Following the recent grand jury decision to not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of Michael Brown, protests and vandalism erupted in Ferguson and nearby St. Louis, Missouri. Rafia Zafar, professor of English, African and African-American Studies, and American Culture Studies, has written about protests in the civil rights movement and how, surprisingly, food and the sharing of meals played a symbolic role in that struggle. For activists such as Anne Moody, the simple act of ordering a grilled cheese sandwich was a dangerous act of protest. This Thanksgiving week, we reflect on this earlier era of protestors and the many roles of food in American culture.
Here at Washington University, our thoughts are with our greater St. Louis community and the people of nearby Ferguson, Missouri. The following podcasts relate to the issues of race and inequality that have been so much on our minds since the death of Michael Brown in August. We hope these perspectives can contribute to important conversations during this difficult time.
As principal investigator of For the Sake of All, a multi-disciplinary project in collaboration with St. Louis University on the health and well-being of African Americans in St. Louis, Jason Purnell has researched how factors like education and access to healthy foods affect St. Louisans. Purnell describes the project, explains why differences between zip codes can be so shocking, and shares the types of policy changes that he believes could create positive change.
As the St. Louis community continues to grapple with the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, Rebecca Wanzo pauses to reflect on Michael Brown and the role of victimization in American culture and politics. Wanzo serves as associate professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and as associate director of the Center for the Humanities. Her book The Suffering Will Not be Televised: African American Women and Sentimental Political Storytelling addresses questions about how and why stories of suffering are either publicized or obscured. She recently moderated the panel Race, Place, and Violence: A University Wide Discussion about Michael Brown.
In Argentine tango, the steps that dancers perform - and even the shoes that they wear - tell a certain story about the correct role of men and women in the dance. In her book How Americans Make Race: Stories, Institutions, Spaces, Clarissa Rile Hayward argues that racial identities are formed in much the same way. Whether looking at the 1920s or 2014, people's behavior and attitudes toward race are often influenced by factors beyond their own experience and control. Hayward tracks this phenomenon, introduces the ideas of 'institutionalization' and 'objectification," and reveals why some stories about race are more influential than others.
In her collection Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays, author Eula Biss asserts that "nothing is innocent." Even telephone poles are marked by the country's history of slavery and colonization. Biss pairs the personal and the political in her writing, and in Notes from No Man's Land, she offers candid reflections on the role of race in her own life and in American history. Biss teaches writing at Northwestern University.
In July of 1863, James Pennington, a prominent African-American minister and former slave, saw his neighborhood destroyed in a violent episode now known as the New York draft riots. Professor Iver Bernstein shared Pennington's story in the podcast "Stripes and Scars," which first aired last fall. Now, in a new introduction, Bernstein considers the draft riots and other historical moments of racial conflict alongside the more recent incidents in Ferguson, Missouri. According to Bernstein, now is an appropriate moment to carefully consider the complex relationship between violence and protest, both historically and today. Bernstein serves as director of the American Culture Studies program at Washington University in St. Louis. His upcoming book, Stripes & Scars: Race, The Revitalization of America, and The Origins of the Civil War, is under contract with Oxford University Press.
Guided by a passionate belief that the arts are for everyone, music professor André de Quadros has conducted research in over 40 countries and, closer to his home base in Boston, for the past two years has been teaching classes in two Massachusetts prisons. De Quadros, who will conduct a special performance of the Washington University Choirs as part of the Distinguished Visiting Scholar Program, walks us through his experiences in prison education and shares his conviction that all humans are music-makers.
What can the history of one Broadway song reveal about American race relations? In Who Should Sing Ol' Man River?: The Lives of an American Song, now available through Amazon and Oxford University Press, musicologist Todd Decker explores how one show tune has been shaped and reshaped over time. Decker joined Hold That Thought to share how "Ol' Man River" transformed from a Broadway ballad into a dance ditty, an activist anthem, and more.
The results from the 2014 midterm elections are in, and Republicans stole the show. On the national scene, the GOP gained 15 seats in the House of Representatives and took control of the Senate for the first time since 2006. As predicted, conservative Christian voters played a significant role in these outcomes. Yet despite the recent focus on the political power of Evangelicals, the influence of liberal Protestantism may be more present in American culture and politics than you think. Historian David Hollinger, professor emeritus at the University of California - Berkeley, discusses what it means to be "Post-Protestant." His most recent book is After Cloven Tongues of Fire: Protestant Liberalism in Modern American History.
In 1487, when the witch trials were just starting to take root in Europe, a Dominican priest published the Malleus Maleficarum, or The Witches' Hammer, a treatise on the prosecution of witches in a court of law. This text would be used over the next three centuries as the authority on the trial and torture of witches, laying out why women in particular were so susceptible to witchcraft. By the end of the witch craze in the 1720s, an estimated 80,000 had been tried and executed. In this extended episode, Gerhild Williams, a professor of comparative literature and Germanic literature and culture, breaks down the witch trial phenomenon into three parts: (1) defining the witch and the roots of these beliefs, (2) how the political landscape evolved and the contents of The Witches' Hammer, and (3) how and why the witch craze took hold and what we can learn from it today.
Going back to colonial times, liberal and conservative Protestants in the US have had conflicting views over both theology and politics. Yet according to intellectual historian David Hollinger, the role of liberalized, ecumenical Protestantism in American history has too often been overshadowed by more conservative versions of the faith. How did evangelicals come to dominate the cultural capital of Christianity? Hollinger, whose most recent book is After Cloven Tongues of Fire: Protestant Liberalism in Modern American History, describes the history of Protestantism's two-party system.
Throughout much of the 19th century, Mormons were in direct conflict with the US government. Less than a century later, Mormons were often viewed as ideal citizens. Laurie Maffly-Kipp, who is currently writing a book about the history and current status of Mormonism, gives us a glimpse into this unique example of the how religion and politics have intertwined throughout American history.
In the mid-1960s, construction began on the Great Canadian Oil Sands project in Fort McMurray, Alberta. In part, this massive undertaking was the result of a friendship – that of J. Howard Pew, president of what is now Sunoco, and Ernest Manning, a Canadian politician. Pew and Manning’s relationship grew out of their shared evangelical faith, and as Darren Dochuk reveals, this type of religious ‘soft diplomacy’ is a fascinating, and often overlooked, facet of both politics and economics. Dochuk’s next book will chart evangelical Protestantism’s longstanding - and politically significant - relationship with the petroleum industry. He is an associate professor at Washington University’s Danforth Center on Religion and Politics.
Long before Hobby Lobby's stance on birth control filled the news, beliefs about sex and religion have intertwined with American politics. R. Marie Griffith, a feminist historian of American religion and director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics, takes us back to the 1920s, when a dramatic episode involving Margaret Sanger and the Catholic Church brought the morality of birth control into the public eye. As Griffith reveals, these historical debates are surprisingly relevant to today's political context. In particular, Griffith believes that Sanger's strong convictions about women's rights and sexuality are just as vitally important in 2014 as they were in the 1920s. The author of many articles and books, she is currently writing Christians, Sex, and Politics: An American History.