May’s free ebook is here! We’re giving away Muncie India(na): Middletown and Asian America by Himanee Gupta-Carlson!

Muncie, Indiana, remains the epitome of an American town. Yet scholars built the image of so-called typical communities across the United States on an illusion. Himanee Gupta-Carlson puts forth an essential question: what do nonwhites, non-Christians, and/or non-natives mean when they call themselves American? A daughter in one of Muncie’s first Indian American families, Gupta-Carlson merges personal experience, the life histories of others, and critical analysis to explore the answers. 

Find out more about obtaining your free ebook here:

We are pleased to announce that two of our titles have won awards from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Chicago Católico: Making Catholic Parishes Mexican by Deborah Kanter received an Award of Superior Achievement.

Roots of the Black Chicago Renaissance: New Negro Writers, Artists, and Intellectuals, 1893-1930 edited by Richard A. Courage and Christopher Robert Reed received a Certificate of Excellence.


We’re pleased to announce that three new, forthcoming music titles have been awarded publication subventions from the American Musicological Society. These funds help offset the costs of publication and allows us to price the consumer edition of the book affordably. The competition is very stiff, and we are delighted these books are receiving this support and this distinction from the AMS.

Queer Country by Shana Goldin-Perschbacher has received a grant from the AMS 75 PAYS Fund of the American Musicological Society, supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Queer Country will be published in Fall 2021 as a volume in the series Music in American Life.

Tania León’s Stride: A Polyrhythmic Life by Alejandro L. Madrid has received a grant from the General Fund of the American Musicological Society, supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Tania León’s Stride will be published in Fall 2021 as a volume in the series Music in American Life.

Johann Scheibe: Organ Builder in Leipzig at the Time of Bach by Lynn Edwards Butler has received a grant from the Claire and Barry Brook Fund of the American Musicological Society, supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Please consider submitting to one of our exciting journal titles! The University of Pittsburgh’s Jazz Studies program, in collaboration with the University of Illinois Press, invites scholars and artists to submit proposals for research articles, reviews, and oral histories for the next issues of Jazz and Culture, slated for release in Spring 2022.

We request submissions in the following categories:

  • Academic Articles in approximately 10,000 words.
  • Oral Histories of Jazz Artists
  • Book and Media Reviews (1,000-2,000 words)

To submit, please send a proposal of 300-500 words in either .pdf or .doc format to:

For questions email: Editor-In-Chief Michael Heller at

Jazz and Culture is an annual, peer-reviewed publication devoted to publishing cutting-edge research on jazz from multiple perspectives. All methodological approaches are welcome, including ethno/musicology, music theory, and critical and cultural studies. Drawing upon recent trends in music scholarship, we further seek to interrogate a range of issues connecting music, race, class, gender, and other realms of social practice. We particularly encourage submissions exploring the music’s international scope.

Candace Bailey, author of Unbinding Gentility: Women Making Music in the Nineteenth-Century South, recently answered some questions about the inspirations behind and discoveries she made while writing her new book.

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?

In the course of my research, I discovered so much new material that conflicted with or flatly contradicted published material on parlor/women’s music. Moreover, my book Music and the Southern Belle: From Accomplished Lady to Confederate Composer dealt primarily with elite white women, but there were many more whose stories needed to be part of the narrative of music history in the United States. I wanted to determine if there was a common cultural thread that explained how enslaved Black women, poor white women, wealthy free Black women, and rich planters’ daughters all came to perform essentially the same repertory. I sought a way to understand the meaning of musicking—why women learned to read music and how they used it—across disparate voices that are rarely discussed in the same place.

Q: Who were your biggest influences?

Ruth Solie’s Music in Other Words: Victorian Conversations and Amrita Chakrabarti Myers’s Forging Freedom: Black Women and the Pursuit of Liberty in Antebellum Charleston were probably the two most influential books for this project, although I could name many others. As to the study of American music in general, I owe a great deal to Katherine “Kitty” Preston, whose stalwart support of not only my work but that of other Americanist musicologists has proven invaluable in keeping the subject in the forefront of our peers. The interdisciplinary nature of this book offered the opportunity to look into a wealth of material that assisted in the formation of ideas, such as Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, Karen Halttunen’s Confidence Men and Painted Women, Lori Merish’s Sentimental Materialism, Dianne Lawrence’s Genteel Women, Sarah Case’s Leaders of Their Race, Derek Scott’s The Singing Bourgeois, and Martha Banta’s Imaging American Women. Reading period newspapers, journals, diaries, and other material also significantly influenced my views.

Q: What is the most interesting discovery you made while researching and writing your book?

Candace Bailey is a professor of music at North Carolina Central University.

This is a difficult question! Certainly, the fact that there were women in the South who carved out careers for themselves as working musicians much earlier than has been reported ranks as one of the chief discoveries. Also, bringing to light the repertory and social use of music among Black women in the South and showing how it followed etiquette patterns typically interpreted as white-only behaviors is a major contribution as well.

Q: What myths do you hope your book will dispel or what do you hope your book will help readers unlearn?

Scientific musicking (making music from notated scores) did not belong to any single social group. Women from all walks of life, from a variety of ethnicities, participated in musical practice during the entire period covered in the book (roughly 1830-1880). One of the initial points I make is that we, as authors, have tended to envision the “cultivated tradition” as white, and musicking among Blacks as oral, limiting the latter to Spirituals, work songs, etc. The evidence completely dispels that premise, and I document the use of opera excerpts, waltzes, and other genres typically reserved for white Americans in Black communities across the antebellum and Civil War South.

Q: What is the most important idea you hope readers will take away from your book?

“Parlor music” as a concept does not do justice to the myriad ways southern women used music as cultural expression, and yet there must be something that encompassed and expressed the differences and similarities across such a wide geographical region. Gentility serves as a much more accurate way to interpret the individual variations in women’s musical culture. Microhistories of specific women and of particular places helps chart the cultural geography of the meaning of musical practice from the antebellum period through the Reconstruction. These provide a nuanced view of how culture transformed through the Civil War and how such change impacted women’s lives during the Reconstruction. Taken together, the book shifts the emphasis from “parlor music” to women’s musical practices.

Q: What do you like to read/watch/or listen to for fun?

I am a huge fan of Agathe Christie and enjoy both reading her books and watching various adaptations for television. Historical documentaries, other British mysteries, gardening shows, and science-based programs also figure heavily in my viewing patterns. The music I prefer to listen to for fun is essentially a conglomeration of world music, especially from the Middle East, Indonesia, and Africa, or that of J.S. Bach.

Adam Crymble, author of Technology and the Historian: Transformations in the Digital Age, answers some questions on his inspirations and discoveries while writing his book.

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?

I really love history, and I want great historical work to thrive. I wrote this book because I believe we can all be better historians if we really understand how digital technology has and can continue to shape our work. It’s especially important for the next generation of historians, who may not have lived through the various digital ‘turns’ of the past several decades – who may need a roadmap to understand why digital approaches in 1990s Virginia were so different to those in London at the same time, and why knowing that matters to their own forrays with digital work. Or how Bogota and Bengaluru in the 2020s are forging their own paths into the digital age that need to be understood on their own terms.

We tend to discard old technology in Western culture, and that’s one of the reasons why, until now, it’s been really difficult to get a long view of how historical studies and technology have come together. We turned our back on those CD-ROMs and old websites when they started to look dated. Now we have the tools to help students and colleagues to understand how those CD-ROMs and projects like them led us to the digital archives we hold so dear today. Of how intrepid adventurers on early message boards in the 1980s set the scene for the social media revolution that has transformed scholarly communication. Of how a meeting in a Chicago library in the late 1970s helped set in motion the environment needed for scholars to learn digital skills from the comfort of their own homes. And why it’s so difficult to get funding today to do the types of public-facing projects that transformed the archive in the early new millennium.

We put so much effort into teaching historiography and historical methods, and rightly so. I wrote this book so that we can include the biggest technological trends in those discussions much more easily, and with a focus on the transnational. This book is about providing colleagues, both current and future, with the history of ourselves that we’ve been missing. So that we can move critically and open-eyed towards a future that partners effectively with technology, and leaves the field stronger than ever.

Q: Who were your biggest influences?

    I wouldn’t have written this book if not for taking Professor William J. Turkel’s ‘Digital History’ class back in 2008 at Western University in Canada. That really opened up the possibilities for me, and was the first time in my life that I realized that it was possible for me to write code that could control a button that would light up some LEDs if we got the wires in the right order and the correct battery to power it all. It was so different from anything I’d learned in my history program up to that point, and really caught my imagination on fire. I began asking myself questions about how technology could help us tell stories about the past. Years later, I’m still asking those questions, and just as excited as ever.

I also owe a huge debt to the whole team at Programming Historian, which was originally Turkel’s project, but that I’ve been involved with for the past decade, and is now publishing digital history tutorials in 4 languages to an audience of 2-million readers per year. They’ve taught me so much about global issues in digital scholarship, and about working to support digital learning, especially since so few programmes yet offer meaningful digital training as part of the curriculum. I’m so grateful to all of them for making working on digital history projects so rewarding, and for convincing me to learn Spanish and brush up on my French so I can be a better collaborator.

Adam Crymble is an editor of Programming Historian and a lecturer of digital humanities at University College London.

Q: What is the most interesting discovery you made while researching and writing your book?

That I was making all of the mistakes. Much of my research focused on finding traces of what historians had done or tried over the years. When you look at that evidence in historical context, it very clearly becomes obvious that some of the experiments were poorly thought out, or just bound to fail. 

This was especially true when I started looking at how digital history had been taught in the classroom over the decades. Rather embarrassingly, I found myself to be part of many of the doomed teaching trends. Especially the attempts to pepper students with all of the ‘digital’ skills we felt were missing from the rest of their degree, and to cram it all into a single course. You don’t see that approach nearly as often anymore, and for good reason. It just doesn’t work, and it is often so completely divorced from historical themes that students can’t even see the point.

The best example I found of this failed class model was… my own.

Needless to say, I’ve taken my own advice and updated my practice.

Q: What myths do you hope your book will dispel or what do you hope your book will help readers unlearn?

The big one is about local variation. It’s real, and it’s important. Historians should know what’s universal in our field, and what’s just normal where you live. Especially as we increasingly work globally. Higher education generally, and historical studies more particularly, is a series of regional stories, sculpted by culture, government policy, funding environments, and philosophies of education. It can be very difficult for historians from different countries to collaborate meaningfully, or sometimes even converse, because they rarely understand that the way we do history here is different, and a reflection of our priorities. 

For example, a lot of the early major funding for ‘digital’ work in the United States was aimed at encouraging the creation of educational resources. That pushed the digital agenda in history towards public-facing websites and CD ROMs, built with students and the public in mind. You can still see traces of that in American digital work two decades later. That just wasn’t the case in the United Kingdom though, where supporting research questions was a much more important aim of some of the early digitization work. The difference was linked not only to the condensed geography in Britain that made the archive a lot closer than for most Americans, but to government priorities and an attempt in the 1990s to weed out Professors who hadn’t published any research for decades through a national research ranking exercise that still sculpts British higher education today. Only by tracing the story back do you get a sense of why the national stories are so different, and why finding common ground for collaboration can be a challenge when the priorities don’t align. That’s just one of the reasons why we need to know this history of our field.

Q: What is the most important idea you hope readers will take away from your book?

We can be better historians, and knowing where we came from helps us do that. It seems silly to say that to historians, but we’ve been ignoring the history of digital history for too long. Now there’s just no excuse for that.

Q: What do you like to read/watch/or listen to for fun?

I’m a sucker for a historical costume drama. The Tudors, Bridgerton, or Medici all kept me entertained. And I love a good historical documentary. One of the things I love so much about doing history in this digital age, is that you can even Tweet at the people who produce these things, and sometimes they’ll even Tweet back! Anyone who doesn’t think technology is changing historical studies just isn’t following the right accounts on Twitter…

Welcome to the University of Illinois Press’s virtual exhibit for the 2021 Organization of American Historians! We hope you’ll step inside our virtual booth and browse new books, journal articles, author interviews, and more. When you buy 3 books you can obtain a free copy of the Journal of American Ethic History (Summer 2021 issue). Be sure to use promo code OAH21 on our website for 50% off all of our American History books April 15-18, 2021!

Featured Book Titles

New Books in Disability History

New Books in Black History

Featured Journals

Our journals accept submissions on an ongoing basis. Visit the home page of the University of Illinois Press website to navigate to each journal title for submission guidelines:

New Books in Sports History

New Books in Labor History

New Books in Media History

Let’s Talk

Daniel Nasset is the new editor-in-chief at the University of Illinois Press. Danny came to Illinois as an assistant acquisitions editor in 2009, becoming an acquisitions editor in 2011 and a senior acquisitions editor in 2016. Danny has distinguished himself with his acquisitions in history, sports, American studies, communication and media studies!

Click here to read an interview with him.

Dominique Moore has joined the University of Illinois Press as an acquisitions editor!

Her academic background includes a BA in English with a minor in gender and women’s studies at UIUC and a MA in African American studies from UCLA. An Illinois native, she is returning to the Land of Lincoln and brings experience, knowledge, and passion to her acquisitions in Black studies, women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, and American ethnic studies.

Alison Syring is the new acquisitions editor at the University of Illinois Press. She was the Press’s first “Round the Press” intern and was hired as an assistant acquisitions editor in 2017. She handles a variety of fields including radical studies, labor studies, Midwestern history, Appalachian studies, religion, and Mormon studies!

Click here to read an interview with her on the blog.

Podcast with Suzanne Sinke and Dominique Moore

Watch The Mark of Slavery and Between Fitness and Death Virtual Event

Browse the Subject Catalog

Free Ebook Giveaway

More From Our Authors

Matthew E. Stanley, author of Grand Army of Labor: Workers, Veterans, and the Meaning of the Civil War recently answered some questions about his new book.

Q: Why did you decide to write this book? 

I became interested in the connections between the American left and Civil War memory during my graduate school training at the University of Cincinnati, where I worked with a cohort that contained some terrific social, cultural, and radical historians of the era, including Chris Phillips, Wayne Durrill, and Mark Lause.  Specifically, seeing the amount of Civil War content in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century worker newspapers, farmer-labor campaigns, and socialist publications really kickstarted my thinking about the nexus between identity, collective memory, cultural politics, and materiality as they related to workers and the Civil War during the Long Gilded Age. 

So as someone who was trained in Civil War history and collective memory, I was consistently surprised by the frequent absence of organized labor and the overall dearth of class analysis in Civil War memory studies.  In addition to the sectional and racial identities of Civil War veterans, hundreds of thousands also possessed identities as “mechanics,” “workingmen,” and “unionists.”  Many others self-identified as “socialists,” “anarchists,” “internationalists,” and “revolutionaries.”  I wanted to explore their stories, including their efforts to reconcile with their former enemies along class (rather than purely sectional or racial) lines by depicting the postwar labor movement—the fight against “wage slavery”—as a continuation of the Civil War.

Although it often creates a firestorm of debate among left and Marxist scholars, the question of how class connects to culture—the relation between the base and the superstructure, between “economic forces” and “ideology”—seemed especially relevant to our current political moment.  The resurgent interest in socialism and unions, combined with a growing climate movement and the mass organization around Black Lives, appeared to offer an opportunity to think about how the left historically attempted—or not—to create and employ cultural interracialism and radical narratives of the past in the service of class struggle.   

Q: Who were your biggest influences? 

In addition to being simultaneously a labor, cultural, and Civil War history, Grand Army of Labor draws on scholarship from a range of subfields.  These include the working-class histories of W. E. B. Du Bois, C. L. R. James, Bernard Mandel, Philip S. Foner, David Montgomery, and Alice Kessler-Harris; the whiteness studies of Alexander Saxton, Theodore Allen, David Roediger, and Noel Ignatiev; the Civil War memory studies of Stuart McConnell, Barry Schwartz, Nina Silber, David W. Blight, and Caroline Janney; the movement histories and scholarship on radicalism of Eric Hobsbawm, Leon Fink, Robin D. G. Kelley, Mark Lause, Jane Dailey, Jaqueline Jones, and Charles Postel; and the works concerned with configurations of racial capitalism by Eric Williams, Cedric Robinson, Gerald Horne, Keri Leigh Merritt, Walter Johnson and others.  There are SO many more, of course (and I apologize to those I omitted), but these are the first few who came to mind.  

Q: What is the most interesting discovery you made while researching and writing your book? 

I am continuously amazed by the ways in which people hold multiple identities as well as the capacity of common people to shape the past to meet their immediate needs.  In terms of self-identification, my book, like all works of history, deals with historical actors who a scholar like myself might be inclined to immediately pigeonhole as a member or representative of a particular political party or racial category or gender group, and then assume that they prioritize the interests of those identities.  The reality is always more complex.  In addition to being a white man and a Republican, for example, my source might also exhibit himself to be a proud, self-described, and highly invested husband, father, Rhinelander, brickmaker, Lutheran, St. Louisan, member of the Turnverein, and avid reader of the Westliche Post.

Stanley - Grand Army of Labor.jpg

Matthew E. Stanley is an associate professor of history at Albany State University. He is the author of The Loyal West: Civil War and Reunion in Middle America.

Q: What myths do you hope your book will dispel or what do you hope your book will help readers unlearn?

As far as I’m concerned, no scholarship can be too invested in de-mystifying and de-naturalizing capitalism and race.  Even pundits, intellectuals, and academics too often present these concepts in ahistorical terms—race as static and timeless or capitalist relations as assumed and perpetual.  This sense of detachment from or complacency with the material roots of oppression is also evident in the logic of neoliberalism, including how neoliberalism structures and shapes the political proclivities of academia.  We see it in the corporatization and stratification of higher education, the ease with which its spokespeople separate race and gender from class, and how politicos and even historians weaponize the “ugly side” of labor or radical history in the service of austerity and incrementalist economics.  Such logic includes, for instance, condemnations of so-called “class reductionism” or citing examples of racism within Debsian socialism or the New Deal (which, like racism in the broader societies that produced these movements, are very easy to find) in order to attack redistributive, universal, and social democratic programs today.  

My task as an activist-scholar/educator is not to defend, say, the Readjusters, the Knights of Labor, or the Industrial Workers of the World.  Rather, it’s to contextualize them—to explore both the contradictory and emancipatory elements of their programs—as to remind readers that their schemas don’t have to be our schemas while at the same time reiterating that social liberation must be grounded in movement-driven, majoritarian strategies (i.e. class struggle).  I am by no means hostile to individual-consciousness raising or to gender, racial, or ethnic diversity.  Indeed, I strongly support those initiatives.  However, the diversification of existing hierarchies is not liberation and cannot be a means in and of itself.  I hope that Grand Army of Labor both advocates for cultural diversity and inclusion as a true reflection of the whole working class while also reminding readers that identity representation is not a substitute for—indeed, it must exist atop—a foundation of class politics and common struggle in the pursuit of shared material goals.  

Q: What is the most important idea you hope readers will take away from your book? 

A sense of optimism.  Although it’s easy to emphasize the structural limitations of historic left labor movements and the concomitant shortcomings and contradictions of their cultural politics (I devote many words to this in the book), Grand Army of Labor is also a story of incredible possibilities, encouraging “could-have-beens,” and inspirational redefinitions of what it means to be “free.”  At the risk of losing my “realist” credentials (I don’t give a damn about having lost my “pragmatic” ones), I see similar prospects all around our current political moment.  I hope Grand Army of Labor will in some infinitesimal way contribute to the growing movement of Americans against structural racism, whether expressed through policing or environmental crisis, and in favor of labor rights and unionization.  

This optimism stems not only (and not even primarily) from the high-profile electoral campaigns of Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, and the rest of the democratic socialist “Squad,” but from mass movements including the 2018-19 education workers’ strikes, Fight for $15, the Democratic Socialists of America, Black Lives Matter, and the Sunrise Movement, all of which have demonstrated a remarkable capacity to challenge the neoliberal consensus and both situate race within a class framework and highlight how the oppression of specific groups of workers.  They are doing—and in some ways improving upon—the political work (and the cultural work) of Old Left industrial unionism.  Although union density remains tragically low, the capacity of workers to make substantial and permanent gains within the corporate capitalist Democratic Party is dubious, and the short-term prospects of a viable worker’s party in this country appear virtually non-existent, these movements continue to add new dimensions to the long struggle for liberation in part by broadening our understandings of “freedom” and “democracy.”  There’s a lot of hope in that.  

Q: What do you like to read/watch/or listen to for fun?

I’m almost—almost—ashamed to admit that, in terms of TV, my wife and I watch more than our share of Bravo.  It’s mindless, fun (in its own way), and, intended or not, offers a fascinating reveal into the absurdity and moral rot of the ruling class.  It’s not “good” programming in a traditional sense, but it’s sure to dispel any illusions one might possess about the positive correlation between wealth and merit.   

We also have a one-year old daughter, and I’ve spent A LOT of quality time with her during the pandemic.  Our music time often consists of Disney favorites followed by, say, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Radiohead, or Rage Against the Machine.  I’ve been compromising with her when it comes to TV shows, which means plenty of cartoons, including the Bill Melendez Charlie Brown movies (my childhood favorites) as well as her current preference, Sesame Street.  She owns and enjoys (OK, we both enjoy) a wide variety of books, but there’s positively no substitute for a good scratch ‘n sniff.      I’ve “expanded” her exposure a bit more when it comes to movies.  In addition to revisiting the classics—sometimes in bits and pieces—by Eisenstein, Chaplin, Welles, Godard, Kubrick, Coppola, Lumet, Malick, Scorsese, and Carpenter, we’ve also run through much of the catalogs of some of my favorite current filmmakers: P. T. Anderson, Denis Villeneuve, Boots Riley, Bong Joon-ho, Jordan Peele, the Coen brothers, etc.  On second thought, I probably shouldn’t be admitting to this…

Welcome to the 2021 University of Illinois Press Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) Virtual Exhibit! While we wish this could be an in-person event, we’re still excited to show you our Asian American scholarship collection. Enjoy books, journal articles, author interviews, and more in this virtual exhibit! Also, make sure to use promo code AAAS21 for 50% off Asian American studies books on our website April 7- 10, 2021. Buy three books and get a free copy of Women, Gender, and Families of Color (Fall 2021 issue)!

Association of University Presses Statement Against Anti-Asian Violence

New Books in the Asian American Experience Series, edited by Eiichiro Azuma, Jigna Desai, Martin Manalansan IV, Lisa Sun-Hee Park, and David K. Yoo

New Books in Asian American Studies

Virtual Book Fair

Chen Yi AAAS

University of Illinois Press Journals featuring Asian American Studies Scholarship

The Journal of American Ethnic History addresses various aspects of North American immigration history and American ethnic history.
Women, Gender, and Families of Color is a multidisciplinary journal that centers on the study of Black, Latina, Indigenous, and Asian American women, gender, and families.

Let’s Talk

Dominique Moore has joined the University of Illinois Press as an acquisitions editor!

Her academic background includes a BA in English with a minor in gender and women’s studies at UIUC and a MA in African American studies from UCLA. An Illinois native, she is returning to the Land of Lincoln and brings experience, knowledge, and passion to her acquisitions in Black studies, women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, and American ethnic studies.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

In May 2020, the Press celebrated Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and shared several notable Asian American titles on the UIP blog.

virtual exhibit virtual exhibit AAAS virtual exhibit

To find out more about these featured titles and other Asian Pacific American scholarship, read the full blog post here.

Browse Our Subject Catalog

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Listen to Leta E. Miller and J. Michele Edwards’s Chen Yi Playlist:

Further Reading from Our Authors, Editors, and More

We recently chatted with author Jennifer McClearen about her new book, Fighting Visibility: Sports Media and Female Athletes in the UFC.

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?

Fighting Visibility began as a mild curiosity when I started watching the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) with a group of my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training partners in 2012. I had been aware of mixed martial arts (MMA) and the UFC for several years, but generally accepted the stereotype that the promotion peddled unbridled violence that served as entertainment by and for meatheads. I never thought that a sport that U.S. senator John McCain once called “human cockfighting” might be something I would watch let alone end up writing a book about. But my perception of the UFC began to change around the time that they decided to sign Ronda Rousey as their first female fighter. 

I skeptically watched the UFC market their first women’s MMA match in 2013 between Rousey and Liz Carmouche and fully expected the promotion to resort to sexualizing or trivializing female athletes with little fanfare because that’s how sports media often treats female athletes. To my surprise, the UFC began marketing its female athletes as empowered heroines breaking boundaries in their sport and seeking the American dream. Carmouche was an out lesbian and former marine who didn’t fit the heterosexy athlete pin-up that usually sells. Rousey soon became the UFC’s highest paid athlete and the face of the UFC for mainstream audiences. So, the book began with a simple question: how did a hypermasculine brand built upon a reputation of no-holds-barred fighting get in the business of women’s empowerment?

Q: Who were your biggest influences?

The theoretical heart of this book relies heavily on the work of feminist and critical/cultural scholars who critique what representations of diverse identities actually do to improve inequities in society. The scholars that I use in my work include Herman Gray, Sarah-Banet Weiser, Kristen Warner, and Ralina Joseph. Reading Gray’s article Subject(ed) to Recognition and Banet-Weiser’s books Authentic and Empowered propelled my thinking about representation early in the writing of this book. In much of media culture, we see a proliferation of images of diverse identities that get folded into neoliberal market logics that can be profitable for brands by circulating a great deal of cultural cache, which is what Gray and Banet-Weiser illuminate in particular. Kristen Warner’s short article Plastic Representation and Mary Beltrán’s Flow Journal piece on Meaningful Diversity are also ideas that I put in conversation in this book.

Jennifer McClearen is an assistant professor in the Department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas at Austin.

Q: What is the most interesting discovery you made while researching and writing your book?

I had no intention of writing about labor when I first began Fighting Visibility. Yet, as I dug into the research, it became crystal clear that just because a sports media organization depicts female athletes as empowered symbols, doesn’t mean that they have agency in their work. In fact, they may be severely disenfranchised workers. UFC fighters are independent contractors, which means they don’t have year-round health insurance, retirement benefits, or guaranteed income. In a profession where you literally put your body on the line, this is highly problematic considering that most fighters are underpaid, and the UFC is worth billions. Fighters cannot break their contracts, but the UFC can at whim, which makes fighters extremely nervous about their job status. The book explores how the UFC capitalizes on diverse female athletes while exploiting the labor of those same athlete-workers. The most disenfranchised are often women of color, lesbians, or gender non-conforming women. 

Q: What myths do you hope your book will dispel or what do you hope your book will help readers unlearn?

I want to burst the mirage in progressive sports discourse that representation mattering is unilaterally beneficial to women athletes. I urge those already invested in women’s sports, such as scholars, activists, journalists, and fans, to critically examine what we assume are representational victories in the sporting arena. “Positive” or even “meaningful and accurate” representations of female athletes are co-opted by corporate interests that can actually disenfranchise women even as they become more visible than ever before. The UFC is at the forefront of monetizing female athletes in ways that emphasize their difference and make it sellable even though most women’s sports have lagged behind the trends that Gray, Banet-Weiser, and Warner describe in their work.

Q: What is the most important idea you hope readers will take away from your book?

As I write in the book, “Instead of asking ‘are women present in the UFC’ or ‘are these representations fair,’ I take a cue from Donna Haraway (1997) to ask ‘How is visibility possible? For whom, by whom, and of whom? What remains invisible, to whom, and why?’ (202).” The book argues that the UFC’s promotion of diverse female athletes actually serves as a seductive mirage of progress that enables the brand’s exploitative labor practices. We must constantly ask the question “who benefits” from these representations because visibility in itself doesn’t grant marginalized people as much power as we once might have assumed. The UFC’s labor model disproportionately taxes female athletes, particularly women of color and gender non-normative women, despite also promoting them at unprecedented levels. The book complicates a prevalent cultural notion that the increased visibility of female athletes will lead to greater equity in sports media and instead urges us to question who is harmed by neoliberal business practices.   

Q: What do you like to read/watch/or listen to for fun?

My favorite show right now is Warrior (Justin Lin and Jonathan Tropper), which is a martial arts period drama/action show about Chinese immigrants in San Francisco in the 1870s during the decline of the gold rush. The cast is predominantly of Asian descent and the creators do a fantastic job of creating rich and relatable characters. The women are even well-written, which is atypical of this genre. The show deftly depicts the historical anti-Chinese racism of the era while being certain to illustrate these connections with contemporary anti-Asian rhetoric. You can feel the weight of oppression on the characters, but they push back through martial arts in ways that feel very cathartic, in ways that Blaxploitation films were also able to do. On top of all this, the martial arts sequences are some of the most beautifully choreographed fight scenes I’ve seen in film or television. The show was inspired by the writings of Bruce Lee and his daughter, Shannon Lee, is one of the producers. I’m obviously a huge fan of Warrior and I hope the show gets picked up somewhere for a third season.

Make sure to also check out the recording of the book launch for Fighting Visibility, featuring the author in conversation with Julie Kedzie!