June 2020

This issue includes Scott Kurashige’s presidential address, “‘Unruly Subjects’: American Studies from Antidiscipline to Revolutionary Praxis,” which traces the emergence of the ASA as home for those from outside the institutional history of the field, points to the crisis of liberal capitalism and ruptures it has created, and illustrates examples of scholar–activist work seeking to build the revolution toward a new social order, such as the work of Detroit-based Grace Lee Boggs. We have asked two such scholar–activists to respond to Kurashige’s address: Curtis Marez and Noura Erakat.

This issue also features six essays that coalesce and speak well with one another around several themes: species, environment, and settler colonialism; racialization and othering in nation and empire building; race, solidarity, and anti-imperialism.

Finally, in the review section, Julie Sze discusses recent works on race, animality, and animal studies, while Chloe Hunt examines books on speculative approaches to time and space in Black critical theory.



Reading American Secularism in the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli

Jacob Crane

Article 11 of the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, which declares that “the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,” has long been a fixture of debates over the separation of church and state. In my essay I explore how readings of Article 11 have developed over the last two centuries and have been applied to a wide range of political questions, from the public funding of Christian clergy to regulations prohibiting the sale of alcohol on Sundays. Although only in effect for five years, the treaty’s continued circulation across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries demonstrates how representations of Islam have played a vital role in debates over national identity.

 My essay emerges from the often lively contemporary debate over what early republicans knew of and thought about Islam, a discussion informed by renewed interest in the early American Barbary conflicts (1785-1815) against North African pirates and the accounts of American sailors enslaved in the quasi-independent cities of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli. Did the young country see itself as a Christian nation waging a religious war against Muslim powers as so many European nations had done over the previous centuries? The historical record is mixed. Some historians and commentators point to a 1786 letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Jay that described a meeting between Jefferson, John Adams, and the Tripolitan ambassador in London, Sidi Haji Abdrahaman, who justified Muslim aggression against the United States by citing the Koran. Despite this, there is little evidence to suggest that prominent national leaders saw themselves as fighting Islam itself.

 The American public was another matter. The Barbary crises inspired a wide range of literary works that explicitly framed the conflicts in terms of Christianity versus Islam. These include some of the earliest American novels—Peter Markoe’s The Algerine Spy in Pennsylvania (1787) and Royall Tyler’s The Algerine Captive (1797)—and plays such as Susanna Rowson’s Slaves in Algiers (1794) and David Everett’s Slaves in Barbary (1797). These works offer a wide range of representations of Muslims in the American public imagination and provide context for the 1797 treaty’s insistence that the United States’ motivations on the global stage are strictly secular.

 The language of Article 11 was unanimously approved by the Senate and signed by John Adams, but this did not stop Americans from portraying the country’s later victory in the Tripolitan War (1802-1805), which included dramatic episodes such as Stephen Decatur’s raid on Tripoli harbor and William Eaton’s attack on Derne, as a triumph over Islam. See, for example, Joseph Hanson’s poem The Musselmen Humbled (1806) and James Ellison’s play The American Captive, or Siege of Tripoli (1812). Since the start of the 21st century’s “War on Terror,” the Tripolitan War’s legacy as the United States’ first invasion of an overseas territory and first declared war against a Muslim state has been a matter of extensive debate (some examples here, here, and here).

 Much of this messy historical and cultural context has been either overlooked or ignored as citations of the Treaty of Tripoli have become ubiquitous in online arguments over whether the United States is a “Christian nation.” For scholars and students of early America, the long afterlife of the Treaty of Tripoli offers a unique example of how readings of Founding-era texts can evolve to reflect shifting social and political exigencies. In the classroom, studying the history of the circulation of Article 11 and its various interpretations can provide a valuable case study in the salience of digital archive research, historical context, and information literacy, particularly when applied to contemporary debates in the public sphere.


When Anti-Zionism was Jewish
Benjamin Balthaser

"When Anti-Zionism was Jewish" explores the pre-Israel world of leftist Jewish-American literary life and its relationship to Zionism, particularly the way in which for Jewish Communists, Trotskyists, and unaffiliated Marxists, Zionism appeared to them as an imperialist formation, in line with both white supremacy and bourgeois nationalism.  Below are two of the Howard Fast stories I reference, an anti-Zionist song by the Jewish Labor Bund of Eastern Europe, recently translated and performed by Daniel Kahn, and a review by Judith Butler of an anthology of Hannah Arendt's Jewish writings, in which Butler places Arendt in the context of anti-Zionist thought (even though it should be noted that Arendt did not think of herself as a leftist, or really even, an anti-Zionist exactly).  I also included a link to a short essay I wrote discussing the internal Jewish politics of (anti) Zionism.

· Howard Fast, "Where Are Your Guns?" (1948)

· Howard Fast, "Epitaph for Sydney" (1949)

· Daniel Kahn and Psoy Korolenko, "Oy, Ir Narishe Tsienistn (O You Foolish Little Zionists"), translated by Kahn and Korolenko, The Unternationale: dialectical klezmer cabaret, Auris Media Records, 2007.

· Judith Butler, "‘I merely belong to them,’" review of Hannah Arendt's The Jewish Writings (Shocken, 2007), London Review of Books, vol. 29 No. 9, 10 May 2007

· Jews Without Money: Toward a Class Politics of Anti-Zionism (November 17 2015)

  “Grizzly Country”: Settler Worlding and the Politics of Species on California Frontier
Daniel Lanza Rivers

It’s become customary in the slim subfield of California grizzly studies to open with an ironic reference to the number grizzlies a Californian can still encounter on a daily basis: adorning beer bottles and the Cal campus, murals and public art, and splashed across a dizzying plethora of “California Republic” apparel.[i] The irony, of course, is that material grizzlies have been absent from the state since 1907 (some say 1924).[ii] 

U.S. Library of Congress

Figure 1: “California for the Sportsman: being a collection of hints as to the haunts of the wild things of hoof, claw, scale and feather of California's land and water; the way to reach them, and some suggestions as to approved methods of capture,” Compiled by A.M. Cumming & Allan Dunn (San Francisco: Southern Pacific Company, 1911). Source:U.S. Library of Congress.

 I should admit here that I can’t rightly remember when I realized that California had no living grizzlies. It’s possible that I’ve known for a long time, but it’s just as likely that I found out during the later stages of my graduate education. After moving on from writing about Faulkner’s “The Bear” to researching the early seeds of this project exploring the creatures’ relationship with the domestic, gendered, and raced protocols of colonial violence and settler ecocide in California. If the years of conference papers and casual conversations around this project are to be trusted, I’m far from alone in this delayed realization. In fact, I would hazard a guess that few Californians are even aware of the creatures’ eradication until they are actively prompted to think about it. (See, for example, the image above, which was published by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1911, the same year that Monarch, the last California Grizzly, died.) Despite their extirpation, unsubstantiated “sightings” and false reports of successful grizzly hunts would continue for 13 more years.[iii]

“Grizzly Bear" (2018)

Figure 2: “Grizzly Bear,” Denali National Park Reserve, 2018. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


In fairness, the scale of grizzlies’ abundance in California can be about as difficult to imagine as the seeming totality of their erasure. Estimates place the creatures’ population at ten-thousand before U.S. colonization, meaning that two-fifths of North America’s grizzlies lived in the region that would become California, giving it the highest spatial concentration in the world.[iv]  As keystone omnivores, grizzlies eat a mix of fresh and decomposing flesh, as well as fruits, nuts, and berries. Their mere presence influences the browsing habits of herbivores, which in turn affects floral dispersion, erosion, and the movement of water.[v] In the region that would become California, these factors shaped waterways and the fanning of animate life across two-thirds of the region’s biomes for an estimated 10,000 years.

Far from “dominating” Native people (as many Spanish and U.S. settlers imagined) grizzlies were integrated into the practical and spiritual life of many of the region’s Native nations, who adopted various strategies to manage the species’ access to key resources and spaces. [vi]  The Nomlaki, Patwin, Salinan, Klamath, and Atsugwi societies hunted the creatures for meat and other resources, while the Kato, Wintun, Piute, Maidu, and Pomo nations integrated grizzlies into their spiritual, social, and narrative cultures, testifying to a centuries-long legacy of cohabitation and meaningful interdependence.[vii]

 In today’s California, the contradictions between the ubiquity of symbolic grizzlies, on the one hand, and neglected histories of grizzly-human coexistence, on the other, are rarely discussed in relation to U.S. colonial violence. Just as few who sport “California Republic” apparel would imagine themselves as paying homage to the immensity of eradicated grizzlies, this latter-day meme is also haunted by the violent histories of settlement and agricultural development that organized U.S. Americans’ enslavement and attempted genocide against Native people. 

 “The Bear Flag Draped and Tied Around the Bear Flag Monument", circa 1915.

Figure 3: “The Bear Flag Draped and Tied Around the Bear Flag Monument, Sonoma, ca.1915,” Glass Photonegative, Photoprint, Black & White, 26 x 21 cm, C.C. Pierce, circa 1915. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Taking place in 1846, just two years before Alta California became U.S. territory, the so-called “Bear Flag Revolt” was a militarized response to Mexican governor Jose Castro’s efforts to dissolve the unauthorized settlements of U.S. Americans. The “Revolt” was led by John C. Fremont, a future presidential hopeful whose company of 90 men called themselves Osos after the Spanish word for “bear.” After storming the unguarded Sonoma Garrison, these Osos imprisoned General Mariano Vallejo in his home and declared the region a “California Republic.”[viii] Though this history remains dear to some—giving rise to yearly reenactmentsthat claims roots in 1897—its gendered conflations of grizzly life and imperial force have been largely ignored and forgotten. 

A Fight with a Grizly [i.e. Grizzly],”1850-1860.

Figure 4: "A Fight with a Grizly [i.e. Grizzly],” Lithograph Print, 20.8 x 26.8 cm, Published by Britton & Rey, San Francisco, between 1850-1860. Source: U.S. Library of Congress.


In an effort to assess the ecological, cultural, and colonial entanglements among these neglected histories, my essay, “Grizzly Country,” draws together an archive of literary, visual, popular, and material culture. Along with analyzing the ways that white settlers transformed the California Grizzly into a symbol of imperial manhood, I show how the images of the imperiled settler household and the wild, rampaging grizzly were deployed across multiple genres of discourse that also framed Native people and the under-domesticated outdoors as obstacles to a properly settled and commercially productive U.S. California. 

 While attending to the histories of Native enslavement, grizzly eradication, and rapid agricultural development that shaped regional forms of policy and discourse, this essay argues that the symbol of the manly grizzly both drew from and buttressed broader cosmologies of race and species relations. In my analysis of the gendered and sexual dynamics of grizzly discourse, I engage in a queer ecological critique that attempts to chart the imaginative and material vectors where settler heterodomesticity worked in tandem with racialized anthropocentrism to frame U.S. California as an aspirational zone of settler home-making. The result is a critical reassessment that addresses the specters of spatialized terrorism and ecological violence that are referenced (seemingly endlessly) in the California Republic meme. And which linger in sublimation across the state’s various grizzly images, signaling a cosmology of environmental erasure and settler common sense that make present day California seem inevitable.  


[i] An earlier draft of this article included a hyperlink to the California Republic website, but this commercial link has been removed for reasons which the whole of this essay makes clear. Readers unfamiliar with this meme are encouraged to seek out their own pictures using the image setting their preferred search engine.

[ii] Peter S. Alagona, After the Grizzly: Endangered Species and the Politics of Place in California, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013).

[iii] Alagona, After the Grizzly, 27.

[iv]Rick Bass, “Preface,” Tracy Storer and Lloyd Tevis Jr. California Grizzly (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), xvi; see also, Alagona, After the Grizzly; Susan Snyder, California Grizzly: Bear in Mind (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003); and Jared Dahl Aldern, “From Los Vallecitos to Lost Valley: Transformation and Resurrection in Grizzly Country,” Boom: a Journal of California, 4:14 (2014): 134-142.

[v]Eisenberg, The Wolf's Tooth, 27-8.

[vi] Alagona, After the Grizzly, 20.

[vii] Storer and Tevis Jr., California Grizzly 87-9; ; Jared Dahl Aldern, “From Los Vallecitos to Lost Valley”

[viii] Richard Rice, The Elusive Eden: a New History of California, (2011), 100; Fred B. Rogers, “Bear Flag Lieutenant: The Life Story of Henry L. Ford (1822-1860), with Some Related and Contemporary Art of Alexander Edouart” California Historical Quarterly, 29:3 (1950) 261.