Irving Lowens Book Award recipient

We are pleased to announce Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement by Naomi André has won the Society for American Music‘s Irving Lowens Book Award.

From the SAM Bulletin:
“Focusing on opera, this monograph explores important questions of how race, class and ethnicity shape not only musical works but also musical experiences in both the United States and South Africa.

“André using an innovative methodology that gives not just opera scholars but music scholars in general new ways of approaching and understanding the reception of works, making astute observations in ways the bring both clarity and complexity to both.

“André argues that opera is a ‘capacious’ genre that has been able to sustain not only a multitude of interpretations but multiple and changing audiences and in so doing makes shows the ways in operatic works depicting race have been received by diverse audiences over multiple generations.”

Congratulations, Naomi André!

Nicholas Bessaraboff Prize recipient

We are pleased to announce Banjo Roots and Branches edited by Robert B. Winans has won the American Musical Instrument Society’s Nicholas Bessaraboff Prize.

The Nicholas Bessaraboff Prize is awarded annually for the most distinguished book-length work in English which best furthers the American Musical Instrument Society’s Goal “to promote study of the history, design, and use of musical instruments in all cultures and from all periods.”

From the award committee:

“The 2020 Nicholas Bessaraboff Prize for best book-length publication that furthers the society’s mission is awarded to Robert B. Winans and colleagues for the book Banjo Roots and Branches. This collection presents research on the African and Caribbean roots of the banjo from new perspectives. It explores the banjo as a slave instrument, and finally its multiple uses as folk and minstrel instrument in the nineteenth and twentieth century from both black and white perspectives. In addition to Winans, the other authors are: Shlomo Pestcoe, Greg C. Adams, Nick Bamber, Chuck Levy, Saskia Willaert, Pete Ross, George R. Gibson, Jim Dalton, and Tony Thomas.”

Jasmine Mitchell answers some questions about her new book, Imagining the Mulatta: Blackness in U.S. and Brazilian Media.

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?

“You look exotic, what are you?” “Where is your family from? I mean what is your race?”  These questions have been posed to me over and over again. While they may sound like queries of innocent curiosity, they actually reveal anxieties, fascinations, and fetishizations of race, gender, and sexuality. I, myself, as a mixed Black woman in the United States has had to navigate with, and try to navigate as, a mixed Black woman and that journey was the genesis of this book. Growing up in the United States, I rarely saw interracial families or anyone really that looked like me on television. But, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was an emerging political and media discourse casting mixed-race children as a new people that were going to save the future from racism. 

When I arrived in Brazil for the first time on New Year’s Eve 2001, I had already bought into the Brazil as racial paradise myth.  I naively thought to myself, “Wow, I will fit in here! There are so many Black people that look just like my family.” Yet, this myth soon shattered for me as racial inequities were hard to ignore and women who looked like me were intensely sexually objectified. I hardly saw anyone who looked like me in universities or on television.  When I began working in Brazil in 2003, fierce debates raged as Brazilian universities began implementing affirmative action for the first time. Opposition often centered on questions of who would be considered Black and if affirmative action was U.S. imported racism. How did the United States and Brazil manage the promises of racial paradises of mixed race peoples with the realities of racism?  In this book, I wanted to use a broader frame than just looking at the United States and Brazil in isolation. I posed questions considering what are the key links between the United States and Brazil? These links revolved around managing Blackness through racial mixing alongside grappling with continuing legacies of slavery.  

Q: Who were your biggest influences?

I am indebted to so many scholars, activists, and media experts who have shaped my thinking about race and gender in the Americas.  At first, I wasn’t sure if writing about mixed-race or popular media was feasible.  Mary Beltrán, who mentored me and saw the potential in this book manuscript, has written such compelling work on mixed-race, pop culture, and gender in the U.S.  Ralina Joseph and Camilla Fojas have also looked at mixed race, national identities, and popular media in inspiring and accessible ways.  I want foremost for anyone to be able to find Imagining the Mulatta relevant to their lives.

Kia Caldwell, Sueli Carneiro and Saidiya Hartman are critical influences because of their work centering Black women and the legacies of slavery and resistance. These narratives are too often excluded or obscured.The work of scholars like Micol Seigel and Ann Stoler guided me through thinking through the interconnections between nations in terms of racial thought, managing racial anxieties, and forms of resistance.  I am also very much influenced by the combined approaches of scholars like Stuart Hall and bell hooks on how to read mass media texts critically.  And of course, Joel Zito Araújo, a pioneer of writing and creating work centering on Afro-Brazilians in media.

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

With a very U.S. centric perspective, I originally thought I would focus on Brazilian films while conducting initial research on race and popular media. I wasn’t making much headway as I had failed to grasp that unlike in the Hollywood-centric U.S., Brazilian films did not have the same range and pull into the national consciousness.  I had in my mind that telenovelas weren’t taken seriously. But, then I noted every night, Brazil, across regions, classes, races, and genders comes to a standstill for telenovelas, serial melodramas. I realized these were nothing like U.S. soap operas. Far more than any one medium in U.S. culture, they are critical cultural sites. After the suggestion of studying telenovelas, televisual serial melodramas, Cristina Mungioli of the Universidade de São Paulo helped introduce me to the world of telenovelas along with Maria Immacolota Lopes at the Centro dos Estudos da Telenovela. Almost immediately the role that telenovelas play in conditioning how Brazilian and transnational audiences read race was clear and I changed my focus.

Jasmine Mitchell is an assistant professor of American studies and media and communication at SUNY Old Westbury.

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

Mixed race people will not save us from racism. I hear this romanticized refrain over and over again across the Americas.  There is this lingering idea that the very presence of mixed-race people means racism cannot exist. Somehow interracial sexual relations are presented as the salve to racism, instead of helping to perpetuate racism. Race becomes some remnant of the past while deemphasizing a long history of racial mixing. Colonialism and slavery-combined with lots of nonconsensual interracial sex-fueled racial hierarchies rather than dismantle it.  In the United States, mixed-race people are presented as the big hope towards racial progress and the elimination of race itself.  The images of racial mixing also tend to project the U.S. as gradually becoming less Black. The U.S. should look to Brazil and much of Latin America to see how this touting of racial mixing masks racism. 

Brazilian myths of racial democracy based on racial mixing are also just that-myths. Brazil’s national mythmaking projects the idea of a unified, racially mixed nation that is on its way to gradual whiteness.  Beginning in the 1930s, Gilberto Freyre, a noted anthropologist, and the Brazilian state, propagated the myth of racial democracy based upon racial mixing. This national lore rested on the idea that all Brazilians could claim African, European, and Indigenous ancestry, and thus, racism in Brazil did not exist. The myth of racial democracy boasted Brazilian racial harmony but masked deep racial inequalities and furthered racial hierarchies. This myth also romanticizes colonialization and slavery and repackages it as a sexual fantasy of white men and nonwhite women.  

The eroticized symbols of the U.S. mulatta and Brazilian mulata- women of African and European descent- facilitate these myths of racial mixing. The image of the Brazilian mulata (e.g. Carnival, samba shows, etc.) functioned as the mythic proof of racial harmony for both internal and external consumption. Brazil sells the world and itself an idea of a racial sexual paradise.  There is a saying in Brazil, “Branca para casar, mulata para fornicar, negra para trabalhar (white women for marriage, mulata women for sex, blackwomen for work).” This saying really crystallizes the valuing of white femininity and the devaluation of Black womanhood.  

 Like Brazil, the U.S. also harbors a an exoticized sexual fetishization of mixed Black women.  These erotic myths are not brand new-again just repackaged from centuries of myths of Black sexual availability stemming from slavery.  

I hope that my book can dispel some of these myths through the variety of media texts used.  I tell my students it’s never “just a movie.” Rather we are forming ideas around race and gender, around who is valued and who is not. Media texts-films, television shows, music videos, etc-circulate these myths of racial mixing in gendered and sexualized terms.

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

I hope that readers can grasp the variant ways of managing Blackness to uphold racial hierarchies.   It is seductive to hope for racial progress, racial democracy without actually doing the work to dismantle systems of oppression mired in pervasive racial and gender inequalities. Mixed-race women of African and European descent are often harnessed in popular media as a tool to uphold white supremacy and discipline people of African descent to uphold state policies of antiblackness.  The United States and Brazil are often thought of as nations that are so different from each other. Mass media emerges here as a way to disseminate these simultaneous narratives of racial utopias and the containing of Black bodies.  Rather, these nations are entwined within legacies of colonization and slavery and deep racial anxieties to uphold white patriarchy. These overlapping racial ideologies that are only visible when Brazilian and US cultural productions are read alongside one another. 

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

With small kids, time is limited and tv is easier to watch in bits and pieces. But, I do love the moment of television that we are in right now.  For Brazilian television-of course telenovelas. Netflix has a huge market in Brazil now and there is lots of interesting television with much more diverse casting. Dystopian in this moment, but the Brazilian series 3 % raises a lot of interesting ethical questions. There is so much amazing Black television in the U.S. I am addicted to Queen Sugar.  I also like Insecure and Black-ish for comedies. Again dystopian in 2020, but I think The Leftovers has some of the most poignant interesting writing in television ever and fully fleshed out characters. I also like Westworld for reimagining resistance and oppression. As a New Yorker, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is great and it is refreshing to see a female-driven comedic series.  And that’s just for tv! Film would be a whole other interview.

Welcome to our MHA 2020 virtual exhibit! Even though we are unable to attend MHA in person, we are still excited to share with you our Mormon studies related content. Take a look at our books, journals, interviews, blog posts, and more below. Now is also the perfect time to stock up on our Mormon studies titles with some limited time deals! Check out this month’s free ebook, A Foreign Kingdom by Christine Talbot, here. We are also pleased to announce that a selection of our journals are currently free and open access, including Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Journal of Mormon History, and Mormon Studies Review. Plus, use promo code CONF40 at check out to get 40% off select Mormon studies books, until July 31!

Mormon History Association Presidential Address

The Journal of Mormon History is published on behalf of the Mormon History Association. Read a presidential address by MHA president W. Paul Reeve. Find more of the Journal Mormon History on JSTOR.

First Issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought

Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought is an independent quarterly established to express Mormon culture and to examine the relevance of religion to secular life. Find our first issue on JSTOR.

More Essential Mormon Studies Journals

Recent and Forthcoming Books

Sherilyn Cox Bennion, contributor to Front Pages, Front Lines on “The Women’s Exponent of Utah”

A Foreign Kingdom by Christine Talbot is free for this month only! Click here to learn more about this giveaway. Plus, read a guest post by Talbot here.

Watch the book trailer for Mormons, Musical Theater, and Belonging in America by Jake Johnson

Listen to interviews with our authors and editors on podcasts and radio

Check out the Q&As below with our Mormon history authors

Further Reading: Check out these blog posts, featured articles, reviews, and essays

The following is a guest post from Christine Talbot, author of A Foreign Kingdom: Mormons and Polygamy in American Political Culture, 1852-1890. This June, we are offering a free ebook copy of her book. See the bottom of the post for details.

In my early twenties, I failed to find a history I could use to make sense of my own burgeoning Mormon feminism.  Since then, I have been an interested observer of, and often troubled by, Mormon feminists’ search for a usable past.  I am captivated by the ways others have succeeded and often conflicted about what they “count” as success.  In graduate school I also found myself dissatisfied with existing explanations of why the Mormon practice of polygamy ignited so much anti-Mormon sentiment in the United States.  This book combines these two sentiments, the latter more overtly and the former behind the curtain.

This book demonstrates how nineteenth-century Mormons deconstructed the public/private divide, giving the lie to a principle central to emerging middle-class white American identity.  I came to graduate school just as feminist historians were abandoning the public/private divide as an interpretive framework for the nineteenth century.  Feminist histories over the 1990s showed clearly that, despite its ideological power, the public/private distinction could not hold in practice.  As I dug into anti-Mormon sources looking for the origin of anti-Mormon disdain, it became clear that the public/private divide was central to debates over plural marriage.  Mormons exposed to these Americans that the public/private divide was, like the conceptions of gender that attended it, a fabrication that could never hold.  Equally troubling to anti-Mormons, Mormons also reconstructed that divide on their own terms.  They publicized the family as a broader Mormon community, sealed together through polygamy and early adoption processes, and privatized that community family in opposition to the public state.  These reconstructions of gender, family, and government ideals challenged fundamental conceptions of government and citizenship along with emerging ideals of family underlying them.  As this book argues, plural marriage was so disturbing to white middle-class Americans precisely because the public/private distinction did not and could not hold.  Anti-Mormon literature demonstrated that these Americans clung to the public/private distinction tightly and feared and scorned that which exposed the lie.  As my conclusion states, “Ultimately, the resolution of the controversy over plural marriage was a story of Mormon defeat and federal victory in consolidating the relationship among monogamy, heterosexuality, citizenship, and the public/private divide.”

The relevance of the themes in this book endure in twenty-first-century America.  Mormons, perhaps more than most other Americans or American religious groups, are still very invested in the public/private divide.  The 1995 Proclamation on the Family is not only a relatively new doctrinal statement, but also has achieved such cultural importance that many LDS households have it framed, hanging on their living room wall.  The Proclamation emphasizes the eternal nature of gender characteristics that suit women for private family life, nurturing children in the home, and suit men to preside, provide, and protect, the latter two at least being distinctly public activities.

The church thus defends the public/private divide against such social influences as same-sex marriage and feminism (made most recently visible in the church’s most recent statement to the Salt Lake Tribune that its opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment has not changed).   Perhaps the doctrinal culmination of filial elements of an Americanization process among Mormons first discussed by Thomas Alexander in Mormonism in Transition, the church now embraces the distinction it deconstructed in the nineteenth century.

I hope that this book holds a nugget of a usable past for Mormon feminists: the church hasn’t always been determined to preserve the gender ideals that work to keep women in the private sphere.  Early in its history the church’s marital practices upset the very distinction between public and private.  I do not at all suggest that polygamy is “feminist” (though, as Joan Smyth Iversen demonstrated decades ago, it had feminist implications) but it is to suggest that the church’s gender and marital ideals have not been stable across history.   Indeed, those currently in place were likely a concession to American ideas that the church resisted for over half a century, a change made in response to social pressure.  If those ideas can change once, they can change again.  I hope they do.

By Christine Talbot

Get a free ebook copy of Christine Talbot’s book A Foreign Kingdom here:

In June’s free ebook, join Christine Talbot as she explores how Mormon plural marriage generated decades of cultural and political conflict over competing definitions of legitimate marriage and family structure in A Foreign Kingdom. In 1852-1890, polygamy put Mormonism at odds with the wider American culture, stirring up questions about citizenship and the separation of public and private spheres. Talbot dissects this debate, examining Mormon and anti-Mormon sentiments and uncovering a greater narrative of what it means to be an American. 

Click here for more information on how to get your free copy of A Foreign Kingdom

We are pleased to announce All Our Trials: Prisons, Policing, and the Feminist Fight to End Violence by Emily L. Thuma is the winner of the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards for LGBT Studies.

Now in its 32nd year, the Lambda Literary Award is the most prestigious LGBTQ book prize in the world. Winners were selected by a panel of over 60 literary professionals from more than 1,000 book submissions from over 300 publishers.

Congratulations Emily!

Welcome to our Big Berks 2020 Virtual Exhibit! Even though we might not be able to visit with you in person, you can still step inside our virtual booth and take a look around! And you can still stock up on all the titles that catch your eye at a great discount. Use Promo Code BERKS50 to get 50% off all women’s history books on our website. Browse all the books on sale herePlus, when you buy any three books, you’ll get the Spring 2020 issue of Women, Gender, and Families of Color shipped to you when the issue is published! Browse our new books and journal issues, blog posts, and other related content below.

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. Browse on MUSE and JSTOR.

Celebrating the Centennial of the 19th Amendment Check out more suffrage titles in our Essential Women’s Suffrage Reading List.

Recent Books

Browse all the books on sale here.

1619 Project Reading List: Black Women’s Activism

Browse the 1619 Project Reading List here.

Girlhood Studies Syllabus

Download the syllabus here.

Further Reading: Interviews, op-eds and more from our authors

The following is a guest post by Julie Gallagher and Barbara Winslow, co-editors of Reshaping Women’s History: Voices of Non-Traditional Women Historians. Julie Gallagher is an associate professor of history and women’s studies at Penn State Brandywine. She is the author of Black Women and Politics in New York CityBarbara Winslow is a professor emerita of Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. She is the author of Sylvia Pankhurst: Sexual Politics and Political Activism and Shirley Chisholm: Catalyst for Change.

Reshaping Women’s History: Voices of Non-Traditional Women Historians was published in 2018 by the University of Illinois Press.  A book of powerful autobiographical essays, it captures the voices of eighteen remarkable scholar-activists, all of whom are the recipients of the Coordinating Council for Women in History’s (CCWH) Catherine Prelinger Award. Through their scholarship, Prelinger Award recipients have made field-altering interventions and introduced us to previously unacknowledged historical actors, almost all of whom were women.  In their compelling essays, the authors reflect their personal life experiences and at the same time they address issues all-too-familiar to women in the academy: financial instability, the need for mentors, explaining gaps in resumes, and coping with gendered family demands and biases that, despite decades of feminist activism, persist for too many women.

It is of no small significance that in these days of shrinking research budgets and swelling ranks of contingent labor that the CCWH continues to give Prelinger Award. Given annually, at $20,000 it is among the largest competitive awards for scholars researching women’s history.  There have been four impressive Prelinger recipients since Reshaping Women’s History was published and we want to highlight here who they are and why their work is so important. In 2016, Frances Raenae McNeal won the Prelinger Award and recently completed her doctoral dissertation, African Native American Women’s Rhetorics of Survivance: Decolonization and Social Transformation. In this path-breaking study, McNeal challenges dominant narratives and settler colonial paradigms while underscoring the sovereignty of the women and the interrelated (her)stories of both African American and Native women.           

Charlene J. Fletcher was the 2017 Prelinger Award recipient.  An exceptional scholar activist, Fletcher’s work explores the experiences of confined African American women, examining places other than carceral locales, including mental health asylums and domestic spaces.  Prior to her doctoral studies, Fletcher led a prisoner reentry initiative in New York City, assisting women and men in their transition from incarceration to society. Her work with individuals and families impacted by domestic violence and incarceration, she notes, fuels her passion for her work today. 

The 2018 Prelinger awardee, Lori Michelle Key, is an Air Force veteran, single mother, and care giver for her elderly mother, at the same time that she is working on her highly original study, “We’re All Americans Now: How Mexican American Identity, Culture, and Gender Forged Civil Rights in World War II and Beyond.”  Her work demonstrates how U.S. Latina women’s wartime involvement shaped ideas about gender and sexuality in the twentieth century.

Jessica Waggoner is the 2019 Prelinger awardee.Her book manuscript, “Crip Activisms: Race, Gender, and the Roots of Disability Consciousness, 1900-1950” tracks the relationship between emergent forms of disability activism and early twentieth century literature and culture, and what strategies this early disability consciousness can offer contemporary disability social movements. Waggoner’s and the other stories demonstrate the centrality of the day-to-day experiences of women and their contributions to a wider understanding of the multifaceted ways in which of history is researched, written, and experienced.

By Julie Gallagher and Barbara Winslow

Kim E. Nielsen, author of Money, Marriage, and Madness: The Life of Anna Ott answers questions about writing her book, the interesting life of Anna Ott, and her small hometown influences.

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?

Accidentally!  While working on a different book, I stumbled upon primary source materials relating to Anna Ott. She fascinated me, even from my small set of sources, and I wanted more. As I dug, I learned more and more—domestic violence, a female physician, divorce cases, women’s wealth, complicated diagnoses, institutional confinement, and even the accusation of a bank robbery.  Everything I learned pulled me in further, and everything I couldn’t learn forced me to rethink how to be a historian.  What began as a possible paragraph became a book.

Q: Who were your biggest influences?

Librarians at my small town elementary school and public library encouraged me to read broadly, and because of them I never ran out of books. They, and the authors I read, taught me to love reading and good writing, and to daydream boldly. Additionally, the further I get away from my formal education, the more I realize that my teachers—especially Peter Rachleff, Jim Stewart, Linda Kerber, Shel Stromquist, and Ken Cmiel—profoundly shaped and shape me. 

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

The allegation that Anna Ott robbed the local Wells Fargo bank! 

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

Kim E. Nielsen is a professor and director of the disability studies program at the University of Toledo.

Disability history tends to be thought of as marginal, if it’s even thought of at all. Hopefully readers will emerge from this book convinced that disability history is inseparable from and central to all other historical topics—and that they need to read more. I also want to throw aside the mistaken belief that intellectually complex materials can only be communicated in difficult-to-access prose.   Smart, sophisticated analyses can be conveyed in accessible (and beautiful!) prose. 

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

I want readers to know that diagnoses have histories, and that they are not ahistorical. Physicians, her husband, and community leaders diagnosed Anna Ott as insane. This stigmatized and delegitimizing diagnosis reflected and reinforced the ideologies, assumptions, social structures, and power dynamics of her time period.  For folks invested in considering medical diagnoses all-knowing and ahistorical, this is difficult. 

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

Listening to murder mysteries and knitting is my happy place.  If the world were perfect, I would always have time to reread Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane mysteries annually between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.