Sara Ritchey, Acts of Care: Recovering Women in Late Medieval Health (Cornell University Press, 2021)
Acts of Care demonstrates that women in premodern Europe were both deeply engaged with and highly knowledgeable about health, the body, and therapeutic practices, but their critical role in medieval healthcare has been obscured because scholars have erroneously regarded the evidence of their activities as religious rather than medical. The sources for identifying the scope of medieval women’s health knowledge and healthcare practice, Ritchey argues, are not found in academic medical treatises. Rather, she follows fragile traces detectable in liturgy, miracles, poetry, hagiographic narratives, meditations, sacred objects, and the daily behaviors that constituted the world, as well as in testaments and land transactions from hospitals and leprosaria established and staffed by beguines and Cistercian nuns. Through its surprising use of alternate sources, Acts of Care reconstructs the vital caregiving practices of religious women in the southern Low Countries, reconnecting women’s therapeutic authority into the everyday world of late medieval healthcare.
Monica Black, A Demon-Haunted Land: Witches, Wonder Doctors, and the Ghosts of the Past in Post-WWII Germany (Metropolotian Books, 2020)
A revelatory counterhistory of postwar Germany, not as a reborn democracy but as a nation convulsed by apocalyptic visions, witchcraft trials, and supernatural obsessions.
Ernest Freeberg, A Traitor to His Species: Henry Bergh and the Birth of the Animal Rights Movement (Basic Books, 2020)
In Gilded Age America, people and animals lived cheek-by-jowl in environments that were dirty and dangerous to man and beast alike. The industrial city brought suffering, but it also inspired a compassion for animals that fueled a controversial anti-cruelty movement. From the center of these debates, Henry Bergh launched a shocking campaign to grant rights to animals.
A Traitor to His Species is revelatory social history, awash with colorful characters. Cheered on by thousands of men and women who joined his cause, Bergh fought with robber barons, Five Points gangs, and legendary impresario P.T. Barnum, as they pushed for new laws to protect trolley horses, livestock, stray dogs, and other animals.
Raucous and entertaining, A Traitor to His Species tells the story of a remarkable man who gave voice to the voiceless and shaped our modern relationship with animals.
Michael E. Woods, Arguing until Doomsday: Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and the Struggle for American Democracy (University of North Carolina Press, 2020)
As the sectional crisis gripped the United States, the rancor increasingly spread to the halls of Congress. Preston Brooks’s frenzied assault on Charles Sumner was perhaps the most notorious evidence of the dangerous divide between proslavery Democrats and the new antislavery Republican Party. But as disunion loomed, rifts within the majority Democratic Party were every bit as consequential. And nowhere was the fracture more apparent than in the raging debates between Illinois’s Stephen Douglas and Mississippi’s Jefferson Davis. As leaders of the Democrats’ northern and southern factions before the Civil War, their passionate conflict of words and ideas has been overshadowed by their opposition to Abraham Lincoln. But here, weaving together biography and political history, Michael E. Woods restores Davis and Douglas’s fatefully entwined lives and careers to the center of the Civil War era. Operating on personal, partisan, and national levels, Woods traces the deep roots of Democrats’ internal strife, with fault lines drawn around fundamental questions of property rights and majority rule. Neither belief in white supremacy nor expansionist zeal could reconcile Douglas and Davis’s factions as their constituents formed their own lines in the proverbial soil of westward expansion. The first major reinterpretation of the Democratic Party’s internal schism in more than a generation, Arguing until Doomsday shows how two leading antebellum politicians ultimately shattered their party and hastened the coming of the Civil War.
|Daniel Feller, Laura-Eve Moss, and Thomas Coens, eds., The Papers of Andrew Jackson: Volume XI, 1833 (University of Tennessee Press, 2019)
This volume presents full annotated text of five hundred documents from Andrew Jackson’s fifth presidential year. They include his private memoranda, intimate family letters, presidential message drafts, and correspondence with government and military officers, diplomats, Indian leaders, political friends and foes, and citizens throughout the country.
|Brandon Winford, John Hervey Wheeler, Black Banking, and the Economic Struggle for Civil Rights (University of Kentucky Press, 2020)
John Hervey Wheeler (1908–1978) was one of the civil rights movement’s most influential leaders. In articulating a bold vision of regional prosperity grounded in full citizenship and economic power for African Americans, this banker, lawyer, and visionary would play a key role in the fight for racial and economic equality throughout North Carolina. Utilizing previously unexamined sources from the John Hervey Wheeler Collection at the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library, this biography explores the black freedom struggle through the life of North Carolina’s most influential black power broker. After graduating from Morehouse College, Wheeler returned to Durham and began a decades-long career at Mechanics and Farmers (M&F) Bank. He started as a teller and rose to become bank president in 1952. In 1961, President Kennedy appointed Wheeler to the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, a position in which he championed equal rights for African Americans and worked with Vice President Johnson to draft civil rights legislation. One of the first blacks to attain a high position in the state’s Democratic Party, Wheeler became the state party’s treasurer in 1968, and then its financial director. Wheeler urged North Carolina’s white financial advisors to steer the region toward the end of Jim Crow segregation for economic reasons. Straddling the line between confrontation and negotiation, Wheeler pushed for increased economic opportunity for African Americans while reminding the white South that its future was linked to the plight of black southerners.
|Charles Sanft, Literate Community in Early Imperial China The Northwestern Frontier in Han Times (SUNY Press, 2019)
This book examines ancient written materials from China’s northwestern border regions to offer fresh insights into the role of text in shaping society and culture during the Han period (206/2 BCE–220 CE). Left behind by military installations, these documents—wooden strips and other nontraditional textual materials such as silk—recorded the lives and activities of military personnel and the people around them. Charles Sanft explores their functions and uses by looking at a fascinating array of material, including posted texts on signaling across distances, practical texts on brewing beer and evaluating swords, and letters exchanged by officials working in low rungs of the bureaucracy. By focusing on all members of the community, he argues that a much broader section of early society had meaningful interactions with text than previously believed. This major shift in interpretation challenges long-standing assumptions about the limited range of influence that text and literacy had on culture and society and makes important contributions to early China studies, the study of literacy, and to the global history of non-elites.
|Margaret Andersen, Regeneration through Empire (University of Nebraska Press, 2015)
Following France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870–71, French patriots feared that their country was in danger of becoming a second-rate power in Europe. Decreasing birth rates had largely slowed French population growth, and the country’s population was not keeping pace with that of its European neighbors. To regain its standing in the European world, France set its sights on building a vast colonial empire while simultaneously developing a policy of pronatalism to reverse these demographic trends. Though representing distinct political movements, colonial supporters and pronatalist organizations were born of the same crisis and reflected similar anxieties concerning France’s trajectory and position in the world.
Regeneration through Empire explores the intersection between colonial lobbyists and pronatalists in France’s Third Republic. Margaret Cook Andersen argues that as the pronatalist movement became more organized at the end of the nineteenth century, pronatalists increasingly understood their demographic crisis in terms that transcended the boundaries of the metropole and began to position the French empire, specifically its colonial holdings in North Africa and Madagascar, as a key component in the nation’s regeneration. Drawing on an array of primary sources from French archives, Regeneration through Empire is the first book to analyze the relationship between depopulation and imperialism.
|Laura Nenzi, The Chaos and Cosmos of Kurosawa Tokiko (University of Hawaii Press, 2015)
Laura Nenzi is the author of The Chaos and Cosmos of Kurosawa Tokiko: the story of a self-described “base-born nobody” who tried to change the course of Japanese history. Kurosawa Tokiko (1806–1890), a commoner from rural Mito domain, was a poet, teacher, oracle, and political activist. In 1859 she embraced the xenophobic loyalist faction (known for the motto “revere the emperor, expel the barbarians”) and traveled to Kyoto to denounce the shogun’s policies before the emperor. She was arrested, taken to Edo’s infamous Tenmachō prison, and sentenced to banishment. In her later years, having crossed the Tokugawa-Meiji divide, Tokiko became an elementary school teacher and experienced firsthand the modernizing policies of the new government. After her death she was honored with court rank for her devotion to the loyalist cause.
|Robert J. Norrell, Alex Haley and the Book that Changed a Nation (St. Martin’s Press, 2015)
It is difficult to think of two twentieth century books by one author that have had as much influence on American culture when they were published as Alex Haley’s monumental bestsellers, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), and Roots (1976). They changed the way white and black America viewed each other and the country’s history. Alex Haley and the Books that Changed a Nation follows him from his childhood in relative privilege in deeply segregated small town Tennessee to fame and fortune in high powered New York City.
This deeply researched and compelling book by Robert J. Norrell offers the perfect opportunity to revisit his authorship, his career as one of the first African American star journalists, as well as an especially dramatic time of change in American history.
|Shellen Xiao Wu, Empires of Coal: Fueling China’s Entry into the Hidden World Order, 1860-1920 (Stanford University Press, 2015)
From 1868–1872, German geologist Ferdinand von Richthofen went on an expedition to China. His reports on what he found there would transform Western interest in China from the land of porcelain and tea to a repository of immense coal reserves. By the 1890s, European and American powers and the Qing state and local elites battled for control over the rights to these valuable mineral deposits. As coal went from a useful commodity to the essential fuel of industrialization, this vast natural resource would prove integral to the struggle for political control of China.
In Empires of Coal, Shellen Xiao Wu argues that the changes specific to the late Qing were part of global trends in the nineteenth century, when the rise of science and industrialization destabilized global systems and caused widespread unrest and the toppling of ruling regimes around the world.
|Luke E. Harlow, Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830-1880 (Cambridge University Press, 2014)
Luke Harlow’s Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830-1880 (2014) shows the influential role of debates over Christian “orthodoxy” in the shaping of American political debates over slavery and abolition. Focusing on the border slave state of Kentucky, which claimed a longstanding antislavery presence and remained with the Union during the Civil War, Harlow explains how theological conservatism compelled the majority of the state’s whites to embrace the Confederate cause after the fact. In so doing, the book shows both the potential and limitations of public discourse about race and slavery throughout the United States before, during, and after the Civil War. Harlow spoke with fellow UTK history professor Monica Black about the book for the New Books in History podcast.
|Charles Sanft, Communication and Cooperation in Early Imperial China: Publicizing the Qin Dynasty (State University of New York Press, 2014)
Charles Sanft’s new book Communication and Cooperation in Early Imperial China: Publicizing the Qin Dynasty (2014) challenges longstanding notions of the Qin dynasty, China’s first imperial rulers. Historians have long portrayed the Qin as epitomizing totalitarian government. Communication and Cooperation synthesizes received accounts and new information from archaeology in China with interdisciplinary theory to provide a reconsideration of this key period in China’s history. It shows that rather than ruling solely or even primarily through oppression, the Qin had a sophisticated approach to rule that incorporated significant non-coercive tactics that relied on media to encourage cooperation between the public and the emperor.
|Stephen V. Ash, A Massacre in Memphis: The Race Riot that Shook the Nation One Year after the Civil War (Hill and Wang, 2013)
Steve Ash’s most recent book is A Massacre in Memphis: The Race Riot That Shook the Nation One Year after the Civil War (2013). It is the first book-length study of the horrific, three-day-long Memphis riot of 1866, in which rampaging white mobs murdered 46 black men, women, and children; assaulted, robbed, and raped many others; and burned down every black church and school in the city along with many dwellings. One of the most sensational events of the post–Civil War era, the riot spurred Congress to take action to protect the South’s ex-slaves and helped launch Radical Reconstruction.
|Ernest Freeberg, The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America (Penguin Press, 2013)
In spring 2013, Ernest Freeberg published The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America, a history of the social and cultural impact of electric light. The Washington Post has called the book “a captivating intellectual adventure that offers long-forgotten stories of the birth pangs of the electrical age that are amusing, surprising, and tragic.” Freeberg has been sharing his findings with audiences across the country, including appearances on National Public Radio and C-Span.
|T.R.C Hutton, Bloody Breathitt: Politics and Violence in the Appalachian South (University of Kentucky Press, 2013)
In Bloody Breathitt: Politics and Violence in the Appalachian South (2013), Robert Hutton offers an account of the intersection of power and brutality between the Civil War and the Progressive era in one tumultuous community. In the late 1800s, Breathitt County, Kentucky, seemed the quintessential “feud” locale, a remote mountain anomaly bereft of New South progress. In fact, Breathitt County’s violent history reflected events far beyond its borders. “Feud,” and all it entailed, was only one of many deceptive names for killing that continue to distort the causes of violent death all over the globe.
|Robert J. Norrell, Eden Rise: A Novel (NewSouth Books, 2012)
Robert Norrell has published a novel, Eden Rise, in which Tom McKee, a white college freshman, returns to his Alabama home in 1965 and becomes embroiled in civil-rights conflict that splits his family, his town, and his own identity. McKee’s powerful family is not prepared for the effects of the Selma march. John Gregory Brown, writer-in-residence at Sweetbriar College, says Eden Rise “offers a dramatic and beautifully written examination of racial injustice and violence in the South during the tumultuous 1960s” and that Norrell “demonstrates that he’s not merely a profoundly insightful historian, he’s a first-class novelist as well.”
|Denise Phillips, Acolytes of Nature: Defining Natural Science in Germany, 1770-1850 (University of Chicago Press, 2012)
Denise Phillips is the author of Acolytes of Nature: Defining Natural Science in Germany, 1770–1850 (2012). Phillips’s book offers a history of the concept “science” within German-speaking Europe, exploring how changes in German culture and society affected ideas about scientific knowledge. The Germans started using a modern concept of science several decades in advance of other European nations, and Phillips’s research explains the reasons for their precocious adoption of this category.
|Jay Rubenstein, Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse (Basic Books, 2011)
In Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse (2011), Jay Rubenstein retells the story of the First Crusade in a way that draws forth the apocalyptic motivations and beliefs that underlay the unprecedented brutal battles that it spawned. In 1096, tens of thousands of warriors from France, Germany, and Italy, marched east with the goal of reclaiming the city of Jerusalem for Christendom. Their mission, later known as the First Crusade, reached its culmination four years later and in the process inaugurated a new kind of warfare: holy, unrestrained, and apocalyptic.