University of Toronto Press Blog

  • The Power of History to Galvanize and Energize

    In honour of University Press Week (November 6-11), our history editor, Natalie Fingerhut, reflects on how she sees scholarship making a difference in her everyday world, both on and off the page, and in her day-to-day job as an editor of higher education materials for students. This year's theme for UP Week is #LookItUP: Knowledge Matters

    In my day job, I spend a lot of quality time in the fifth and fifteenth centuries, acquiring books that teach students about the Middle Ages. After hours, my personal reading is focused on the twentieth century and specifically on the territory that Yale historian Timothy Snyder refers to as the “Bloodlands”: the area of Europe that ping-ponged between Hitler and Stalin and where millions of men, women, and children, including Jews, Poles, and Russians, were massacred by bullets, starvation, disease, and gas. In Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin, Snyder references the work of Jewish journalist and fiction writer Vasily Grossman, who in 1944 visited the remains of one of the death camps located in the Bloodlands, Treblinka, and wrote a searing account entitled “The Hell of Treblinka.” In a particularly graphic passage, Grossman describes final moments in the gas chambers:

    The door of the concrete chamber slammed shut […] Can we find within us the strength to imagine what the people in these chambers felt, what they experienced during their last minutes of life? All we know is that they cannot speak now… Covered by a last clammy mortal sweat, packed so tight that their bones cracked and their crushed rib cages were barely able to breathe, they stood pressed against one another; they stood as if they were a single human being. Someone, perhaps some wise old man, makes the effort to say, “Patience now—this is the end.” Someone shouts out some terrible curse. A holy curse—surely this curse must be fulfilled? With a superhuman effort a mother tries to make a little more space for her child: may her child’s dying breaths be eased, however infinitesimally, by a last act of maternal care. A young woman, her tongue going numb, asks, “Why am I being suffocated? Why can’t I love and have children?” Heads spin. Throats choke. What are the pictures now passing before people’s glassy dying eyes? Pictures of childhood? Of the happy days of peace? Of the last terrible journey? Of the mocking face of the SS man in that first square by the station: “Ah, so that’s why he was laughing…” Consciousness dims. It is the moment of the last agony… No, what happened in that chamber cannot be imagined. The dead bodies stand there, gradually turning cold.

    Around the same time I first read this essay, private sponsorship of Syrian refugees began in earnest in Toronto. Under the influence of Grossman and the horrors he had witnessed, I volunteered to do communications work for my synagogue’s refugee efforts and I am pleased to report that we managed to bring in a set of grandparents, parents, and a little boy. Five people saved from another inferno.

    This is the power of history to galvanize and energize. And while I realize that there are educators who stamp “Trigger Warning” on material such as Grossman, doing so suppresses the energy that causes those readers impacted by such horror to act.

    As a history editor at a university press, I am constantly privileged to speak with professors who are galvanized and energized to bring out the best instincts in their students—more so now than when I started a dozen years ago. I have medievalists who are trying to tell another and more complicated story of pre-modern relations between Jews, Christians, and Muslims: a story that looks at cooperation rather than just conflict. They hope, I think, that if their students see that interfaith relations are more complex, that understanding will trickle into their consciousness when they look at the Middle East today and maybe, just maybe, they will spend their careers trying to repair that troubled region.

    I have authors who spend their time curating powerful primary sources related to trials in order to teach students about justice and agency and gender and superstition. They believe that the trial of a sixteenth-century literate woman who was put to death for being a witch has lessons to teach budding lawyers, judges, and leaders of women’s groups.

    In the last year, I have received brilliant proposals for projects that teach Canadian undergraduates our sordid history of Indigenous relations by emphasizing the invaluable skill of “reading against the grain.” What isn’t being said? By asking questions to reveal silences, lies, and contradictions, students learn to empathize with the silenced and hopefully take that empathy into their futures as activists.

    There has been a dramatic change in the proposals I have received in the last two years especially. I used to receive proposals for books that covered dates and personalities and events. Now, the proposals contain sections such as “Historical Skills for Students.” This is not a coincidence. We seem to be moving forward into the backwardness of the century we have just left. My authors feel compelled to do their part to put on the brakes. To ask their students to read and read carefully. To think carefully. To remember that the past is a teacher, and then ideally, to have this generation armed with the skills of the historian to act positively on the future’s behalf.

    Natalie Fingerhut
    History Editor, Higher Education

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    This post is part of the University Press Week Blog Tour. Please visit our colleagues' blogs:

    WLU Press: A post from Indigenous scholar and fiction writer Daniel Heath Justice on the importance of Indigenous literatures and scholarship.

    Temple University Press: A post about books and authors that focus on racism and whiteness.

    University Press of Colorado: A feature on the press's Post-Truth-focused titles.

    Princeton University Press: Al Bertrand on the importance of non-partisan peer reviewed social science in today's climate.

    Cambridge University Press: A post about Marie Curie and her struggle for recognition within a French scientific community dominated by male scientists.

  • In Memoriam: Anita DeVivo, 26 June 1930–29 September 2017

    Anita DeVivo was a Consulting Editor of Scholarly Publishing (now the Journal of Scholarly Publishing) from October 1979 to July 1992 (volumes 11–23) under the editorship of Ian Montagnes. She served in a leadership and consulting capacity for a wide range of professional organizations, including the Society for Scholarly Publishing, the Council of Biology Editors, the American Economic Association, Scholarly Publishing, and Rodale Press. While Executive Editor for the APA she oversaw the first major revision, in 1974, of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. This revision included a section titled ‘Guidelines for Nonsexist Language in APA Journals,’ which provided writers and editors with alternatives to the gender-biased language then commonly used in publishing. She described the revision process for the Publication Manual in ‘A New Publication Manual for Psychologists,’ which was published in Scholarly Publishing 7, no. 1 (October 1975): 37–47. Because the APA style was influential throughout the academic and scientific publishing world, other publications soon adopted her innovations. She consulted as well on the authoritative Chicago Manual of Style and taught advanced editing classes at the George Washington University.

  • An interview between the Canadian Journal of History/Annales Canadiennes d’Histoire and Jan Záhořík, author of “Czechoslovakia and Congo/Zaire under Mobutu, 1965-1980” (Part 1 of 2)

    Written by the Canadian Journal of History/Annales Canadiennes d’Histoire.

    Photo of Jan Záhořík Dr. Jan Záhořík

    Jan Záhořík is an Africanist who teaches at the department of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of West Bohemia in Pilsen. His article on the Cold War relationship between the former Czechoslovakia and Congo/Zaire is available in the latest issue of the CJH/ACH.

    Dr. Záhořík’s main area of research is modern and contemporary African history and politics. He noted, however, that “because I come from the Czech Republic I also feel I have some sort of duty to explore and analyze our history in regard to Africa. Former Czechoslovakia played quite a significant role in Africa during the Cold War.”

    As explained in the article, in 1964 an agreement of scientific-technological cooperation was signed between Czechoslovakia and Congo/Zaire. We asked Dr. Záhořík about the significance of this agreement and whether it was an unusual arrangement. He explained: “Former Czechoslovakia was trying to establish multiple multilevel relations with many African countries by that time. Of course, one of the main aspects was export of arms and ammunition – Czechoslovakia was the 6th biggest exporter of weapons to Africa in the 1960s and 1970s – but besides this there was a big tendency to establish fruitful cooperation in research, medical care, [and] education. Dozens, or better to say hundreds, of Czechoslovak teachers, medical doctors, and engineers served in Africa during the Cold War, and this is one of the main reasons why Czechoslovakia, or now Czech Republic, has still a good name in many corners of Africa.”

    Dr. Záhořík explained that with this article, new light is shed on the economic interactions between the Eastern Bloc and African countries during this time period. He noted that, “for a long time, presence of the Eastern Bloc actors in Africa has been seen as rather ideological, supporting primarily socialist or Marxist regimes, but as this study shows, there were many rather pragmatic reasons for cooperation with, in this case, African regimes such as that of Mobutu in the Congo, who was otherwise one of the main regional Western allies.” Though he was familiar with a similar pragmatic relationship between Ethiopia and Czechoslovakia, he was still surprised by the degree of pragmatism he found in trade relations between Czechoslovakia and Congo/Zaire. He noted that “the results show that Czechoslovak foreign policy towards Africa turned quickly from, let us say, an era of naïve ideological ‘export’ to a rather pragmatic approach.”

    In addition to the various other restrictions it created, the Cold War stilled dissemination of academic work between the Eastern and Western Blocs. Dr. Záhořík stressed that now that these barriers have been removed, we must continue to work to break down others. He emphasized that scholars in the Eastern bloc did excellent work, but they were unable to share it with the outside world. Now that the political climate has changed, Dr. Záhořík believes that publishing in English what may seem like “minor” subject matter “may help us to understand certain historical events and processes in a different light. Therefore, I am sure there will be more works on, for instance, Czechoslovak-African relations in the near future.”

    Read Part 2 here.

    Read Jan Záhořík's article “Czechoslovakia and Congo/Zaire under Mobutu, 1965-1980” FREE for a limited time online here:

  • Attempting to Publish with Images of a Super™ Well-Known Intellectual Property

    Written by guest blogger Christopher B. Zeichmann, author of “Champion of the Oppressed: Redescribing the Jewishness of Superman as Populist Authenticity Politics” published in the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 29.2 (Summer 2017).

    Superman vs the KKK Image from Look Magazine 17 Feb 1940.

    It’s exciting enough to get a manuscript accepted for publication, but since it was on the topic of Superman and Jewish identity, I knew my childhood self was cheering as well. Among the refereed suggestions for revisions was the following: “I very much like the inclusion of relevant scans of the comics. My only suggestion here would be to balance out the social justice samples with ones referenced later in the article that make the case for Superman’s Jewishness – e.g., the panels that mention Samson.” Easy enough: several comic book panels jumped to mind to which I had access and might clarify things for the reader. The editors were happy with the new scans and that was the end of the story, or so I thought…

    A few months later, UTP asked me to procure reproduction permission for these images. Though the images would presumably fall under “fair use” policies, UTP understandably has a policy that requiring explicit permission to avoid legal issues. This seemed straightforward enough to me: since I’m not making any money on this article and UTP is a university press, DC Comics would happily grant such permission. First, I was surprised at how incredibly difficult it was to even find contact information for DC Comics’ rights-and-permissions department; nothing is posted on their website, nor on the website of their parent company, Warner Entertainment, and the few references to a phone number I found online were to their old offices before they moved from the east coast to the west coast. After a few days of fruitless googling, I decided to go with the “Hail Mary” option of calling Warner Brothers’ main number and just getting transferred until I found someone who could help me. This took a few hours and several phone calls, but eventually I got hold of someone who gave me the email address to get hold of the right person.

    Initial correspondence was encouraging, but this was tempered when I spoke with my father – he works at a company that recently got permission make their product with “major brand” logos on them. My father, in his kind and loving way, informed me that my optimism might be misplaced; if I thought about the situation from DC’s perspective, they had no reason to give permission to reproduce that wouldn’t net them any money. It would turn out he was more or less correct. DC Comics has not denied me permission, but they have ceased responding to me.

    UTP and I have come up with two viable workarounds. First, one of the benefits of a digital-only journal is that I can link readers to a relevant page on my own personal website, where I have already reproduced the images for presenting similar work []. DC is normally quite happy to have fansites promote their properties, so long as they do not reproduce entire comics and do profit from it – that is, I don’t have much to worry about myself. Second, there are a few obscure-but-relevant comic book stories that are in the public domain, including the famous one up above of Superman threatening Adolf Hitler. UTP and I have not yet decided on which of the two (or a combination thereof) we might adopt, but all hope is not lost. All of this to say, if you’re hoping to reproduce images of a major intellectual property in an article, it may be good to have backup options.

    Christopher B. Zeichmann’s article on Superman and Jewish identity, titled “Champion of the Oppressed: Redescribing the Jewishness of Superman as Populist Authenticity Politics,” appears in the Summer 2017 issue of the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture. Available to read on JRPC Online or on Project MUSE.

  • Literary / Liberal Entanglements and the Brexitrump Moment

    Written by guest bloggers Corrinne Harol and Mark Simpson, co-editors of Literary / Liberal Entanglements: Toward a Literary History for the Twenty-First Century.

    We undertook this project in response to what we perceived as a crisis in the discipline in which we teach and write. That particular crisis, about how many students were studying literature and how much respect (and therefore resources) we got from the culture at large, now seems rather quaint, when constitutional crisis, nuclear war, the dissolution of Europe, climate chaos (etc.) press onto us from every side. Indeed, at the point when we were competing the book, the twin phenomena named Brexit and Donald Trump -- hereafter brexitrump -- were already revving into second gear. Although we couldn’t do more than gesture in passing toward these developments in the introduction, we had always understood that this project discerned the crisis in our discipline as inescapably entangled with the larger socio-cultural crisis unfolding on either side of the Atlantic. Hence, among other things, our book’s title, Literary/Liberal Entanglements, which strives to capture as succinctly as possible this dynamic inextricably tying the history of our discipline to the history of liberalism.

    The question that animated the project and the way we tried to frame it in the introduction is the same question raised by brexitrump: are we living through some categorical break from liberalism -- or through liberalism’s full apotheosis? One of the things we find so compelling about this project is the capacity of its essays, which do not focus on the contemporary moment but rather excavate the long history of the literary/liberal entanglement, to offer such surprising and provocative perspectives on this question. A central claim we make in the introduction to the book is that literary history can be a resource for the present, for reimagining and therefore reforming the present. We test this claim in this blog post by thinking about what these essays might offer the brexitrump moment.

    Several of these essays offer accounts of the literary/liberal entanglement that might help to explain the electoral phenomena--the level of popular support for brexitrump-- in so far as they diagnose misrecognized dynamics of liberalism that show up, that become more obvious, in brexitrump as a phenomenon. The essays by Soni, Kunin, and Ashton challenge our received understanding of the strength of three pillars of liberal politics: judgment, subjectivity, and expressive autonomy. If we understand judgment as not decision but endless deferral (Soni), if humans want to be not subjects but objects (Kunin), and if aesthetic expression is not correlative to political action but a cypher for it (Ashton), then aspects of brexitrump might have been predicted. The popular support for a leader who is a cypher of judgment, who performs decision as rhetoric rather than promise, might be the exemplar of liberal judgment and not an avatar of its demise; the political divide based on stereotyping that we take to be problematic for liberal politics might instead indicate the centrality of type-making for questions of human desire; and the explosion of expressive forms and medias that fueled brexitrump might not support political discrimination but rather predict the potency of internet silos and fake news.

    These dynamics -- expressive autonomy, endlessly deferred judgement, stereotyping -- likewise raise the matter of detail, and so the question: does detail matter? Under brexitrump, the answer must be both “no” and “yes”: a key premise of both Brexit and Trump has been that details will work themselves out later (never mind how the wall along the US-Mexican border will get built; don’t worry about how Anglo-European trade relations will unfold), yet a key refrain under each repeatedly bemoans how devilish the details prove to be (“no one knew” how complicated health care was). Several of the authors in our collection look to the matter of detail in order to emphasize just how powerful and capacious the ephemeral trace, the minor form, the marginal inscription can prove for the making (and remaking) of worlds. Thus Love finds in Patricia Highsmith evidence that care for and attention to detail becomes a vital method for living. Meeuwis analyzes the significance, for George Bernard Shaw, of relations of literary text to its paratext for political dynamics of audience, belief, and collective expression -- relations of textual detail that hold telling resonance in the era of brexitrump. And Flatley reads ephemeral textual details -- the type and layout of a strike handbill; the tone and timbre of voice over a documentary film -- in order to show how they can help to change the collective mood in ways potent enough to challenge the political dynamics in a given moment.

    One especially pernicious detail in the brexitrump moment is a tendency to demonize working classes for their supposed role in triggering these crises. We would hold that mainstream media gets this story wrong, precisely by oversimplifying the complicated and volatile entanglements among media, class, and liberal politics. At the same time, essays by McCann, Hasenbank, and Potts tell us, liberal institutions of higher education and literary history have also been part of the problem as well as a potential means for its solution. McCann offers a nuanced and searching assessment about the complex history of the relations between a “liberal elite” and a disaffected working class, condemning the ways that  mid-twentieth-century US cultural leaders abdicated issues of economic inequality and justice. Hasenbank argues that the methods of book history can counter such suppression of class concerns; she does do by recovering a Canadian proletarian media culture from the 1930s that confounds liberal narratives and values regnant since at least the early decades of the last century. Potts shows how certain kinds of cultural identifications besides class--with race and region in particular--are at once traceable back to cultural histories of US literary formation and difficult to understand, because narratives of liberalism and literary history have routinely conspired to obscure not reveal the relations among various forms of cultural identification. What these essays show, then, is that we cannot simply point the finger at caricatures of class and media -- in the era of brexitrump, we urgently need new (and newly historicized) understanding of the relations of class, race, region, and media.

    We would emphasize that the collection’s essays do not merely suggest that such grimmer histories are decisive in determining our potential engagements with the literary/liberal entanglement. In fact they show that moments of uncertainty such as our own brexitrump moment offer resources for the future. The essays by Flatley and Rahmani, for example,  analyze moments and events in the history of liberalism every bit as unclear about whether liberalism was approaching apotheosis or rupture. In these histories--of Imperial England’s world-making project of botany and of the persistence of modes of racial domination and resistance in mid-20th century Detroit workers movements--the authors find that the resources, tactics, and successes of culture work -- including the work of literary criticism -- can take surprising turns and have consequences at once subtle and significant. These two essays remind us  that liberalism’s predations can and need to be challenged via literary, aesthetic, and material practices. They exemplify what we take to be one of the lessons of the book overall: that it is a mistake for literary critics to cede to the force of politics, to deny or diminish the literary/liberal entanglement and our own involvement, complicity, and therefore agency in it.

    Corrinne Harol is an associate professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta.

    Mark Simpson is an associate professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta.

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