2021 Outstanding Academic Titles: US History

Five selections from the Choice Reviews 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles list. This week we highlight Choice 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles pertaining to US History.

1. Vanguard: how Black women broke barriers, won the vote, and insisted on equality for all
Jones, Martha S. Basic Books, 2020

To coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, Jones (Johns Hopkins Univ.), a historian and legal scholar, spotlights over 200 years of Black women’s political history and their struggle for the ballot in Vanguard. From her very own great-great-grandmother Susan Davis’s stories of voting to Stacy Abrams, Jones rigorously details how Black women created a movement and their own “spaces from which they began to tell their own stories of what it meant to call for women’s rights.” Hidden behind the banner of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention and the white feminist women’s suffrage crusade were multitudes of Black women pushing for liberation in churches, organizations, military stations, clubs, benevolent societies, and institutions of higher learning. Women such as Maria Stewart, Jarena Lee, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Anna Julia Cooper, Hallie Quinn Brown, Mary McLeod Bethune, Pauli Murray, Fannie Lou Hamer, Shirley Chisholm, and Kamala Harris all dealt with the brutal sting of racism and sexism, yet, linked by their shared history, leaned on one another to move forward. View on Amazon.

2. Native Americans of New England
Strobel, Christoph. Praeger, 2020

In this excellent book Strobel (Univ. of Massachusetts, Lowell), who previously wrote The Global Atlantic: 1400–1900 (CH, Aug’15, 52-6528) and The Testing Grounds of Modern Empire (2008), has collected, researched, and interpreted the history of the first peoples of the northeastern US, focusing especially on what is now New England. He investigates the archaeological evidence from the earliest known excavations to present-day digs, as well as all written historical records. He includes all possible sources from these records, even many previously labeled as hoaxes or untruths, and also incorporates the oral traditions of existing Native groups and federally recognized tribes. This synthesis provides a much more complete accounting of the first 10,000 years of New England history. Additionally, such a complete record of survival in great climate swings (from near ice age to moderate warmth) and countless natural disasters serves as a lesson of hope and persistence for the current day. Though the title sounds like another ho-hum history of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans, this reviewer was enthralled from the first page until the last. View on Amazon.

3. Newest born of nations: European nationalist movements and the making of the Confederacy
ed. by Anke Birkenmaier Tucker, Ann L. Virginia, 2020

Scores of Civil War studies focus on intellectual thought in the Union states during the war; fewer highlight the same in the Confederacy. This new volume fills the gap by looking at intellectual development in the wartime South, emphasizing how Southerners thought about their new nation’s place in the context of European nationalist movements. Tucker (Univ. of North Georgia) reminds readers that the Confederacy was more complex than many studies suggest. Many in the new Southern nation sought to define the Confederacy as similar to European movements, though this failed to attract hoped-for support in Europe. Further, many Confederate elites embraced an international perspective that allowed them to justify their separation from a union they once held dear and to clarify their own national values. Tucker demonstrates that such bold assumptions were far from monolithic. More liberal and conservative secessionists, along with Southern Unionists, advanced diverse perspectives of international thinking to justify their varied positions on secession and the new nation. View on Amazon.

4. States of exception in American history
ed. by Gary Gerstle and Joel Isaac Chicago, 2020

Unlike most collections of essays that combine only loosely related research, this edited volume from historians Gerstle (Univ. of Cambridge, UK) and Isaac (Univ. of Chicago) has a nearly monographic focus on the constitutional question of “states of exception”—ordinarily unconstitutional executive and state actions made legal in order to respond effectively to emergency situations. The US Constitution of 1787, unlike most other more recent national constitutions, makes no provision for employing extraconstitutional action to respond to war, natural disasters, or other emergencies. The volume begins by referencing FDR’s May 1941 declaration of an “‘unlimited national emergency'” as the US finally realized it had to respond to the challenges of fascism in Europe and Japanese aggression in East Asia. It then moves on to the myriad national and international emergencies with which the US has had to contend since its founding. The chapters are divided into three sections: theoretical issues (especially those specified by the leading Nazi political theorist Carl Schmitt), the specifically American experience of emergency powers, and future possibilities. View on Amazon.

5. The Black cabinet: African-Americans, politics, and the age of Roosevelt
Watts, Jill. Grove Atlantic, 2020

In what may be among the most honored nonfiction books published in 2020, Watts (history, California State Univ., San Marcos) transports the reader back to an age (1930s–40s) when discrimination and segregation were a grim reality. Watts tells the story of the Federal Council of Negro Affairs—informally the “Black cabinet”—a group of African Americans, led by the indefatigable Mary McLeod Bethune, who pressed President Franklin Roosevelt to build into the New Deal, and later WW II policies, reforms designed to give full citizenship to the neglected and oppressed Black minority. Elegant in its prose and vivid in its depiction of key characters, The Black Cabinet captures the challenges faced by these would-be reformers, and tells a story of high idealism mixed with raw pragmatism. With the help of Eleanor Roosevelt, these reformers paved the way for the civil rights reforms of the 1960s. On Amazon.

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