crescent moon. For the next twenty-three days, people everywhere could see it by day as well as night. It remained visible at night for two years, at first brighter than the planet Venus, then steadily fading into the realm of telescopes. When humanity finally invented telescopes, observers named the remnants of the exploded star the Crab Nebula.

Native American peoples recorded the visit by the guest star at Chaco Canyon, in Missouri, and elsewhere. Around the same time, the Native American city at what we call Cahokia erased itself. The Cahokians dismantled and buried their houses while getting rid of the city’s trademark wide courtyards. What arose in the town’s place is familiar news to archaeology buffs: the largest city north of Mexico in the pre-Columbian era, indeed the largest city in what became the United States until Philadelphia surpassed it in the late 1700s.

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civitelloSmithsonian Magazine recently delved into the fascinating history behind baking powder. Linda Civitello, the author of Baking Powder Wars, was consulted as an expert. Read all about the cutthroat fight that revolutionized cooking here.

eads bridgeThe Eads Bridge, named for its designer/builder James B. Eads, materialized  in 1874 amidst a blizzard of superlatives. At 6,442 feet, it was the largest arch bridge on earth, and the world’s first major bridge project of entirely steel construction. The long bridge, one of the first to span the Mississippi River, connected St. Louis and East St. Louis. The supports sunk into the river bottom remain among the deepest ever attempted, so deep that decompression sickness killed 15 workers and injured 79 others. Citizens, wary of the bridge’s newfangledness, awaited proof of its safety. They call it the Show Me State for a reason. Continue reading

This is the inaugural post of our new series, Authors on Issues, in which UIP authors weigh in on current events.

Valerie Francisco, author of the forthcoming book Labor of Care: Filipina Migrants and Transnational Families in a Global Digital Age, responded to the recent cover story in the Atlantic by Alex Tizon entitled “My Family’s Slave”. Labor of Care examines the impact of global care chains on the families of migrant women from the Philippines and the emergence of new forms of intimacy and care work as the women navigate and negotiate the emotional and material consequences of family separation. Labor of Care will be available in Spring 2018.

Lola’s Community

Eudocia Tomas Pulido was her name. In Alex Tizon’s recent cover story in The Atlantic, he revealed that his family called her Lola. In his melancholy and beautiful writing, Tizon captured what Lola’s life was like from his gaze. She was “gifted” to his mother at a young age; a practice stemming from a history of colonialism and the ongoing system of feudalism in the Philippines. As Tizon traces Lola’s life braided into his mother’s marriage and his upbringing, his heart wrenching account demonstrated that she was mostly isolated, subjugated and dejected. Her role as a domestic worker in his family, although essential, was often constrained by abuse and exploitation. At the end of Lola’s life, and sadly with Tizon’s untimely death as well (the story was published posthumously), Lola was a solitary character who lived a life that was hard and desolate.

There are and have been millions like Lola. Filipinas who have been bought, sold, traded and have chosen domestic servitude as work. The current politics and economic systems in the Philippines treat Filipinas as if they were goods, shipped all over the globe for the price of remittances. In fact, the Philippine’s labor export policy has made a $25 billion-dollar industry on Filipinas working as domestic workers in over 150 countries. So in all intents and purposes, Lola was not alone.

This is the tricky part for me.

Tizon captured Lola as a lonely and alone character in his life. And for the most part, I would agree that the lives of Filipinas working as domestic workers are often exhausting and back-breaking with little to no reprieve. But there were and are so many of them. So why was she so alone? Lola’s life was tiring and grim, like perhaps so many other Filipinas working as domestic workers.

But they are also indefatigable. Their spirits bafflingly resolute. Persistent. And often, in the midst of the mundane tasks of sustaining the life of a family—whether it be picking up or dropping off children from school or daycare, or collecting groceries for meals, or washing and drying laundry—Filipinas are also keen, almost strangely skilled, at finding one another. In aisles of grocery stores, benches in playgrounds, and pick up points in front of schools, they assess one another’s faces and accents sniffing out provinces and dialects. They find respite in one another, even in the ten-to-twenty minute wait before their charges come charging out. They exchange phone numbers, and before then letters, to connect with one another.

Maybe because Filipinas feel alone in the doldrums of their daily work; when they see someone who could be remotely Filipino, they are quick to throw a “kamusta?” out into the crowd like a fisherman casting a line out to the water. I’m sure Lola did this. If not her, someone must have done it to her. After all, she raised four children in a major U.S. city on the west coast, known ports of entry for Filipino migrants. A conversation must have started about her situation. Lola must have met someone she confided in. Someone she shared the contradiction of loving the family she worked for and hating that she couldn’t—wouldn’t—be able to imagine her life without working for them.

In my book Labor of Care: Filipina Migrants and Transnational Families in a Global Digital Age, I found that Filipinas in similar situations as Lola—trapped in domestic servitude by co-ethnic employers who brought them here to the U.S.—were often weary. However, it was a “community of care” that brought them respite and even, laughter, if they allowed it. Filipina migrants working as domestic workers would pool together in shared geographies of play dates and pick-ups. They’d share their daily tribulation mixed with their often transnational victory—a child’s graduation, a parent’s medical bill paid or a house bought in the Philippines. But they would share their innermost feelings over a train ride or a waiting session.

So perhaps Lola was lonely in her eyes, in the eyes of the family she served, in the words of Alex Tizon. But what if Lola was to tell her story? Maybe even a Filipina from her community? How, then, would her story be told?

–Valerie Francisco

 

 

Authors. Conversations. Books (lots of books). Dogs with bandannas. It’s time again for the Printer’s Row Book Fair, now in its 33rd Year as a Chicago Loop perennial. Skies promise to be as sunny as the faces staffing the booths.

Your University of Illinois Press will as usual present its latest books, plus stacks of favorites we have published over the last ninety-nine years of existence. The fest also presents us with a chance to make a dry run at next year’s celebration of our Press centennial.

hassen and cobbIn the meantime, members of the UIP Outreach Flying Squad, also known as the marketing department, stand ready at our always welcoming booth. Just look for Tent EE on Polk Street. While we’re not as funny as Printer’s Row speaker Al Franken, we will answer your questions and, if you are so moved, sell you some books, for instance our great new release Cemeteries of Illinois, the captivating and informed reference on the subject. Authors always drop by to chat about their books—or books, period.

As for official author signings, longtime Chicago observer Dick Simpson will sign his always-timely Corrupt Illinois from 12 noon to 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 10.

From 1:00-2:00 p.m. on Saturday you can meet Lex Tate, coauthor of our new release An Illini Place: Building the University of Illinois Campus.

At 3:30 on Saturday, Printer’s Row stalwart Brian Dolinar will spend an hour signing and chatting about The Negro in Illinois: The WPA Papers.

 

 

 

 

Film Credit: Bob Greenberg at Brainwaves