Himanee Gupta-Carlson is an associate professor at SUNY Empire State College. She recently answered some questions about her new book, Muncie, India(na): Middletown and Asian America.


Q. Muncie, Indiana is well-known for being the site of the famous Middletown Studies, conducted by Robert and Helen Lynd during the 1920s and 1930s. How did the Middletown Studies portray the city of Muncie and, on a broader scale, American culture?

Robert S. Lynd and Helen Merrell Lynd co-authored two studies: Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture (1929), and Middletown in Transition: A Study of Cultural Conflicts (1929). Both studies represented Middletown – their pseudonym for Muncie – as predominantly white, conservative, and fundamentalist Christian. The first study, which is the most famous, identified class divisions between the middle class and working class as the primary features dividing the city, removed African Americans from consideration, and downplayed the significance of immigration in shaping “American culture”. The second study did acknowledge racial difference as a primary divider of the city but did not explore the issue further. What emerged from the studies and the popular acclaim was a portrayal of Muncie and American culture as white, not-foreign born, and Christian.

Q. Muncie, India(na): Middletown and Asian America highlights both your own personal experiences growing up in Muncie, as well as other Asian-American residents’ experiences. You have an obvious connection to the city, but what inspired you to write a book about your hometown?

I was interested in writing about South Asian American experiences, particularly in the context of diaspora links to Hindu fundamentalist politics in India, and initially had planned to do my research in a larger metropolitan area. As I studied other works on the South Asian American experience, however, I increasingly felt that my experiences of being a child and teenager growing up Indian in a small Midwestern community were not being represented in the literature. I decided that I wanted to tell that story, and as I started to probe the Middletown archive deeper, I realized that the story of being South Asian American in Muncie offered a strong example of how whiteness and Christian dominance had defined Americans of many colors, backgrounds, and differences and had rendered the non-white, non-Christian body as invisible. Making the invisible visible through telling my story as well as the stories of the South Asian Americans I grew up with in Muncie became the inspiration for the book.

Q. You noted that, “From an early age, I recognized that being the child of Indian immigrants made me non-typical of Muncie.” How did this recognition of yourself as an “other” influence your identity formation?

This recognition made me a “no-fit” person essentially. That role has traveled with me through my entire life, causing me to feel as if I am always the outsider, regardless of setting. However, writing and sharing Muncie, India(na) with a reading public has caused
me to begin to speculate that a common thread that many share is that of being a “no-fit.” I do not want to downplay the influence that racial and religious oppression have in rendering certain individuals invisible as Americans; as invisible within discourses on American-ness; those influences are insidious and can be lethal. Instead, I would suggest that one’s recognition of their own outsider-ness creates a position from which societal injustices can be more effectively addressed.

Q. The Middletown Studies are a prime example of the way that social sciences have all too often excluded people of color, immigrants and other marginalized populations from their studies. Why is it important to continue to bring visibility to these groups and their stories?

America has never been solely a white, Christian nation with European genealogical roots. Rather, it has from the outset been a messy conglomeration of peoples, languages, races, ethnicities, gendered identities, religions, and more. Bringing visibility to the stories and experiences of the excluded exposes the falsity of belief that this is “one nation” under “one (singular) god”. It allows us to visualize an Indiana in which an India and an Indian, so to speak, are also present.

Q. How did your experience as a journalist influence your research and your writing methods? 

Being a journalist shaped the ethnographic approach that I took with the book. I did not follow a pre-designed structure in organizing interviews or interview questions. Rather, I created dialogic open-ended queries that invited the interviewees to tell their stories and to converse with me in ways that they saw fit. They chose pseudonyms. They chose what to share and what to withhold, and were invited to ask me questions, as well. Much of the writing was shaped around the stories that emerged from these exchanges. I had done extensive research on the South Asian diaspora, critical race theory, and feminist methodology before going out to interview Muncie South Asians. However, the decision to do secondary research into the Middletown archive came later. It was a result of being in Muncie first for several months with my family and other interviewees and then for what became several years of reflecting on what I had learned about the place of these individuals as well as my own place in this town so famous for being typical. That stimulated a curiosity to learn more about the roots of Muncie’s typicality. The critique of the Middletown studies that the book offers is built around the interviewee’s stories as is the personal reflection that emerged through my journey to get to know Muncie and America better.

Q. What insights can readers take away from your book about the contemporary Asian-American experience?

I’d like readers to tell me what insights they are gaining from my book, rather than presuming I know how they are receiving it. I will say that in the readings I’ve given to date in Muncie, Seattle, San Francisco, and in many cities throughout New York, what has
emerged is a deeply engaged conversation about how the question of being American affects all of us. Readers have raised questions about present-day immigration policies, racial violence, the impact of deindustrialization in mobilizing support for Donald Trump, and commonalities and divergences in many immigrant and ethnic community histories. I do hope that for all of us the book can become a thinking tool for envisioning America as a space that is not necessarily united but always in conversation with the polyphonic chorus that calls for a cacophony of different voices to sound.


 

 

We are pleased to announce that Chicana/o and Latina/o Fiction: The New Memory of Latinidad by Ylce Irizarry has won the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies Book Award, which is given to an outstanding new book in the field of Chicana and Chicano Studies.

The book also won the MLA Prize in United States Latina and Latino and Chicana and Chicano Literary and Cultural Studies earlier this year.

Congratulations Ylce Irizarry!

We’re thrilled to be attending #BookExpo 2018 this year in New York City! Stop by booth #2766 May 31-June 1 and say hello! We’ve got some great new and forthcoming books that we’ll be showcasing, including:

Glory in Their Spirit: How Four Black Women Took on the Army During World War II

By Sandra M. Bolzenius

We’ll be giving away 50 COPIES of this remarkable story at our booth, so make sure to stop by before they’re gone!

 

 

 

James Baldwin and the 1980s: Witnessing the Reagan Era

by Joseph Vogel

Read an excerpt from the book in the Boston Review here!

Read a Q&A with Joseph Vogel here.

 

 

 

Pigskin Nation: How the NFL Transformed American Politics

By Jesse Berrett

“A superb cultural history.”–Publisher’s Weekly

Read a Q&A with Jesse Berrett here.

 

 

 

Hockey: A Global History 

By: Stephen Hardy and Andrew C. Holman

November 2018

The saga of how the coolest game changed the world–and vice versa.

 

 

 

Bill Monroe: The Life and Music of the Blue Grass Man 

By Tom Ewing

September 2018

From cradle to great, the comprehensive real story of Bill Monroe

 

 

 

Cinematic Encounters: Interviews and Dialogues

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

December 2018

The lively art of conversation with auteurs from Welles to Jarmusch

 

 

 

And those are just a few! Make sure to stop by and find out about other new and forthcoming titles we’re publishing, and if you haven’t yet, peruse our new catalog!

Join us for a reception celebrating 100 years of publishing excellence with Illini Union Document Services, and Campus Mail at the Illini Union Art Gallery on Friday June, 1st from 1:30-3:30pm.

Established by the the Board of Trustees on June 2, 1918, the University of Illinois Press, Illini Union Document services and Campus Mail were originally one entity. Since then, the University of Illinois Press, Document Services, and Campus Mail have been valuable resources to the entire campus community at the University of Illinois. To acknowledge the longstanding impact they have each had on the campus and to recognize their evolution in printing and publishing services, Mayor Deborah Feinen and Mayor Diane Marlin will be officially declaring June 1st as ‘Printing Day’ in Champaign and Urbana at this event.

An exhibit will present and an engaging visual history of the University’s printing history, publishing services, and evolving print technology. The exhibit will continue for the month of June.

We hope you’ll join us for this centennial celebration!

Naomi André is an associate professor in the departments of African and Afroamerican Studies and Women’s Studies and the associate director in the Residential College at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Voicing Gender: Castrati, Travesti, and the Second Woman in Early-Nineteenth-Century Italian Opera and coeditor of Blackness in OperaShe recently answered some questions about her new book, Black Opera: History, Power, and Engagement.


 

 

 

 

Q. In the introduction you say your book “departs from the solitary goal of understanding how music might have had meaning in the past” and instead focuses on the effect on current audiences. Can you elaborate on that concept and how it informs your book? 

In this book, I realized that my basic approach to analyzing music, and opera specifically, had evolved from how I was taught as a musicologist in graduate school. In my training, the primary emphasis had been on uncovering what we could understand and prove from the past—focusing on facts and data about performance practice, compositional genesis, and trying to construct informed understandings of how the music was received around its initial performances (a work’s early reception history). In Black Opera, I saw that the types of questions I was bringing to this project were more rooted in the present. Rather than starting with the past, I began with the vantage point of how do these works have meaning today? This line of inquiry was shaped by my lived experience of seeing these works performed and teaching, whether that be in the classroom, enrichment seminars for seniors and alumni, or other audiences such as educational classes in prisons and pre-concert lectures before a performance.

A big part of this approach is connected to the knowledge we gain from looking at music in the past; I see my analysis as building on what we know from the methodologies I learned in my training as a traditional historical musicologist. With the starting point in the present, I have developed a set of paradigms that I call an engaged musicology that complements and extends how we think about music. Engaged Musicology has overlapping goals with other directions in music scholarship. Similar to the energy in Public Musicology, I am interested in having the knowledge we have gleaned from our scholarship to reach a broad audience that extends outside of the academy and specialists. Moreover, there are close connections to the important discipline of Ethnomusicology in exploring how music functions in and as culture.

With Engaged Musicology, my goal was to address three basic rubrics in my analysis that connects the present to the past. First, who was on the artistic team for the work; for opera, who were the composer and the librettist? How do their lived experiences and vantage points shape and inform what they write into their works? Second, who is on stage performing the work? In opera studies, a trenchant theme I explore in the book concerns racial/ethnic representation and issues around true-to-color casting and the use of blackface as well as yellow-face for Asian characters or brown-face for Latinx roles. Embedded in this practice is the open-ended question of who is allowed to portray whom? The third parameter I set up is who is in the audience and interpreting the work? Rather than using this as a censoring club to point out biases, the aim of this line of inquiry is to highlight the different vantage points we all have. While we learn to write in an authorial voice that points out facts and truths, how we tell the story—how we shape the larger narrative in content and structure—reflects the individuality of our voices as commentators on art. Such questions help celebrate the strengths in the voices of music writers and, when necessary, help identify potential limits in their critiques.

Q. Why did you choose to focus on black opera in the United States and South Africa?

Through my work co-editing the collection Blackness in Opera (2012) I found an adaptation of Bizet’s Carmen that had been set in Khayelitsha—a township outside of Cape Town, South Africa—called U-Carmen eKhayelitsha and made into a film in 2005. I saw it, was fascinated, and wanted to learn more; was this a one-time thing or was there a movement of opera in South Africa that had black and mixed-race singers participating in this first generation after apartheid. I was able to follow up with a trip to Cape Town University and was very impressed with the opera program there. I had the opportunity to be in residence for a week, teach a few classes on opera and music history, watch rehearsals, and meet several people key in teaching in their opera program including Kamal Kahn, Angelo Gobbiato, and Virginia Davids. At a reception, I met Bongani Ndodana-Breen and Warren Wilensky and they talked about their plans for an opera based on Winnie Madikizela Mandela. I knew I needed to learn more; the vibrant opera scene, high level of accomplishment, and beauty of the voices got me hooked. I came into contact with a few South African scholars who are professors at Wits (the University of the Witwatersrand) in Johannesburg who were interested in the emerging opera scene in South Africa and we were able to attend Ndodana-Breen’s Winnie: The Opera in Pretoria. Our collaboration resulted in a cluster of articles about the opera and our work together continues to this day.[1]

Initially, I thought I would keep my work on opera in South Africa and opera in the west (US and Europe) separate. However, as I was working on how stories around blackness were being told in opera, I saw a similar situation on both sides of the Atlantic. I try to be very careful to keep the differences in the foreground, because each country has different histories and contexts. However, putting these two opera scenes in conversation ended up feeling like the best way to discuss them.

Both the US and South Africa presented rather hostile environments for black people to participate in opera. Opera was segregated and black people did not have access to the socio-economic resources to easily mount their own productions. The context for black musical theater performance was also shaped by the negative stereotypes in minstrelsy. Though minstrelsy was born in the US in the late 1820s, I was surprised to learn that we have evidence that it was exported to South Africa as early as the 1860s. On both sides of the Atlantic, black performers were singing opera, despite the incredible barriers. In the US we find singers (such as Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield and Sissieretta Jones), composers (Harry Lawrence Freeman and Scott Joplin), and opera impresarios (the Theodore Drury Grand Opera Company and Mary Cardwell Dawson’s National Negro Opera Company) who were participating in a “shadow opera culture” (a term I use to describe a different opera culture happening alongside the mainstream white opera culture) that is still being recovered and written into history. In South Africa, during colonialism and apartheid, black singers were deeply engaged in a strong choral tradition that included adaptations of opera arias, choruses, and tunes from ensembles. So the two stories formed a dialogue: in both the US and South Africa, black people were actively engaged in opera, despite many obstacles.

Q. How does black opera operate as a site for activism and push for social change?

In uncovering the shadow opera culture happening in black communities I noted that in recent years, since the 1980s in the US and since the dismantling of apartheid in 1994 in South Africa, opera has become a space for presenting new narratives of black lives. Rather than being reliant on minstrelsy, with the negative stereotypes of the Mammy and Jezebel for women or the Buck and Zip Coon for men, operas on black subjects now presented black people in an honorable light. In the US, we are still recovering earlier examples, but since the 1980s, I think of Anthony Davis’s operas X, Life and Times of Malcom X (1986) and Amistad (1997) as being pivotal works that have led to Margaret Garner (2005), Champion (2013), Charlie Parker’s Yardbird (2015), We Shall Not Be Moved (2017), I Dream (rev 2018), Blue (2019) and many others including several I have heard that are still in the pipeline. In South Africa, in addition to Winnie: The Opera (2011), there is Princess Magogo (2002), The Mandela Trilogy (2010), The Flower of Shembe (2012), A Man of Good Hope (2016), and others. These operas being composed and produced by interracial teams are inventing a new narrative for how blackness in general, and the specific lives of black people, are being represented. On both sides of the Atlantic, opera is providing an unlikely space for writing black narratives into history. For me, as an opera lover and scholar, opera is now beginning to feel like a space of change and liberation.

Q. You mention several adaptations of the opera, Carmen (Carmen Jones, Carmen: A Hip-Hopera, U-Carmen eKhayelitsha). Can you describe the process of “remaking” operas to fit modern times? How do the story/characters/themes change, if at all?

It is true that these adaptations create new visual and sonic landscapes; there are different locations and translations into different languages (for example, U-Carmen is sung in Xhosa). Rather than primarily describing the several adaptations, I explore how themes are treated across the versions. I look at the establishing shots in the beginning that set the tone and create the world of the opera. I concentrate on themes that highlight Carmen’s difference and how she stands out from her surrounding black community. I also focus on the ending and how her trajectory leads to her death and how this death has meaning in its specific context.

Bizet’s opera Carmen from 1875 brings many things together at once: memorable tunes, a story about an outsider, and the portrayal of an independent woman. This female character is controversial for using her seductive body not only to give men what they want, but also to withhold her affections and make choices that they do not want (including rejecting them). Carmen is, perhaps, the most adapted opera into innovative productions on the opera stage as well as into other media (film, ballet, theater). The fact that she is the quintessential outsider, has made her story especially attractive for black settings; this highlights the fascination with what is considered exotic and different from the perceived norm. She is a character that cannot be manipulated, except for the final scene when her transgressions become too great and she must be silenced.

One of the most provocative elements of the multiple Carmens I explore in the book is to see how different versions treat her. These settings involve all-black casts and a critical issue is how she is accepted and rejected by people who look like her and are outside of the background power of the white patriarchal hegemony. Frequently Carmen is empowered and her death seems to be more of a sacrifice of someone who is trying to escape oppression rather than a punishment for her sins. Sometimes Carmen fits into her environment and she emerges more as an “every woman” who is strong, yet also a little more vulnerable than her peers.

Q. What does Opera achieve or convey to audiences that other musical forms cannot?

Opera is a fascinating thing because it speaks on many planes simultaneously. For those who are familiar with opera, there is always the issue—especially in recent new works—of how this opera interacts and articulates the conventions of the form. For those new to opera, each work confronts the complicated history of being considered an “elitist” genre only for wealthy, older, white patrons. Having an opera on black subjects about black experiences, sometimes with more black bodies on stage than in the audience, presents an impact on the audience and performers that supplements the semantic content (the plot) of the opera. Hence, being in the theater seeing opera performed live presents many “meta-issues” around the power dynamics of how opera is consumed.

Within the performance, opera utilizes the wonderful ability to say many things at the same time. There are the words that carry the story and present the semantic narrative. However, there is also the orchestra that can support the text in its message or say something different through the use of musical quotation or presenting a different mood (e.g., providing a sinister accompaniment to a lyrical melody where the singer is trying to convince someone of something, but the orchestra alerts the audience that the person is lying). There is also the delivery, the interpretive actions, that the performer and director can add that presents another line of narrative. Winnie: The Opera and Nixon in China are two strong examples of controversial political figures (with operas written when both were alive) who are given multi-dimensional portrayals where the audience gets to figure out how they want to see these characters. The title characters of both works are presented as complicated, heroic, and flawed. What opera can do especially well is that these elements can happen at the same time in a lyrical moment, as well as happening at different times for each member of the audience.

The grandness of opera allows us to examine hyper-real spectacle in ways that can slow things down to take a miniature moment and present it as monumental. Opera can distort real time in ways that can be instructive and take us on a journey that helps us bring different viewpoints into focus. While people may complain that opera is “over the top,” I’ve always believed that certain lived experiences are “over the top” and, indeed, opera can help make life feel more real.


[1] Our five articles appeared in African Studies, vol. 75, no.1 (2016).

 

We are celebrating our 100th Anniversary at the University of Illinois Press this year. In honor of reaching this historic milestone, we decided to celebrate our readers by giving away an iPad pre-loaded with 100 UIP ebooks. We had so much fun during our first giveaway that we decided we couldn’t stop at one, so we are doing ANOTHER iPad giveaway! The deadline is August 1st, 2018. For a chance to win, enter here!

 

 

 

Here’s a quick look at a few of the books that will be featured in the iPad giveaway. To see the full list 0f 100 UIP ebooks you could win, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are pleased to announce that Making an Antislavery Nation: Lincoln, Douglas, and the Battle over Freedom by Graham A. Peck has won the Russell P. Strange Memorial Book Award from the Illinois State Historical Society for the book of the year in Illinois history. The Russell P. Strange Award was established by Darrell and Priscilla Strange Matthews in memory of Priscilla’s father, noted scholar, educator, past vice president and life-long member of the Illinois State Historical Society. The award is presented annually to one author in recognition of his/her significant contribution to the study of Illinois history. The award was announced at the ISHS annual meeting on Saturday, May 5, 2018 at the Old State Capitol in Springfield. Congratulations Graham!

In Making an Antislavery Nation, Graham A. Peck meticulously traces the conflict over slavery in Illinois from the Northwest Ordinance in 1787 to Lincoln’s defeat of his arch rival Stephen A. Douglas in the 1860 election. Douglas’s attempt in 1854 to persuade Northerners that slavery and freedom had equal national standing stirred a political earthquake that brought Lincoln to the White House. Yet Lincoln’s framing of the antislavery movement as a conservative return to the country’s founding principles masked what was in fact a radical and unprecedented antislavery nationalism. It justified slavery’s destruction but triggered the Civil War.

Presenting pathbreaking interpretations of Lincoln, Douglas, and the Civil War’s origins, Making an Antislavery Nation shows how battles over slavery paved the way for freedom’s triumph in America.

We’re so proud to have published this groundbreaking work of scholarship!

Celebrate with us! Get this award-winning book for 30% off!
Use Promo Code PECK30 through May 15!

The 2018 AEJMC History Division Book Award, honoring the best journalism and mass communication history book published in 2017, has been won by Fred Carroll for Race News: Black Journalists and the Fight for Racial Justice in the Twentieth Century.  Carroll is a lecturer in the Department of History and Philosophy at Kennesaw State University, where he teaches courses in U.S. history and African-American History.

A panel of three distinguished media historians chose Race News from a field of 29 entries.  Race News is an exhaustive archeological dig that reveals the ways that ideological, political, and commercial dynamics of progressive politics shaped how black journalists reported news.  The judges praised Carroll’s scholarship and accessibility, saying that Race News “should appeal to anyone with an interest in black culture, dissident and mainstream journalism, and the social and political forces that shaped the American Century.”

Carroll, who will receive a plaque and a cash prize, has been invited to speak about his work during the History Division members’ meeting on Tuesday, August 7 from 6:45 to 8:15 p.m. at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication convention in Washington, D.C.

Congratulations Fred!

Celebrate with us! Get this award-winning book for 30% off!
Use Promo Code CARROLL30 through May 15!

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. It’s an important time to pay tribute to the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America’s history. At the University of Illinois Press we’ve published a wealth of important work in Asian American Studies. Our Asian American Experience Series was established in 1992 and features scholarship of high quality in history, religion, anthropology, sociology, political science, gender studies, visual culture, and other humanities and social science disciplines. Check out some of our new books in the series and other Asian American studies books below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fall 2018 catalog is finally here! This catalog is packed with illuminating, entertaining, and thought-provoking titles  and we’re so excited to finally share them with you!

The gorgeous catalog cover this season comes from Women and Ideas in Engineering: Twelve Stories from Illinois by  Laura D. Hahn and Angela S. Wolters.  Some fifty odd years ago we published Men and Ideas in Engineering. So we were thrilled when Laura and Angela approached us about creating a volume that highlights the contributions of women in the field. The engineering girl statue was erected on our campus last year after four years of effort from student Sakshi Srivastava to break the bronze ceiling. It’s the perfect symbol for the second catalog of our centennial year.

Our lead title is the first ever global history of hockey by Stephen Hardy and Andrew C. Holman.

Hockey: A Global History draws on twenty-five years of research to present THE monumental end-to-end history of the sport. The authors follow hockey’s history from modern hockey’s “birth” in Montreal, its migration from Canada south to the United States and east to Europe, to the game of today, where men and women at all levels of play lace ’em up on the shinny ponds of Saskatchewan, the wide ice of the Olympics, and across the breadth of Asia.

We also have two forthcoming essential biographies of music greats. Tom Ewing’s long awaited portrait of bluegrass man Bill Monroe will grace shelves this September along with Michael D. Doubler’s Dixie Dewdrop: The Uncle Dave Macon Story, which brings the grandfather of country music to life. And don’t forget to check out Wayne C. Temple’s biography of Noah Brooks, which tells the unknown story of one of Lincoln’s closest friendships.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also have some great new books coming out in film studies, including the first-ever study of the directing duo Lana and Lily Wachowski  in our Contemporary film Director’s series, which celebrates 15 years this year, and the first of two collections of interviews from film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum. And in sexuality studies, Laura Helen Marks investigates the contradictions and seesawing gender dynamics in Victorian-inspired adult films.

 

 

 

 

 

And that’s just in the first few pages! We also have a second edition of of Richard T. Hughes classic Myths America Lives By, the first musical biography of medieval composer Hildegard von Bingen,  an investigation of feminism, conservatism and conspiracy in the heartland from Erin M. Kempker and five new titles in the Working Class in American History series, which will celebrate it’s 40th anniversary this fall.

So if you haven’t had a chance yet, grab a cup of coffee and peruse our new catalog to check out these wonderful titles.