Category: 2017s

    Monsters in the News

    If you have the stomach for more on relating to a filmmaker's work who you now know (but perhaps tried to forget) is a child molester, this piece from May 2016 by Matt Zoller Seitz is worth considering: "I Believe Dylan Farrow."

    Such is the kind of reading I sometimes find myself doing these days when I least expect it. I'll try to escape the everyday with a comedy, but then I'll dig around the web to learn more about its makers or players. If this effort lands me back in the ugly everyday, pieces like this one help me see how other people deal with such contradictions, which are about much more than art.

    Emperor Mussolini

    Satirical magazine cover depicting Mussolini as Caesar on a ship, his arm raised in a fascist salute, behind him are two uniformed fascists doing the same. The resemblance to US president DJT is uncanny.

    The caption reads, "I've decided to accept God, but he has to become Italian." The German here for "accept," "gelten lassen," could also be translated as "allow."

    Source: Simplicissimus, May 3, 1926,


    a mouth open, big scream

    I have had health insurance through my employer these past seven years, but I still depend on the Affordable Care Act. It has made the scope of coverage meaningful, especially by including so-called preexisting conditions. It has also relieved me of anxiety caused by not knowing if I would have health insurance from one year to the next. Yes, coverage has been growing more expensive, but at least there have been those statewide exchanges and—if need be—subsidies, which, I thought, would still make insurance possible.

    Enter bomb-throwing DJT.

    Image: Angela De Rosette, SP.M.0911, 2001, Library of Congress

    How Open is Open Access?

    The following quote from an article about art education seems to have broader implications:

    Early excitement for the Internet’s democratic potential has been replaced by a complicated marketplace of competing agendas of consumption, entertainment, social networking, and political action that continues to offer both opportunity and exclusion. Increased participation is coupled with a persistent digital divide, a gap in who has access to digital technologies and who does not, illustrating that ‘disparities in technology access and use are related to socioeconomic status, with income, educational level and race among the factors associated with technological attainment‘ (Mehra, Merkel, & Bishop, 2004, p. 782). Opportunities for participation have evolved through the advent of social media, mobile computing, and increased access to computing networks. These opportunities continue to be shrouded in inequitable distributions of access and expertise, functioning as a ‘new form of the hidden curriculum, shaping which youth will succeed and which will be left behind’ (Jenkins, Purushotma, Clinton, Weigel, & Robison, 2006, p. 3).1

    For me, such concerns about access to and literacy in visual culture raise a question in a different debate: open access. How open are so-called open-access publications? Besides the question of digital access, who possesses the requisite know-how to locate such academic works, not to mention read, understand, and critically engage with them? Open access might be desirable, but we should not fool ourselves into thinking that academically sound, openly available scholarship will automatically be freely accessible to nonacademic readers.

    1. Aaron D. Knochel, “Assembling Visuality: Social Media, Everyday Imaging, and Critical Thinking in Digital Visual Culture,” Visual Arts Research 39, no. 2 (2013): 13–27, here 15.  ↩

    WYCA Poster, ca. 1918

    Young woman in a blue uniform at a field switchboard; in the background are countless men at arms, and, even further back, fire. The text reads, 'Back our girls over there' and 'United War Work Campaign'.

    WYCA Poster, ca. 1918, Library of Congress.


    Pastel: middle-aged black woman in a blue, short-sleeved housecoat is sitting at a table with a well worn text book and a clump of papers. Her eyes are pointed down toward these materials, and a pencil is in her right hand.
    "The Writing Lesson" (pastel) by Morris Schulman, sponsored by the WPA, ca. 1935–43, The New York Public Library.

    I blogged some thoughts on this compelling image recently at History of Knowledge.


    The map looks at the regions in terms of how healthy they are for the 'European races', including 'unhealthy but exploitable areas.

    This 1899 map's legend makes sense within a late-nineteenth-century imperialist framework, and the brutality of its seemingly objectively portrayed vision is unmistakable. Take a look at a high resolution scan from The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

    North Korea

    Dear National Security Establishment,

    Please stop your collective freak-out about North Korea. The power of that country’s weapons lies mainly in our inability to tolerate any risk whatsoever.

    Information and Meaning

    False information gains strength from its roots in stories that make sense to a lot of people; mow down the latest false facts and more will soon sprout until we address those stories themselves—and the reasons people believe them.

    Paul, J. Croce, “What We Can Learn from Fake News,” History News Network, July 23, 2017.

    War Savings Stamps Poster, 1917

    Poster showing a dozen people at a ticket window with a sign reading 'W.W.S. For Sale Here.' The clerk is Uncle Sam with his hat hanging on a hook next to him. The poster bears the captions 'Buy United States Government War Savings Stamps' (top) and 'Your money back with interest from the United States Treasury' (bottom).

    I find this 1917 poster interesting because it seems to target urban, working-class immigrants.1 Besides the dress of the people waiting in line to lend Uncle Sam some money, there is the American flag held by the child, whose enthusiasm attracts the attention of the adults around her.

    Children, whether immigrants themselves or native born, seem to have played a special role in immigrant families, mediating in different ways the adults' encounter with the culture and institutions of the new country. Certainly the authorities saw such potential in these children.2

    1. World War I poster advertising savings stamps for the war effort, via the Library of Congress↩︎

    2. On this last point, see Simone Lässig, “The History of Knowledge and the Expansion of the Historical Research Agenda,” Bulletin of the German Historical Institute 59 (Fall 2016): 29–32. ↩︎

    War, Gender, and Nation in 19th-Century Europe: A Preliminary Sketch

    Detail from “Combat at the military station: Of Chateau d’ Eau, 24th February 1848 / combat au poste: Du Château d’ Eau, 24 Févr. 1848

    I wrote this preliminary introduction for a thematic handbook article that was not to be (see “Historiographical Impasse”). Looking back at this 2015 draft, I think it contains enough ideas to make it worth sharing.

    Continue reading →

    Angry America

    Jeet Heer’s provocative commentary in the New Republic is worth a read: “America Has Always Been Angry and Violent." The historical rhetoric he offers is startling. I definitely need to read more U.S. history.

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