March 2016 Issue

Vol. 68 No. 1 features essays dealing with a range of topics and using a variety of methodologies and sources. Extending the inquiries on the question of Palestine for American Studies we explored in the forum in the December 2015 issue, Alex Lubin’s essay traces the historical and political context in which the field has developed in the Middle East. Rachel Lindsey analyzes the reimagining of Jesus, the medium of photography, and the preoccupation with physical perfection as white masculine ideal at the turn of the twentieth century. Gabriel Rosenberg traces the history of hog breeding as part of the biopolitical apparatus and racial knowledge. Eithne Quinn examines the roles of New York’s hip hop moguls in the Occupy movement to complicate the critiques of race in the consolidation of neoliberalism. Bryan Santin, Daniel Murphy, and Matthew Wilkens use quantitative analysis and “distant reading” to address the relationship between print culture, literary sensibilities, and national consciousness in the nineteenth century.

This issue also inaugurates the Digital Projects Review co-edited by Scott Nesbitt and Stephen Berry. The journal aims to develop rigorous vocabulary, methods, and standards for digital projects in knowledge production, particularly as they pertain to American Studies. 

 American Studies, the Middle East, and the Question of Palestine

Alex Lubin

My essay is about how the internationalization of American Studies into the Middle East, particularly in the age of the U.S. War on Terror, has transnationalized the discipline in ways that foregrounds U.S. militarism and the question of Palestine.  I focus much of my analysis on the Center for American Studies and Research (CASAR) at the American University of Beirut (AUB).  Many of CASAR’s events are videotaped and broadcast on Youtube as a way to distribute knowledge across the region, especially, but transnationally as well. 

Here is a short selection of CASAR public events focused on the question of Palestine:

 “The Mirror of All Perfection”: Jesus and the Strongman in America, 1893–1920

Rachel McBride Lindsey

In the summer of 1893, American audiences were introduced to the perfect man. Eugen Sandow was a Prussian-born strongman whose sinewy physique was instantly lauded as the height of physical perfection. To mark his distance from laboring classes and colonized peoples, the theatrics of Sandow’s presentation positioned him as a modern incarnation of classical beauty. But influential as he was, Sandow was not the only physical embodiment of corporeal perfection Americans plucked from antiquity. Indeed, contending for the title of the perfect man was Jesus. For decades before Sandow’s debut, Americans had become fascinated by academic and popular investigations of the “historical Jesus.” Such a turn to the “life of Christ” in literature, travel, and popular entertainments presented Jesus not only as an ideal moral figure or redemptive sacrifice but as a man whose virtues could be emulated in the very bodies of American men. In Jesus and Sandow, a language of physical perfection and attending visual and imaginative strategies of representation linked American Christianity and American manhood in minds and bodies.

Nearly forty years before Sandow’s magnificent American debut, Thomas Wentworth Higginson published an essay in the Atlantic Monthly on the subject of “Saints, and their Bodies” that was later reprinted in his collection of essays, Out-door Studies. This essay was a gusty rally cry for the development of the bodies of American men alongside the development of their minds and souls, and laid the groundwork for what would later be called “muscular Christianity.” Historians of American manhood in general and muscular Christianity in particular have long been attentive to the literary and hermeneutic excitement around what Higginson called “the union of saintly souls and strong bodies” in the late nineteenth century, and yet this was also a period of rapid visual transformation, often in the service of imperialized regimes of racial classification. In addition to countless still photographs of his barely clad muscles that circulated the nation (much to the consternation of many), not long after his first arrival in the United States, Sandow was also the subject of one of Edison’s “lightning pictures.” Watch his routine and consider what he is performing.

What brings Jesus and the strongman together is neither simple coincidence nor causality. Instead, by placing these two visual idioms of physical perfection alongside one another, we are able to see the mutual articulation of religious and national imaginaries through visual iconographies of race and manhood.

Correction: An updated version of the endnotes for this article can be found here

 A Race Suicide among the Hogs: The Biopolitics of Pork in the United States, 1865–1930

Gabriel N. Rosenberg

The regime of intensive livestock breeding explored in the article had a profound influence on the bodies of swine: intensively bred swine were more massive, shorter limbed, and had much higher percentages of body fat than their range-bred ancestors, many of whom were lean, long-limbed beasts. By the late nineteenth century, the increasing weight of prized boars—the most intensively bred category of swine—meant that mating massive aged boars to smaller, younger sows could be logistically difficult and potentially injurious to the sow. Breeders crafted a device that would both prevent the sow from fleeing and also support the weight of a large boar: the “breeding crate.” 

 A breeding crate was a standard wooden crate that was modified with an internal system of bars and gates on both ends. (More elaborate crates also featured levers, adjustable bars, and could be collapsed for storage.) While the sow stood immobilized, the boar was suspended above the sow with the bars supporting his weight. Breeders worried that such a position was awkward and uncomfortable for the boar. Experts advised manually inserting the boar’s penis into the sow when necessary, but they also suggested starting boars on crate breeding at a young age so that boars were accustomed to it and came readily when called. In fact, many advised simply using crates for all pig breeding, since it afforded the breeder maximal control of mating. In this way, what was initially devised as a technology to manage exceptions became a common way to orchestrate reproduction even when the pigs to be mated were comparably sized. Commercially manufactured breeding crates were advertised widely in farm magazines, and the US Patent Office issued seven different patents for swine breeding crates by 1925.

Breeders were primarily focused on the performance and desire of male animals during mating. They tended to regard sows as empty receptacles to be “serviced” by male animals. Porcine masculinity was defined by capacity (and desire) to physically impregnate a female animal and produce viable offspring, but porcine femininity was understood almost exclusively in relationship to the sow’s capacity to give birth to and care for large litters of viable offspring long after sex. During the sex act, breeders cared about little more than the sow’s presence. This focus should be understood as part and parcel of the pervasive belief in turn-of-the-century America that female bodies lacked sexual desire and that sexual desire was primarily a masculine characteristic—gendered knowledge that was being tested and reproduced across the boundary of species, in this case. But we might also note that this focus also represented the ways in which breeders boasted about, fetishized, and ultimately identified with the masculine sexual prowess of their prized boars.

From the perspective of profitable breeding, breeders perhaps ­over-identified with their boars: they paid too much attention to stoking the desire of boars and too little on doing the same for sows. Animal scientists now believe that sows that are aroused during insemination give larger litters. In response, livestock breeders have developed elaborate procedures for stoking the desire of sows during artificial insemination—a procedure referred to as the Danish 5-point method—while commercial firms now sell technological fixes for sow arousal. Meanwhile, the boar’s presence has been entirely reduced to semen; human laborers and vibrating harnesses, like the one shown in the video below, do the work once performed by the boar’s snout, while pheromone sprays stand in for his scent. Semen, once harvested, can be frozen and parceled out as needed for artificial insemination, and a dwindling number of prolific boars provide even greater portions of the semen used in commercial pig breeding. Profitable models of pig breeding, then, have reversed the procedures described in the article by installing the sow’s arousal at the center of capital accumulation.

Occupy Wall Street, Racial Neoliberalism, and New York’s Hip-Hop Moguls

Eithne Quinn

The article considers aspects of the interface between Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and hip-hop culture in the period 2011-12. Occupy is a striking grassroots political movement of the “itinerant US left,” which began in September 2011 when protestors set up camp in Zuccotti Park, sited in New York’s Wall Street financial district. The mobilization centered on economic inequality and the anti-democratic take-over of politics by corporations—its rallying call was that it represented the 99 percent in opposition to the 1 percent financial elite. Many hip-hop artists and activists readily understood the significance of this youth-driven mobilization. Rapper Lupe Fiasco (Wasalu Jaco) made early OWS appearances, going on to write an Occupy rap and donate supplies of tents, tarpaulin, and propane at Occupy Denver. Rosa Clemente, a South Bronx-born hip-hop activist and Green Party vice presidential candidate, frequently attended and spoke at OWS; political rapper Jasiri X released “Occupy (We the 99)”; and the radical Harlem rapper Immortal Technique (Felipe Coronel) gave a dramatic speech at OWS at 2 a.m. Leading political rappers, from Long Island’s Chuck D (Carl Ridenhour) of Public Enemy to Atlanta’s Killer Mike (Render) addressed camps and Talib Kweli (Greene) performed a new rap for OWS, tweeting afterward: “This is the New York City I love.”

Perhaps more surprisingly, three of New York hip-hop’s most entrepreneurial creatives—Russell Simmons, Shawn “Jay Z” Carter, and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson—also felt moved to respond to Occupy. When a grassroots radical movement emerged in their city amid soaring rates of racially determined inequality, these “Hip-Hop Cash Kings” reacted in very different ways to one another. Their responses to the mobilization are the focus of my article for three main reasons. First, these hip-hop stars were all culturally influential, with wide audience reach that travelled well beyond the already-politicized. Second, they offered a distinct and fraught staging of Occupy’s rallying call: their wealth placed them within the 1 percent having forged careers that putatively spoke in symbolic terms for the 99 percent. Finally, they have been subject to certain kinds of scholarly interpretations, discussed below.

The article first assesses the racial dynamics and blindspots of the Occupy movement, questioning the common criticism that it was, by and large, a middle-class, white affair. It then goes on to assess whether the three moguls enhanced or undermined public receptivity for Occupy’s ideas that were gaining much-needed popular traction in an environment in which the corporations held almost all the public relations cards. Russell Simmons made very regular visits and addresses to the camps, and amplified its economic justice critique in many media appearances. By contrast, Shawn Carter commercially exploited the mobilization’s energies—promoting the Rocawear “Occupy All Streets” T-shirt—and, in widely reported comments the following year, disparaged the movement as anti-American, entitled (“I’m not going to a park and picnic”), and unfocused (“I don’t know what the fight is about”). Curtis Jackson, the final case study of the article, took tentative if opportunistic steps to engage with the growing debate about inequality, bankers, and political corruption through appearances on conventional media and via social media, staging a shift in political outlook from cynical disengagement to social anger. In the case of Simmons (and to a small degree Jackson), amplification of some of Occupy’s core messages was supplemented by attempts, in tandem with many others, to expand the movement’s class-driven agenda by foregrounding racialized poverty and the corporate-driven mass incarceration of black and brown people.

Drawing on a range of scholarly insights about race, culture, and neoliberalism and through close examinations of the case studies, my article insists on the need, not to prejudge, but to offer detailed political evaluations of the words and deeds of these moguls operating within the neoliberal terrain. Thus, on a secondary level, it seeks to question a kind of neoliberal determinism in some scholarly readings that risks underplaying the various ways in which these entrepreneurial creatives might help to contest as well as bolster contemporary capitalist dynamics.

Questions for teaching:

Primary Questions

  • In what ways can hip-hop moguls support neoliberal discourses of competitive individualism, consumerism, and racial mobility? Is Thomas Piketty’s idea of “meritocratic extremism” useful for understanding these discursive dynamics? 
  • Are hip-hop moguls so symbolically and materially infused with capitalist, commoditizing (and patriarchal and heterosexist) dynamics that any expression of allegiance by them to Occupy is damaging for the social justice movement?
  • What were the demographics of the Occupy mobilization and to what extent is the Occupy movement relevant to hip-hop’s core constituency of black and brown working-class youth?
  • What kinds of financial, symbolic, and subcultural capital can rappers and hip-hop moguls draw on to support Occupy and mount a challenge to inequality and the corporate-backed corruption of politics?
  • To what extent could rap culture make intersectional interventions that complicated the dominant material critique mounted by Occupy Wall Street? How effectively could it contribute to a widening of the Occupy purview to encompass issues like the racial determinations of inequality and joblessness, and the role of penal policies on communities of color?

Secondary Questions

  • Is it possible to suspend critical prejudgments in order to explore rap celebrities without, however  unintentionally, legitimating the “winner takes all” liberal individualism and color-blind meritocracy personified by these stars?
  • If engaged scholars decide to avoid detailed consideration of the likes of these rap moguls because they are understood solely as symptoms and propagators of neoliberalism, what kinds of research questions about popular culture’s role in social change (and continuity) might be closed down?

Is or Are: The “United States” in Nineteenth-Century Print Culture

Bryan Santin, Daniel Murphy, and Matthew Wilkens

In our article, we interrogate the commonly invoked--though largely anecdotal--notion that during and immediately after the Civil War, the proper noun "United States" rapidly shifted from a plural entity to an unambiguously singular one; in other words, grammatically speaking, the nation went from an "are" to an "is." Using several large-scale corpora ranging from a database of nineteenth-century American fiction to Civil War-era newspapers, we find that the shift from plural to singular usage was slower and less mechanistic than previously considered.

The following sources represent how the "is/are" question has manifested in popular history (a video of Shelby Foote in Ken Burns' documentary The Civil War) and popular media (an io9 article and a Reddit forum) and was subsequently examined in one of the earliest, data-driven academic treatments of the question (Minor Myers' examination of the question as it pertains to legal history via Supreme Court rulings).

Introducing Digital Projects Review

Scott Nesbit and Stephen Berry

In our inaugural “Digital Projects Review” section, we attempted to make the case for devoting space in our field’s flagship journal to digital projects and methods that are transforming the academic landscape for all AS scholars, digital and otherwise. In effectively ‘mainstreaming’ these conversations, we believe we strengthen both American Studies and Digital Humanities simultaneously.

We also know we join a conversation already in progress. For those seeking a deeper dive into the history of that conversation, we offer the following links and suggestions:

In the early 2000s, the American Historical Review published three interactive journal articles: Jack Censer and Lynn Hunt’s “Imaging the French Revolution: Depictions of the French Revolutionary Crowd” (February 2005); William G. Thomas and Edward L. Ayers’ “The Differences Slavery Made: A Close Analysis of Two American Communities” (December 2003); and Phil Ethington’s “Los Angeles and the Problem of Urban Historical Knowledge” (December 2000). These born-digital, interactive works seem to be what the journal was soliciting in its February 2012 call for submissions for digital articles.

The National Endowment for the Humanities has funded investigations into ways of sustaining more robust dialogue between digital projects and wider scholarly communication. Among the investigations into these matters was a 2010 conference held at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Sustaining Digital History.

Apart from flagship journals such as the American Historical Review, born-digital journals in American Studies-related fields have sustained or increased their calls for multi-media and interactive projects. Among these is Southern Spaces, hosted at Emory University, and Vectors, hosted by the University of Southern California:

The American Studies community has long been active in its approach to the integration and promotion of digital work. The DH Caucus of the American Studies Association, especially, has worked toward expanding scholarly communication into digital media, and we look forward to working with them as we solicit project reviews and reviewers:

Finally, those wishing to follow up on one of the largest issues we raised—the health and history of digital criticism—should check out "Half-Baked: The State of Evaluation in the Digital Humanities" at American Literary History:

Digital Humanities as Appendix

Robert K. Nelson

Reviewing Cameron Blevins's "Space, Nation, and the Triumph of Region: A View of the World from Houston" and Matthew Wilkens's Matthew Wilkens "The Geographic Imagination of Civil War-Era American Fiction," this review essay suggests these two essays represent how digital humanities methods are increasingly being used to generate novel and significant arguments about history, literature, and culture. These articles distinguish themselves from much work in the digital humanities by foregrounding argument rather than method, by being more-or-less the products of individual scholars rather than collaborative teams, and by being presented as relatively conventional essays rather than as experiments in form.

That said, both Blevins and Wilkens take advantage of social media and the web to communicate with colleagues. Both of them share talks and in-progress work on their respective websites and both tweet fairly often (@historying and @mattwilkens).

Blevins's analysis uses a software tool, ImageGrid, that he developed with Bridget Baird. ImageGrid is available as open-source software available on github. Blevins's essay builds upon Mapping Texts, a digital project to assess language patterns and OCR quality in nearly a quarter million pages of historical Texas newspapers.

Wilkens provides the location occurrence data used in his essay on his website.

In the Money: Finance, Freedom, and American Capitalism

Caitlin C. Rosenthal

“In the Money” argues that scholars in American Studies and allied fields have the potential to help reshape the ways we tell stories about economic change. Among the books reviewed is Show Me the Money, an edited volume exploring the ways finance is visualized.  The text accompanies online and brick-and-mortar exhibitions of historical images and art work. The projects website  at offers a wealth of materials for teaching. Highlights included commissioned films, pinterest boards of images from the exhibit, and links to artists whose work was featured