Historiography

Books I've Read in 2017

In January, I decided to keep a log of all the books I had read this year. By mid-February, I was having trouble with my eyesight, and by the end of February, I had basically lost my vision and required emergency surgery. So I lost a couple months of reading. Luckily, as George Costanza would say, I'm back, baby.

This year is also the year when I hope to complete the book I am writing. Because I have been feeling a bit inundated by online articles, I decided to make a concerted effort to read as many books as possible. I often say that I read books for a living, but mostly that means skimming books and reading articles. (I’m not going to record the many articles, academic and otherwise, I’m reading.) I like to read really long books because of the sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing them. But honestly I rarely have the time or attention span that I wish I did. Anyway, here is a list of books I’ve read so far in 2017, with some commentary on each. I will try to update it every few months; hopefully this will force me to read books cover to cover.

New Publications on Pacification and Protest Against It

Over the past couple weeks, I've published some new articles. Most importantly, Humanity has published my article "To Secure the Global Great Society: Participation in Pacification." This is my first sole-authored peer-reviewed journal article, and it's in one of my favorite journals, so I'm very excited about it. The article grows out of a chapter of my dissertation, and it also continues some of the research and thinking that first appeared in a journal article and a book chapter that I co-authored with Ananya Roy and Emma Shaw Crane.

Here is the abstract:

The U.S. federal mandate of community participation, which defined the social-welfare programming of the Great Society’s War on Poverty, was recapitulated in U.S. foreign aid through Title IX of the 1966 Foreign Assistance Act. Many agencies adhered to this mandate, including, surprisingly, those concerned with counterinsurgency in South Vietnam. This article, therefore, inquires into the mechanics of pacification, demonstrating that the population whose security was at stake was responsible for its own participation in achieving security. By placing the linkage between community development and security in a transnational frame, this article shows that pacification must be considered a productive, not simply destructive, form of governance.

The article has several goals, all organized by an insistence on placing US domestic governance and US overseas rule in a single analytic frame.

Critically Rethinking Cold War Social Science

The historian Audra J. Wolfe has a very good article on the ongoing historiographic controversy around the terms Cold War science or Cold War social science. The controversy is over whether Cold War social science is a useful historical category. She concludes that it is. Wolfe says that political leaders “granted” science and social science “nearly superhuman” powers during the Cold War, which differentiates this intellectual agglomeration from earlier (or later) ones like, say, Renaissance science. Other historians, however, have argued that for a variety of reasons it is not a useful term. I believe Cold War social science is a useful term but for different reasons.

Dirty Wars, Nasty Reviews (post 2 of 2)

In the previous post, I discussed the film Dirty Wars and a response to it in the context of my own dissertation research on counterinsurgency and police assistance. In the mailbox when I got home from seeing that film was the new issue (June 2013) of the American Historical Review, which contains a review of the recent book Modernizing Repression by Jeremy Kuzmarov.

Dirty Wars, Nasty Reviews (post 1 of 2)

The other night two things happened. I’ll save part two [updated] for the next blog post. First, I saw Dirty Wars, the documentary that follows Jeremy Scahill’s investigative reporting into the once highly secret Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). The film was actually much better than I had expected, and I would highly recommend it.

Pouring Cooking Oil on the Road, or the Great Traffic Accident of US History

It can be difficult to read about terrorism if your goal is actually learning something. If ever there was a use for the word “pleonasm,” it’s the aftermath of a terrorist attack. In this post, I will talk a little bit about what the aftermath of the Boston bombings tell us about what we choose not to know, with the main point of showing how the jokes about terrorists’ harebrained schemes (also here and here) might become less funny if only we were less ignorant about the history of US empire.

"Anti-Klan (Part 1)": The FBI, the Police, and the KKK

The historical question of the role of FBI informants in destroying radical Left movements and organizations in the 1960s and 1970s has been raised anew by Seth Rosenfeld’s Subversives. By radicals, the use of informants is felt to be particularly pernicious insofar as informants not only abuse the very trust that is essential to building social movements but they weaponize that trust itself to undermine movements. What's more, although informants are defended by the security apparatus as essential and essentially neutral tools in the capturing of bad guys, no one believes they are neutral (or, put more clinically, as sociologist Gary T. Marx does, their mandates are not always clear.) Instead, they frequently direct movements toward illegal, or more illegal, activities in order to build cases for prosecutions. I return to this topic not because informants interest me per se but because they are one symptom of a broader complex that is the relationship of the state and social movements and the state and racism. Where I am going with this is actually a relatively narrow question of the relationship of right-wing extra-legal violence and the police, which I pose by looking at the FBI during COINTELPRO’s spying on white supremacist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. But first let me take a wide berth.

Gun Violence in the United States: Reverberations of Empire

I don’t know much about guns. Nor do I, an otherwise inherently inquisitive type, want to know that much. Playing with GI Joe figures as a white boy in the suburbs in the 1980s was enough, thank you very much. What I do know something about, however, is the boomerang effects of colonial forms of rule: how techniques of power deployed in far-off lands by imperial rulers tend to be repatriated for domestic use. Hannah Arendt advocated a version of this thesis in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1950). For her, the roots of the Nazi Holocaust sit with the Boers in South Africa. Michel Foucault in Society Must Be Defended, a collection of 1975-1976 lectures, refers to the “considerable boomerang effect”

Advice for Graduate Students Embarking on Archival Research

After visits to over a dozen archives in pre-dissertation and actual dissertation research, I thought it might be useful to reflect on my experiences and render some practical how-to advice.* All of what I say is inherently provisional, as I have yet to produce the end product (the dissertation) that would prove my advice sound. And all of what I say relates to my own experience and is not necessarily transferable to other people or places. In particular, a few idiosyncrasies: 1) I drink coffee in the morning and I am vegetarian; 2) my research has been at archives in the United States, mostly in suburbs or college towns; 3) my project is not based on a single archive but rather requires the construction of an archive of sorts. Let me explain further why these points matter.

Two New Publications

Two articles of mine have come out in the past few days. 

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© 2017 Stuart Schrader