My New Book!

My New Book!
My New Book!

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

January 31, 2023: Travel Stories: Sarah Kemble Knight

[January 30th marks the 150th anniversary of the English-language publication of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy that book and other travel stories!]

On what a unique American travel narrative helps us understand about the early 18th century.

If you haven’t taken an Early American Literature class or otherwise looked through an American Lit anthology, I’m not sure how likely you are to have heard of Sarah Kemble Knight and her five-month journey from Boston to New York in 1704-1705. Because there are so few extant literary works (in any genre) from that particular colonial period, Knight’s diary (or journal; it was private and unpublished in her lifetime but rediscovered by New England luminary Theodore Dwight and released in 1825 as The Journal of Mme Knight) of her journey is frequently anthologized and taught (either in excerpts or in full), but I don’t know how well-known it is beyond such textbooks and classrooms. Which is a shame—partly because Knight, a widow who had begun running a Boston boarding house after her husband’s death in 1703, was clearly a unique and interesting woman, with a sharp and funny voice and perspective that translate well to the pages of her journal; but also because this unusual piece of early American travel writing reveals a good deal about life in New England and America in the first decade of the 18th century.

Some of those revelations are seemingly straightforward but difficult to wrap our 21st century heads around without the aid of texts like Knight’s. That’s especially true of the single most striking detail about Knight’s journey: that it took her and her guide five months to travel the 220 miles from Boston to New York. They weren’t riding as if the devil were at their heels or anything, but that stunningly extended length of time does reflect a number of significant realities of early 18th century travel and America. There’s the poor condition of even those few roads (like the Boston Post Road that was Knight’s first thoroughfare) that did exist in the era; as Knight writes of one such experience, “the Roads all along this way are very bad, Encumbered with Rocks and mountainous passages, which were very disagreeable to my tired carcass.” Or the very real dangers of crossing rivers during the period, whether on a ferry as she does the Thames River (“the Boat tossed exceedingly, and our horses capered at a very surprising Rate, and set us all in a fright”) or over a bridge as she does in Dedham (“But in going over the Causeway at Dedham the Bridge being overflowed by the high waters coming down I very narrowly escaped falling over into the river Horse and all which ‘twas almost a miracle I did not”). The incredible challenges of Knight’s trek make rush hour traffic on the Merritt Parkway seem like nothing at all, no?

Knight’s journal also reveals a good bit about the society and communities through which that five-month journey takes her. On a number of occasions Knight is met with incredulity that she is a single woman taking such a journey alone, as when she writes, “I was Interrogated by a young Lady I understood afterwards was the Eldest daughter of the family [with whom she is staying], with these, or words to this purpose: what in the world brings You here at this time a night?—I never see a woman on the Road so Dreadful late, in all the days of my versall [?] life. Who are You? Where are You going?” Knight also offers her own observations on the social worlds around her, and that progressive gender identity does not free her from such stereotyping descriptions as this of Native Americans she encounters: “There are every where in the Towns as I passed, a Number of Indians the Natives of the Country, and are the most savage of all the savages of that kind that I had ever Seen.” She does add, however, that there has been “little or no care taken (as I heard upon enquiry) to make them otherwise,” making clear that these American identities are a product of collective bigotry at least as much as they are a reflection of Knight’s own prejudices. Just a couple of the early 18th century realities and histories that we can glimpse in this unique piece of colonial travel writing.

Next travel story tomorrow,

Ben

PS. What do you think? Travel stories or writing you’d highlight?

Monday, January 30, 2023

January 30, 2023: Travel Stories: Around the World in Eighty Days

[January 30th marks the 150th anniversary of the English-language publication of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy that book and other travel stories!]

On three American travelers and trips that complement Verne’s text.

1)      William Perry Fogg: Ohio businessman, community leader, and adventurer Fogg’s around-the-world travels, first described in letters he sent back to the Cleveland Leader newspaper and then published in the book Round the World: Letters from Japan, China, India, and Egypt (1872), have been described as one of the influences on Verne’s novel (not least because Verne’s main character is also named Fogg!). And in any case, however much of a direct inspiration the real Fogg provided for the fictional one, William Perry Fogg’s travels illustrated how transportation innovations had made this idea of truly global travel far more possible and attainable in the late 19th century.

2)      Nellie Bly: I wrote about many of Bly’s groundbreaking investigative journalistic works in that hyperlinked post; all of those were influential, but there’s no doubt that Bly’s most popular work was based on her successful 1889 attempt to reenact Verne’s story, a global trip she completed in 72 days and which became the basis for her bestselling book Around the World in Seventy-Two Days (1890). Interestingly enough, another journalist, Elizabeth Bisland, was on a competing journey (commissioned by Cosmopolitan magazine) at the same time as Bly, which really reflects the influence of Verne’s book on media and popular consciousness alike. Bisland completed her journey in 76 days and published her own book about it, natch.

3)      James Willis Sayre: The attempts to best Verne’s fictional race didn’t end with Bly and Bisland, of course. There have been many in the century and a half since his book appeared (I greatly enjoyed Michael Palin’s BBC documentary a few years back), but particularly striking was the journey of theater critic and historian (and Philippine American War veteran) Sayre, who in 1903 set a new world record by circling the globe in just over 54 days. I’m not sure any work of fiction has produced more actual travels and travel writing than has Jules Verne’s 1873 novel!

Next travel story tomorrow,

Ben

PS. What do you think? Travel stories or writing you’d highlight?

Saturday, January 28, 2023

January 28-29, 2023: AbortionStudying: Dobbs and Everything After

[On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court released the Roe v. Wade decision. So this week I’ve AmericanStudied that case and a handful of other histories and stories of abortion in the U.S., leading up to this weekend post on the current laws and debates.]

On three ongoing aftermaths of the June 2022 Dobbs decision.

1)      Anti-abortion laws: The most dramatic and divisive aftermath of Dobbs has been the spate of extremist laws through which state legislatures have sought to limit (or, more accurately, outlaw entirely) abortion. Even more troubling have been the number of legislators who have felt free to express their opposition to abortion in even the most extreme circumstances, including in far too many instances child rape. Given how much the anti-abortion movement relies on narratives of protecting children’s lives, that last detail is particularly telling about which children and which lives the movement does and does not value.

2)      Marriage rights: As extreme as those ongoing responses have been, they’re far from the only stunningly reactionary aftermaths and applications to Dobbs we’ve seen in the last half-year. Because the Court’s decision more broadly brought into question the idea of a Constitutional right to privacy, various conservative forces have read the decision as a license to attack another recently guaranteed federal right—the right of all Americans to marry the partner of their choice. That includes not only same-sex marriage but also, and perhaps even more stunningly still, interracial marriage. To say that these forces wish to bring America back to the 1950s is, if anything, an understatement.

3)      The future of the Court: In one of my first HuffPost columns, nearly seven years ago now, I made the case that the Supreme Court has always been political. I would still argue the same, and it’s an important thing to remember; but nonetheless, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Court has become more openly partisan in recent years, thanks in no small measure to the three Justices appointed by our insurrectionist former president. Which means it might well be time to seriously consider expanding the Court, an idea that becomes much easier to contemplate when we recognize that the number of Justices is not Constitutional and has varied and evolved throughout our history. I don’t take such changes lightly, but neither do I—nor should we—see the Court as sacrosanct, for precisely the reason that it has always been part of our political debates and processes. In any case, in the aftermath of Dobbs, we can and must think about all ways to fight for the Court, the laws, and the nation we need.

Next series starts Monday,

Ben

PS. What do you think?

Friday, January 27, 2023

January 27, 2023: AbortionStudying: George Tiller

[On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court released the Roe v. Wade decision. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy that case and a handful of other histories and stories of abortion in the U.S., leading up to a weekend post on the current laws and debates.]

On two important broader takeaways from a horrific act of domestic terrorist violence.

On May 31st, 2009, the physician and abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was murdered in his Wichita Lutheran church (where Tiller was working as an usher at the time of the shooting) by anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder. (This was not the first time such an extremist had shot and attempted to kill Dr. Tiller, a fact to which I will return in my third paragraph.) Perhaps in our current moment of frustratingly and terrifyingly frequent mass shootings and other acts of gun violence this murder would have been less nationally noteworthy (I hope not, but I live in our world like all the rest of y’all), but in 2009 it most definitely dominated the headlines for quite some time after, and occasioned vigils and protests around the country. Roeder was apprehended in Kansas City a few hours later, brought to trial later in the year, and convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated assault in January 2010; he is currently serving a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole before 25 years (meaning he will become eligible for parole in 2035, when he will be 77 years old).

Both that horrific crime and the life and work of Dr. Tiller deserve attention on their own terms. But for the final post in this week’s series, I wanted to highlight two broader takeaways that represent key elements in the histories of and ongoing debates over abortion in America. One is just how fully myths, misrepresentations, and outright lies have tended to overwhelm basic facts, with always disastrous and sometimes (in cases like Tiller’s) tragic results. Tiller was one of a handful of physicians providing late-term abortions (there are even fewer now, for understandable reasons), a medical procedure performed extremely rarely and always in cases in which the fetus is unviable and/or the life of the mother is significantly at risk. Such procedures require extensive testing before they are even considered, as well as agreement between multiple physicians, and are inevitably hugely fraught and traumatic for the women and families that have to undergo them. But the narratives around this particular form of abortion have consistently used inaccurate terms such as “partial-birth abortion,” have described events that never take place like the murder of living babies, and have characterized physicians like Tiller as blatant and cavalier murderers. Those mythic narratives didn’t pull the trigger, but they sure as hell contributed to the mindset of Scott Roeder.

Roeder and Roeder alone pulled the trigger in that Wichita church on May 31st, but I nonetheless would argue that he did not act alone. Police found on a post-it on Roeder’s car dashboard the name and cell phone number of Cheryl Sullenger, the vice president of the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue West; at first Sullenger denied any contact with Roeder, but she eventually admitted to having talked with him frequently and even giving him detailed information about Roeder’s schedule. I would thus say the same about Roeder that I did about Timothy McVeigh in this post—seeing him as a “lone wolf” domestic terrorist requires eliding the broader networks and communities of which he was part and which facilitated his radicalization and terrorism alike. The same could be said of Shelley Shannon, the woman who shot Tiller five times in August 1993 (and who was released from prison and presumably right back into the anti-abortion movement a few years ago). Not all anti-abortion activists are domestic terrorists, to be clear; but there is, and has been for decades, a large and powerful network of such terrorists, and we can’t talk about this issue and its histories (nor its current debates) without engaging that difficult but crucial reality.

Contemporary reflections this weekend,

Ben

PS. What do you think?

Thursday, January 26, 2023

January 26, 2023: AbortionStudying: Dirty Dancing

[On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court released the Roe v. Wade decision. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy that case and a handful of other histories and stories of abortion in the U.S., leading up to a weekend post on the current laws and debates.]

On the two most common portrayals of abortion in films, and a rare and important third option.

Last May, with the Supreme Court’s dismantling of Roe in the Dobbs decision looming on the horizon, Megan Garber wrote thoughtfully for The Atlantic about a telling bit of dialogue in the film Knocked Up (2007) and the tendency of films and pop culture texts to “edit out abortion.” I couldn’t agree more, and could cite plenty of other 20th and 21st century films that have focused on themes of unplanned or uncertain pregnancy and potential parenthood yet have almost entirely (if not indeed entirely) left out or at least seriously downplayed the option of abortion for their protagonists. Given just how fraught and divisive that issue has been over this last half-century, it’s understandable that artists and cultural works which are not specifically focused on it have tried to find ways not to get pulled into and sidetracked by those debates. But as Garber argues for Knocked Up, this consistent choice could just as easily be said to do the opposite: to create an elephant in the room that lingers more than if the characters talked out the possibility as most anyone in these situations would.

If that’s been one main thread of cinematic portrayals (or rather non-portrayals) of abortion in the decades since Roe, the other end of the spectrum is illustrated by a film like Alexander Payne’s Citizen Ruth (1996). Payne’s satirical black comedy is seemingly all about abortion, but I’d say that it’s much more overtly about the abortion debate—the pregnant protagonist Ruth Stoops (the always-excellent Laura Dern) becomes in the course of the film much more of a political pawn for all sides of that debate than a woman struggling to make her own choices. When it comes to the smaller number (compared to the non-portrayal type above) of films that do portray abortion as a significant potential choice, I’d argue that most fall into this category—films more about abortion as a debate and issue than about the women and human beings dealing with these experiences and challenges. Of course I’d rather films and cultural works of all kinds grapple overtly in these ways than minimize or ignore, but at the very least this is just one lens through which to depict abortion (or pregnancy, or anything), and not necessarily the most effective when it comes to telling human stories.

That’s where Dirty Dancing (1987) comes in. I can’t believe I haven’t had occasion before now to write in this space about that 80s classic—no, that’s Payne-level satire, I have thought about Dirty Dancing less than just about any other topic I’ve ever covered on the blog. Just not really in my wheelhouse as either a film buff or an AmericanStudier, I suppose. But one thing Dirty Dancing does really well, besides coin enduring catchphrases, is portray the human experience of abortion and all its related contexts and challenges. It does so through a plotline around a secondary character, the dancer Penny (Cynthia Rhodes), who finds herself pregnant by caddish waiter Robbie (Max Cantor) who has no interest in being there for her; the entire storyline around Penny’s pregnancy, choice to abort, and its aftermaths can be seen, as author Yannis Tzioumakis puts it, as a “gold standard,” a “compassionate depiction of abortion in which the woman seeking an abortion was not demonized, with the primary concerns being her health and preserving her capacity to bear children at a future time rather than the ethical dilemma that might or might not inform her decision, a portrayal that is not necessarily available in current films.” Leave it to a Patrick Swayze romantic drama to do a better job portraying this complex human issue and experience than much of the rest of pop culture put together.

Last AbortionStudying tomorrow,

Ben

PS. What do you think?

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

January 25, 2023: AbortionStudying: The Eleventh Virgin

[On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court released the Roe v. Wade decision. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy that case and a handful of other histories and stories of abortion in the U.S., leading up to a weekend post on the current laws and debates.]

On what an autobiographical novel helps us see about history and politics alike.

I wrote about the multi-part and profoundly inspiring life of Dorothy Day in this Saturday Evening Post Considering History column. That’s all part of the frame for Day’s 1924 autobiographical novel The Eleventh Virgin (published when she was just 27 years old), so check out that column if you would and then come on back for a couple takeaways for this week’s series.

Welcome back! The Eleventh Virgin is a multi-faceted depiction of Day’s childhood and young adulthood that touches on countless themes (through the lens of fictional character June), but abortion is a central through-line in the book, and not only because one of the novel’s culminating events is June’s own abortion after her love affair with a self-centered artist. One of the first characters Day creates at length is Mrs. Wittle, a depressed New York housewife for whom young June goes to work as a housekeeper; the 38 year old Wittle is pregnant with her second child, reads and talks obsessively about dangerous pregnancies and related themes like marital rape, and in one conversation asks June openly, “What different ways are there for performing abortions? Have you ever heard, June? I must ask Mrs. Bigley when she comes over this afternoon.” Day adds that from both Mrs. Wittle and her husband, a psychologist, the teenage June is “beginning to learn of sexual problems.” This section and character make clear once again what I highlighted in yesterday’s post: abortion has been a familiar and consistent part of American history, and more specifically of the identities, perspectives, relationships, and communities of women (young and old) at every stage.  

June’s own eventual abortion is one of the novel’s most overtly autobiographical events: Dorothy Day had an abortion of her own in 1920, part of the end of her brief and fraught love affair with the journalist Lionel Moise. Day would later write that Moise had pushed her to get the abortion, which she would call “the great tragedy of my life” and which she believed for five years had left her sterile; when she became pregnant in 1925 (with her biologist partner Forster Batterham) it was thus a hugely moving moment for Day (less so for Batterham, from whom she eventually separated). I’m not here to judge or even really engage with Day’s personal experiences of and evolving perspective on abortion, but to my mind that’s precisely the point: of all the issues that have become central to our political debates, none is more personal and individual than abortion. Both fictional characters and actual lives can help us understand, explore, and empathize with those personal and individual stories—but they also, and I would say especially, can help remind us that we have no real place from which to judge, much less to legislate, those personal and individual choices and lives.

Next AbortionStudying tomorrow,

Ben

PS. What do you think?

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

January 24, 2023: AbortionStudying: Sarah Grosvenor

[On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court released the Roe v. Wade decision. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy that case and a handful of other histories and stories of abortion in the U.S., leading up to a weekend post on the current laws and debates.]

On two important contexts for a famous and tragic colonial case.

There aren’t very many 18th century American teenagers we know about at all, much less remember in any specific ways, and that’s doubly true for teenage girls. But Pomfret, Connecticut’s Sarah Grosvenor is an exception to that rule, thanks to her tragic death and the controversial court case that resulted from it. In 1742, the 19 year old Grosvenor was in a sexual relationship with a 27 year old local man, Amasa Sessions; Grosvenor became pregnant, Sessions apparently was not willing to get married or otherwise support the child, and Grosvenor pursued options through which to abort the pregnancy. After unsuccessfully trying to “take the trade” (an 18th century phrase for aborting through natural abortifacients), Grosvenor went to local Dr. John Hallowell to perform a surgical abortion. He did so, but about ten days later Grosvenor developed an infection and died. Three days after her death both Hallowell and Sessions were arrested for Grosvenor’s murder (as were Sarah’s sister Zerviah and stepmother Hannah were their role in securing Hallowell’s services); after a lengthy trial the women and Sessions were acquitted (perhaps out of sympathy for their having already lost Grosvenor) but Hallowell was convicted and sentenced to death (a fate from which he successfully fled).

As all those hyperlinked pieces and analyses illustrate, there are plenty of complexities and layers to each and every one of those stages and stories (and the excellent Unsung History podcast episode featuring historian Cornelia Dayton traces them all). But for this post as part of this week’s series, I want to focus on two contexts for the history of abortion in which Sarah Grosvenor serves as a compelling case study. The first is more obvious but certainly crucial: abortion has been part of American lives, families, and communities throughout our history. And not just part, but a multi-layered, familiar, and even commonplace part—when Grosvenor decided to abort, she was aware of the possibility of “taking the trade” and pursued it; and when that home remedy didn’t work, she and her family knew of Hallowell’s services and were able to reach out to him to perform that medical procedure. Of course that doctor and those family members alike were eventually charged with a crime, but I would argue that’s entirely due to Sarah’s tragic death—that is, to my mind the trial reveals less about abortion debates and more the inescapable fact that a mysterious death, even an accidental one, is likely to result in the possibility of criminal charges. Had the abortion gone smoothly, as we have to imagine many (likely the vast majority) did, neither the courts nor any of us would know about it.

The second context I want to consider here is far less obvious, and indeed represents an interpretative stretch on my part. But it seems to me that both the age difference between teenage Sarah and her lover Amasa and Amasa’s apparent refusal to marry Sarah make it at least possible that their relationship was less one of mutual love and more the kind of 18th century (and of course 21st century) story of predatory men and vulnerable young women that I discussed in this Saturday Evening Post Considering History column. I can’t pretend to know anything about Amasa, nor the specifics of the couple’s relationship. But what I do know is that neither sex and pregnancy overall nor abortion specifically have ever affected men and women equally, not at any point in American history and certainly not in our 21st century moment (about which more this coming weekend). Perhaps Amasa Sessions was as genuine as he could be in his affection for Sarah Grosvenor—but when Sarah became pregnant, Amasa could walk away and Sarah was left with the eternal and hugely fraught question of what to do, and what would happen when she did. That’s a fundamental imbalance that we can never ignore when we talk about the history of nor the present debates over abortion in America.

Next AbortionStudying tomorrow,

Ben

PS. What do you think?

Monday, January 23, 2023

January 23, 2023: AbortionStudying: Roe v. Wade

[On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court released the Roe v. Wade decision. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy that case and a handful of other histories and stories of abortion in the U.S., leading up to a weekend post on the current laws and debates.]

On the compelling & telling American stories of four key Roe v. Wade figures.

1)      Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee: The two attorneys who brought Roe v. Wade to the Supreme Court (after first taking and arguing the case in their home state of Texas) were both under 30 years old when they did so. I’ve written both in this space and my book Of Thee I Sing about the vital role that legal organizations like the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund and MALDEF have played in advancing the cause of civil rights and equality in the United States throughout the 20th century. But at the same time, much of that work was done by incredibly courageous individual lawyers, attorneys who were quite often very early in their careers (perhaps because they hadn’t become more conservative or cynical in their legal ideas or ambitions yet)—and who, in the case of Weddington and Coffee, had no such communal or institutional organization behind or supporting them, just the courage of their convictions.  

2)      Henry Wade: It’s quite something that the Texas District Attorney who prosecuted Jack Ruby for murdering Lee Harvey Oswald isn’t best known for that shocking 20th century moment and case, but there’s no doubt that Henry Wade will first and forever be tied to the case that bears his name. The Innocence Project of Texas might argue differently, however—that legal activist organization is focused on more than 250 cases that Wade prosecuted in his three and a half decades as DA, noting that Wade’s policy of “convict at all costs” has already been revealed through DNA evidence to have railroaded nearly twenty innocent people. To be clear, Wade didn’t choose to prosecute Roe v. Wade—that case was brought by Weddington and Coffee, and it seems that Wade was relatively indifferent to the eventual outcome. But I think it’s important to remember that women who had abortions in 1970 Texas were perceived and treated as criminals just as much as any of those pursued by Wade’s office—and as wrongly as it seems many of them were.

3)      Norma McCorvey: As that hyperlinked NPR piece traces, and as has become relatively common knowledge in recent years, the specific such woman who became “Jane Roe” had a very complicated and evolving relationship to the issue of abortion. The choice of McCorvey by Weddington and Coffee was also complicated, and echoes to a degree the way in which Rosa Parks became the face of the Montgomery bus boycott—McCorvey was a married woman with two children and was pregnant for a third time in 1969 (a pregnancy she did not want to carry to term but was forced to), and thus a living repudiation of certain narrow stereotypes about women who sought out abortions. What each of those details truly reminds us, of course, is that every woman to whom abortion laws applies—which is every woman—has an individual identity and story that can’t be reduced to one frame, which I would argue is precisely the goal of protecting each individual’s right to make their own decisions about reproduction, health, family, and more.

Next AbortionStudying tomorrow,

Ben

PS. What do you think?

Saturday, January 21, 2023

January 21-22, 2023: Spring 2023 Previews: My New Book Project

[This week marks the beginning of a new semester, and so as always I wanted to preview classes I’m teaching, this time through individual authors and texts I’m excited to be including on this syllabi. Leading up to this special weekend update on my own newest book project!]

So when I planned a placeholder post here for an update on Two Sandlots: Baseball, Bigotry, and the Battle for America, I will admit to having had some hopes that there’d be news about a possible home for that manuscript. But there’s not yet, and so I’ll just say instead that I would really love any ideas, leads, connections, etc. about places I might consider submitting a project that is a significant part sports history (and I can lean into that focus even more fully if it fits the home), but with connections to histories of immigration, diversity, prejudice, and American identity as well. This Saturday Evening Post column illustrates a bit of what makes these interconnected stories so unique and important, and I’d love the chance to share them widely so let me know (here or by email) if you have thoughts, please!

Next series starts Monday,

Ben

PS. What do you think? Spring semester authors, texts, classes, or other work to share?

Friday, January 20, 2023

January 20, 2023: Spring 2023 Previews: Short Stories for ALFA

[This week marks the beginning of a new semester, and so as always I wanted to preview classes I’m teaching, this time through individual authors and texts I’m excited to be including on this syllabi. Leading up to a special weekend update on my own newest book project!]

This Spring I’ll be teaching for a couple different adult learning programs as usual, including my return after many years away to the BOLLI program at Brandeis. I always enjoy each and every one of those courses, but I’m especially excited to be teaching for the first time in many years a reading-centered class for the ALFA program. Entitled “Great American Stories, Past and Present,” each meeting of this course will pair a great short story from American literary history with one from our contemporary moment. Of course I have plenty of starting points and ideas, but when it comes to contemporary short stories in particular I also know that there’s a lot I don’t know yet. Or rather that I still have to learn—which is where you all come in! I’d love to hear, whether here or by email, contemporary short stories (or authors) that have really struck you, that I should put on the shortlist for the contemporary readings in this course’s pairings. Thanks in advance, and here’s to a great semester!

Next Spring preview tomorrow,

Ben

PS. So what do you think? Short stories I should definitely consider or include?  

Thursday, January 19, 2023

January 19, 2023: Spring 2023 Previews: First-Year Writing II

[This week marks the beginning of a new semester, and so as always I wanted to preview classes I’m teaching, this time through individual authors and texts I’m excited to be including on this syllabi. Leading up to a special weekend update on my own newest book project!]

[NB. Gonna repeat a 2017 post on my use of a contemporary film and TV show in this course, as the same limits and benefits remain and indeed have only deepened as I continue using these texts and this assignment in my Writing II sections.]

On the limits and benefits of using contemporary multimedia texts in a first-year writing course.

As I mentioned in my preview post back in January, this semester marked my second time using a First-year Writing II syllabus focused on analyzing 21st century identities. That syllabus’ third unit asks students to utilize a pair of multimedia texts of their choice to practice comparative analyses; for some reason that I can’t entirely remember, the first time I taught with this syllabus, back in Spring 2014, I used two such texts from the 1980s (the film Working Girl and an episode of the TV show The Wonder Years) for our collective practice with those skills. Since this semester, as I mentioned in that preview post, I was determined to find a way to include more contemporary debates and issues as part of our class conversations, I decided to go with two recent multimedia texts that could allow us to make such connections: the film Fruitvale Station (2013) and the wonderful 2016 “Hope” episode of the sitcom Black-ish. My hope was that these texts would help us to discuss police brutality and shootings, #BlackLivesMatter, and race in 2017 America while we modeled analyzing a dramatic film and a TV sitcom as part of a sample paper pairing.

We did indeed have those conversations, but with a limitation that I probably should have seen coming: our consistent, necessary focus on the writing skills and approaches comprised by that unit and paper. I’ve written many times in this space (and elsewhere) about my student-centered teaching approach, and that focus is never more central than in first-year writing courses, when any and all content is (to my mind) always secondary to the skills on which the students are working at any given moment. That’s not something I see myself ever changing, but it can lead to frustrations, and I certainly felt them in the course of our film and TV analyses, conversations in which we briefly touched upon incredibly challenging and difficult topics (particularly those related to police shootings) but simply didn’t have the time or space to delve into those subjects at length without sacrificing the focus that we needed on the paper in progress. To be honest, I think it might be necessary to make such topics the subject of the entire syllabus/course (as I did with a series of central readings in my Fall 2016 Seminar on Analyzing 21st Century America) in order to do them justice while still devoting sufficient time to our papers and their many related skills and elements.

At the same time, I’m very glad to have shared these texts, and especially the very under-appreciated Fruitvale Station, with my students. Despite my giving them the freedom to choose any two multimedia texts they wanted for the comparative paper, five of the twenty-three students chose to include Fruitvale as one of their pair; all five of them, and at least a few others in the class, noted that they had neither seen nor heard of the film previously, and that they were powerfully affected by viewing it and wanted to pursue those responses further by analyzing it in their papers. Even if we had been able to have more extended conversations about our contemporary topics than we did, I of course wouldn’t have wanted to proscribe any particular perspectives for the students, and instead would have hoped only that they’d be pushed to think more fully and deeply about such challenging and crucial issues. And it seems that the very experience of watching a film like Fruitvale, and then for this group of students the follow-up experience of writing about it, presented them with precisely such an opportunity, adding the film into their evolving perspectives on all those topics and many others. That’s a significant benefit in and of itself, and one made possible by utilizing a complex contemporary text like Fruitvale.

Last Spring preview tomorrow,

Ben

PS. What do you think? Spring semester authors, texts, classes, or other work to share?

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

January 18, 2023: Spring 2023 Previews: Grad Class on Multi-Ethnic American Lit

[This week marks the beginning of a new semester, and so as always I wanted to preview classes I’m teaching, this time through individual authors and texts I’m excited to be including on this syllabi. Leading up to a special weekend update on my own newest book project!]

As I wrote in my initial preview of this new (to me) Grad class, I decided at any early point that I wanted to take the course name as literally as possible: to include not just a range of ethnicities or cultures across our authors and texts, but to focus on works that explore the experiences and lives of multi-ethnic American characters and people (fictional and real). I’m really excited for the chance to work with all sorts of texts that I’ve taught many times before through this particular lens, from Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona to Gish Jen’s “Who’s Irish?” among many others. But I’m most excited that thinking about this course in this way offered me the opportunity to teach for the first time one of the most unique, complicated, and compelling American novels, James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912). Johnson’s sole novel makes for a really interesting pairing with Nella Larsen’s Passing (which we’ll also be reading in this class), but it’s also just a phenomenal and under-read book in its own right—and that under-reading apparently includes me, as I haven’t taught it any time in my prior 22 years of college teaching. Glad to have the chance to remedy that this Spring!

Next Spring preview tomorrow,

Ben

PS. What do you think? Spring semester authors, texts, classes, or other work to share?

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

January 17, 2023: Spring 2023 Previews: The American Novel to 1950

[This week marks the beginning of a new semester, and so as always I wanted to preview classes I’m teaching, this time through individual authors and texts I’m excited to be including on this syllabi. Leading up to a special weekend update on my own newest book project!]

Like yesterday’s Sci Fi/Fantasy class, this upper-level lit seminar, which I taught for the first time as part of my first year at Fitchburg State back in Spring 2006, is another I only get to teach every few years (at best). So I’m always excited to return to it and to the many old friends that have remained on every one of its syllabi since that first iteration, from Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables to Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (perhaps the most challenging text I teach in any FSU course, but one to which we build throughout our semester together). But I think my favorite two weeks of the semester are the two we spend with Willa Cather’s My √Āntonia, one of the most beautiful and moving American novels and yet a deceptively simple text from which I draw new and compelling layers every time I teach to read and teach it. If I could offer advice to anyone teaching a literature course, high on the list would be “Make sure at least one of the things you read just makes you happy to think about,” and Cather’s novel most definitely fits that bill for me.

Next Spring preview tomorrow,

Ben

PS. What do you think? Spring semester authors, texts, classes, or other work to share?

Monday, January 16, 2023

January 16, 2023: Spring 2023 Previews: Intro to Sci Fi and Fantasy

[This week marks the beginning of a new semester, and so as always I wanted to preview classes I’m teaching, this time through individual authors and texts I’m excited to be including on this syllabi. Leading up to a special weekend update on my own newest book project!]

The last time I got to teach this very unique and fun course I had (finally) diversified the syllabus, adding Kai Ashante Wilson’s A Sorcerer of the Wildeeps (2015). But as you can see from that hyperlinked preview post, that semester turned out to be none other than Spring 2020, and by the time we were supposed to be reading and discussing Wilson’s novel, we were in that state of virtual teaching and triage that comprised the entire second half of that semester. We did what we could, but it was far from what it could and presumably would have been in a more regular series of class conversations. But I remain undeterred in my goal of continued such diversification, and for this semester’s section of the course I’m very excited to have the chance both to teach and to read for the first time Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch (2011). I’ve heard nothing but great things about Okarafor’s book (and its two sequels), and can’t wait to see what my students think of it—hopefully (he wrote knocking on every bit of wood he could find) in a far more “normal” class setting this time around.

Next Spring preview tomorrow,

Ben

PS. What do you think? Spring semester authors, texts, classes, or other work to share?

Saturday, January 14, 2023

January 14-15, 2023: Five Years of Considering History: Two Tributes and a Request

[Five years ago this week, my first Saturday Evening Post Considering History column dropped. That space and work have become crucial components of my career over these years, so for this anniversary I wanted to reflect on a few particular, telling columns from my first year there. Leading up to this special weekend tribute and request!]

On two people who have meant a ton to my five years of Considering History, and one request for the year(s) to come!

1)      Jen Bortel: I’ve mentioned my awesome Saturday Evening Post editor Jen a couple times already in the week’s series, and rightly so: not only is every moment of this experience tied and owed to her, but she’s also been the most thoughtful and helpful editor with whom I’ve ever had the chance to work. On everything from my topics to my ideas about audience engagement to the smallest details of my prose, Jen has been a meaningful and productive voice and presence in my online writing life throughout these years, and as I know you all know there’s no way in which anyone could contribute more significantly to my career than that.

2)      Bob McGowan Jr.: Speaking of audience engagement, one of my favorite parts of the Considering History experience has been comments from Saturday Evening Post readers. Only occasionally has a column become controversial enough that it has elicited a large number of such comments—I believe the columns on guns and Confederate generals are at the top of that list, not surprisingly. But there have been a handful of folks who have shared thoughtful responses on many posts over the years, and at the top of that list is longtime commenter Bob McGowan Jr. (see this post for one of those many examples of Bob’s awesome comments). I’m able to imagine readers even when they don’t have a chance to comment, but any and all comments are deeply appreciated, and ones as thoughtful as Bob’s really help keep me going.

3)      A Request for Y’all: It would be easy, and not at all wrong, to focus here on my goal of getting a few more such comments and responses on future CH columns, and I certainly hope anyone reading this will feel free to share their thoughts (here as ever, but over there too). But I want to highlight instead a different and perhaps less obvious goal: that folks continue to revisit and read (and, yes, even respond to) my prior columns, those that I’ve had the chance to write for these first five years (and that are collected under the Considering History category here). One of the tricky things about online writing is that the newest stuff can easily become the sole focus—but one of the best things about online writing is that much of the older stuff remains out there to be found and read. I’d love to challenge the former effect and help amplify the latter one, and that can start with you all checking out those prior columns, and even sharing them if you like. Thanks in advance and as always!

Spring semester series starts Monday,

Ben

PS. I’d love to hear from you!

Friday, January 13, 2023

January 13, 2023: Five Years of Considering History: The Mexican American Series

[Five years ago this week, my first Saturday Evening Post Considering History column dropped. That space and work have become crucial components of my career over these years, so for this anniversary I wanted to reflect on a few particular, telling columns from my first year there. Leading up to a special weekend tribute and request!]

While there’s some definite overlap between my Considering History column and this blog (it’s all AmericanStudier’s writing and voice and ideas, after all!), I would say that there are even more distinctions between the two: CH is far more consistently inspired by and connected to current events, for one example; each column is edited by the great Jen Bortel and thus revised at least slightly, for another (inside baseball, but no, I don’t tend to revise blog posts after I draft them). Moreover, it’s almost always the case that each CH column takes on a new topic, rather than the weeklong series of posts that have been the norm for at least the last decade here on the blog. Which makes the trio of interconnected columns about Mexican American and border histories, political debates and issues, and voices and texts that I wrote around CH’s one-year anniversary in January 2019 really stand out. I haven’t really returned to the idea of a series of columns at Considering History since, but I’m still really proud of that trio, and wanted to include them in this week’s reflections.

Special weekend post tomorrow,

Ben

PS. Thoughts on these columns? Your own writing to share?

Thursday, January 12, 2023

January 12, 2023: Five Years of Considering History: Early American Lit and Lives

[Five years ago this week, my first Saturday Evening Post Considering History column dropped. That space and work have become crucial components of my career over these years, so for this anniversary I wanted to reflect on a few particular, telling columns from my first year there. Leading up to a special weekend tribute and request!]

While I hope and believe my 100+ Considering History columns have covered a wide range of topics, I’d say that most have been inspired by the kinds of subjects I’ve mentioned in the prior posts this week: current events, historical anniversaries, and/or personal Ben-tastic connections. But occasionally I’ve had the chance to venture a bit further afield, and those columns tend to stand out in my memory as particularly fun to write (and hopefully to read!). One of the first of that type was my October 9, 2018 column “Predatory Men, Vulnerable Women, and Foundational American Texts and Lives.” Yes, part of my starting points there were ongoing (to this day) conversations about gender, sex, consent, #MeToo, and more. But also and especially this was a chance to share and think about two of my favorite under-read American novels and one of my very favorite under-remembered Americans—if you want to know more, as LeVar Burton and friends would put it, read the column!  

Last anniversary reflection tomorrow,

Ben

PS. Thoughts on these columns? Your own writing to share?

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

January 11, 2023: Five Years of Considering History: Cville

[Five years ago this week, my first Saturday Evening Post Considering History column dropped. That space and work have become crucial components of my career over these years, so for this anniversary I wanted to reflect on a few particular, telling columns from my first year there. Leading up to a special weekend tribute and request!]

I have no doubt that no matter what I would have found some occasion to write about the one-year anniversary of the August 2017 Unite the Right Rally in my hometown of Charlottesville—my sons and I were literally driving down for our annual visit on the day in which all the violence erupted, and our next trip took place during that one-year anniversary in August 2018. But my Considering History column offered the perfect opportunity to do so, and in so doing to bring together those personal and familial contexts, my own experiences growing up in Cville, and my evolving perspective on the city’s histories and issues, among other subjects. Moreover, I had the chance to do so again for the two-year anniversary the following August, only deepening my own thoughts as well (I hope and believe) as our collective conversations. I can’t imagine I would have been able to keep writing this column for five years if it didn’t feel truly mine, and such opportunities and columns have most definitely helped make sure that it did and does feel that way.

Next anniversary reflection tomorrow,

Ben

PS. Thoughts on these columns? Your own writing to share?

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

January 10, 2023: Five Years of Considering History: June 2018

[Five years ago this week, my first Saturday Evening Post Considering History column dropped. That space and work have become crucial components of my career over these years, so for this anniversary I wanted to reflect on a few particular, telling columns from my first year there. Leading up to a special weekend tribute and request!]

In yesterday’s post I wrote about the balance of different kinds of topics and inspirations out of which I drew the subjects for my Considering History columns from the beginning; that continued throughout my first year with the column, but of course I don’t want to just repeat myself for the rest of this week’s reflections, so I’ll try here to highlight a few other layers to the column through examples from that first year. The two columns I wrote in June 2018 exemplify two other layers to why this work has been so consistently meaningful for me: when I had the chance to write about Japanese American World War II soldiers (among others) for my D-Day column, it helped spark my continued  work with that community for my next book We the People; and two weeks later, the current events topic of family separations at the border led me to slavery, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and a chance to share some of the amazing work of my Dad’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin & American Culture website. Bringing my own past, present, and future together while I write about America’s—that could be the catchphrase for Considering History!

Next anniversary reflection tomorrow,

Ben

PS. Thoughts on these columns? Your own writing to share?

Monday, January 9, 2023

January 9, 2023: Five Years of Considering History: The First Few Columns

[Five years ago this week, my first Saturday Evening Post Considering History column dropped. That space and work have become crucial components of my career over these years, so for this anniversary I wanted to reflect on a few particular, telling columns from my first year there. Leading up to a special weekend tribute and request!]

When I was initially recruited (by the wonderful editor Jen Bortel about whom I’ll write in the weekend post) to write a new column for the Saturday Evening Post online, I’m pretty sure we talked directly about the idea for a first column inspired by my Chinese Exclusion Act book. It made sense to start with something familiar, but I knew I wanted soon and consistently to expand into topics about which I hadn’t had as much of a chance to write (or even in some ways think) previously, and I was able to do so immediately with my second column on Rosa Parks and the women behind the Montgomery bus boycott (with a major hat-tip to Danielle McGuire’s book, which I insisted be mentioned as well as cited in the column). That goal meant that one of the main elements of this column would be finding those topics for each post, and the third and fourth reflected two such inspirations: the third on the occasion of Black History Month; and the fourth starting with a historical anniversary (the 50th of Walter Cronkite on the Vietnam War). That balance—of more and less familiar topics, and of different forms of inspiration—has very much continued for the five years since.

Next anniversary reflection tomorrow,

Ben

PS. Thoughts on these columns? Your own writing to share?

Saturday, January 7, 2023

January 7-8, 2023: Einav Rabinovitch-Fox’s Guest Post on Senatorial Fashion

[Dr. Einav Rabinovitch-Fox is a public historian, writer, and curator who also teaches in the Department of History at Case Western University in Cleveland. Her first book, Dressed for Freedom: The Fashionable Politics of American Feminism, was published by the University of Illinois Press in 2021. Check out this excellent Drafting the Past podcast episode featuring Dr. Rabinovitch-Fox for a lot more of her voice, perspective, and ideas!]

In April 2022, when the Senate voted to confirm the nomination of Ketanji Brown-Jackson to the Supreme Court, a few Republican senators were conspicuously missing from the floor. Among them was Lindsey Graham (R-SC), once a supporter of Brown-Jackson, who announced he would vote against her. Although no drama was expected during roll-call vote, as the Justice was able to secure the required majority for her confirmation, the process was delayed until eventually Graham and three other Republicans casted their “no” votes from the cloakroom.

While no doubt Graham’s absence from the floor was supposed to show his opposition, the reason he was bound to the cloakroom was more mundane: Graham didn’t wear a tie.

The Senate rules, of which Graham is well aware, mandate formal attire on the floor, and thus it was not a coincidence that Graham chose to appear that day with a polo shirt and a blazer. However, his defiant appearance was not so much a protest against sartorial customs, or a sign of a growing style trend among senators, but more of a safe excuse to fend off the backlash to his behavior. Instead of proudly voicing his opposition, Graham used the rigid Senate’s dress as a protection, literally hiding in the closet.

Graham is certainly not a fashion rebel, but in a place like the Senate, which was never a fashion-forward place, not wearing a tie is in fact a political statement. As one of the oldest institutions in our country, the Senate is guided by tradition, especially when it comes to clothing and appearance. And while some updates have been made throughout the years, especially with regards to the appearance of women, the spirit of these rules didn’t change much. Formal wear is still the default when it comes to the senators’ sartorial choices.

Indeed, the Senate is no different from other realms of business, where corporate attire in the form of a dark suit and a tie has been the default for about 100 years. The suit wields power and tradition. It is masculine and authoritative, and thus fits naturally to a place like the Senate. Unlike women who had to carve their way into masculine spaces and used their attire as a way to achieve legitimacy and equality, men’s presence in politics, and by extension, their appearance, was never questioned. In a sense, men don’t need to be fashion rebels because the power of clothes is already granted to them. In fact, the suit is so much associated with masculinity, that any attempts to offer alternative takes on it often happen when women try to claim it as their own. The suit can be a radical statement, but only if a woman wears it.

Wearing a suit and tie—especially if you are a man—is maybe unremarkable, yet adherence to conservative forms of dress doesn’t mean that fashion is marginal to politics. While it is often the appearance of women politicians that get the most scrutiny, in the last couple of years the fashion of men in politics has also received attention. As younger and more diverse candidates began running for office, men, as well as women, have increasingly acknowledged the power of clothes to convey power messages and build their image as politicians. If for years a suit was the way to go, that has started to change as politicians push against those definitions, either as a form of protest like Graham or as a form of image building.

Perhaps the most notable change in the last few election cycles is the move towards casual clothing. For the new cohort of men senators, from Jon Ossoff (D-GA) to Mark Kelly (D-AZ), a tie is a rare sight. Kelly is much more at ease wearing a shirt under a sport or bomber jacket, alluding to his experience as a Navy captain and an astronaut. Ossoff usually wears more formal attire, yet he too is rarely seen with a tailored jacket or a tie. Even Rafael Warnock (D-GA)—maybe the best dresser on Capitol Hill—who is famous for his well-tailored sleek suits, was seen on the campaign trail wearing jeans, sporty vests with tieless shirts, and even t-shirts.

[Official Portrait of Senator Rafael Warnock(D-GA). U.S Senate Photographic Studio, Rebecca Hammel]

This trend of course is not limited to the Senate. The rise of millennials and Gen-Z, as well as the tech industry that espouses more casual look as a symbol of innovativeness and rebellion, all brought with them changes to the office dress code. Moreover, the pandemic and the shift to working from home contributed to the rise in popularity of casual wear, even in conservative strongholds like Wall Street. “Casual Fridays” have now become everyday occurrence, as companies want to broadcast a young, entrepreneurial, and fresh image. In today’s changing markets, a suit doesn’t convey flexibility, but a t-shirt does.

A t-shirt so it seems can also convey power and determination. Not only American politicians are adopting casual wear. The olive-green military t-shirt and pants have been crucial to building Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky’s image as a fierce leader. Whether it is in front of Congress or the UN, Zelensky’s new “uniforms” provides a new fashionable language in politics that challenges the traditional power that the formal suit entails.

Casualness is indeed the newest trend in politics, and no one understands this better than the newly elect senator John Fetterman from PA. Fetterman, as he himself claims, is not your typical politician and his appearance certainly conveys it: he is a 6’8” with bald head and a biker goatee, lots of tattoos, and usually wears hoodies and shorts. This appearance expresses his authenticity as a candidate and his relationship with voters. He is direct and connects with the “simple man” much better than other politicians who broadcast a more elitist image. Although he comes from a relatively privileged background, has extensive political experience, and like many other politicians is also a Harvard graduate, Fetterman’s appearance relays the image of an “outsider” to politics that voters find appealing.

Fetterman’s height and body size certainly makes it easier to amplify his public presence, but his insistence on wearing sweatshirts and shorts, rather than the conventional suits, is what really makes him stand out. The casualness of the clothes translates to the ease and comfort he feels with people and how he communicates his political message. This style makes him approachable, human, and most of all, relatable – qualities every politician desires.

[Official Portrait of Lt. Governor John Fetterman, Governor Tom Wolf website]

Fetterman’s image is actually enhanced by his visible awkwardness and discomfort every time he is required to wear a suit and a tie. Even when he opts to a more formal wear, his preference is not for a dress shirt or sporty blazers, but work shirts and Dickies trousers, again appealing to a more working-class esthetics that makes his political message attractive. Whereas other politicians, most notably Trump, also tried to capitalize on working-class styles by wearing trucker hats and ill-fitted suits, Fetterman made informality and casualness his trademark and part of his authentic self. In fashion, as well as in politics, it is difficult not to pass as a fake, but Fetterman brings with his style a sense of authenticity that is rare in both realms.

Fetterman’s casual style function differently from those working in high-tech or other creative industries. Casualness in politics is more than just building an image. In an institution that is based on rules and regulations, legal jargon and pro forma, the suit is a symbol and a marker of power. Abandoning the style then is an antithesis, if not a full-blown rebellion. Casualness means disorder, but maybe more importantly, it means democracy. And that is perhaps the whole point. Fetterman does not seek to adjust the suit, or to update the look by ditching the tie, he asks to abandon the suit, and its politics, all together. When Fetterman wears a hoodie sweatshirt he doesn’t convey the innovative spirit of a startup entrepreneur, but a political commitment to social organizing and working-class values.

To be sure, Fetterman can pull off this style in part because he is a big white guy. Yes, his appearance is unconventional for a politician, but him wearing a hoodie will not endanger him or criminalize his presence, as it did in the case of Trayvon Martin. Fetterman’s gender, as well as his size, also work in his favor. While his agenda is not that far from the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party, his unconventional attire doesn’t register him as a radical. He is taken seriously and endearingly because his gender and race protect him.

Fetterman’s political success might bring a new spirit to the Senate. While not everyone is poised to adopt his clothing, his campaigning style is certainly getting some attention in the Democratic Party. In terms of fashion, we might see the young senator’s influence in pushing reforms and changes to the dress code, building on the current trend towards casualness. No doubt, he will have some bipartisan support to loosen things up (at least in terms of ties). More than anything, Fetterman’s fashion style brings with it a new approach to politics and how it can be done. As we expand the range of “what a politician looks like” we also expand the range of what is possible.

However, if the history of the fashion battles in the Senate are any indication, change, whether to the dress code or to the way we conduct politics, will arrive slowly. In fact, at least for now, it doesn’t look like Fetterman is interested in challenging tradition. On his first official day, even though he did not had business on the floor (the only place where rules of decorum apply), he appeared in his one and only ill-fitted, off-the-rack suit, which he also wore for his debate. We might see bolder fashion statements from Fetterman in the future, but so far it looks like he seeks to blend in, not to lead a fashion revolution.

Fashion both wields and yields power, and as such, it is difficult to give up a symbol so powerful as the suit. Fetterman might learn to get at ease with suits and the power they command. But fashion also relies on change, and as such, it also contains opportunities. Fetterman’s style can be such an opportunity. He shows us that power can be gained not only through conventional routes but by constructing alternative images. His appearance asks us to consider our assumptions on who can participate in politics and how, and whose voice and appearance matter.

While fashion is maybe not the most important thing on politicians’ agendas, it is still a tool through which political statements are conveyed and utilized. Fashion allows to reclaim and adjust old conventions, as well as to rebel against them and invent new ones. It might take a while until hoodies will be a common sight on the Hill, but we should not dismiss the power of clothes to shape politics and to make (or break) politicians.

[Next series starts Monday,

Ben

PS. What do you think?]