Assistant Professor of History and Women's Studies, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
My first act of research for To Serve God and Wal-Mart was shoveling fossilized chicken droppings out of a defunct coop on a goat farm in Northwest Arkansas. The farm's owners, friends of my favorite agrarian Jim Scott, evidently took my willingness to pick up a shovel as a character reference, and lost no time making me feel at home in Wal-Mart's backyard. Since we have no Freedom of Information Act for the state-supported institutions we somewhat inaccurately call private corporations, the research could only go so far by relying on formal archives. It was only through the generosity of my hosts in the Ozarks-the original Wal-Mart Country--that I was able to learn to explore how"Wal-Martism" might fill the conceptual hole in the middle of"post-Fordism." If the Detroit auto industry had set the pattern for the first half of the twentieth century-in spatial organization, labor arrangements, finance, family formation, ideology, immigration, art-then surely its successor was a likely site for understanding major developments of the post-war years.
When Wal-Mart beat out Exxon-Mobil to become the world's largest company in 2002, what we knew that the first service company to make it to the top of the Fortune 400 was what astute business journalists like Bob Ortega had been telling us since the early 1990s: Wal-Mart had remade retail by achieving such market dominance that it could dictate its terms to the suppliers rather than the other way around. At the fringes of this narrative were the voices of historic preservationists and organized labor, finally roused by the Arkansas company's disruptive penetration of Vermont, Chicago, and Southern California. The reigning questions about the new top multinational were often variations on"Wow--how did Wal-Mart do it?" or"Is Wal-Mart good for America?"
While my 2002 dissertation prospectus referenced this literature, though, it also included chapter proposals that ultimately allowed me to explore a question I found much more interesting, the one that Thomas Frank revived from the original Populist mobilization:"What's the matter with Kansas?" -understood now as"Why have Americans on the losing end of the deregulated, off-shored service economy enabled it politically for more than a generation?" To Serve God and Wal-Mart is therefore not so much a book about Wal-Mart as an account of the anointing of free enterprise, the unlikely legitimation of neoliberal economics through evangelical religion. It tells this story through the twinned biographies of the world's largest company and the ideological apparatus it nurtured. It argues that this specific experience of mass service work transformed economic common sense and infused it with evangelical values at precisely the moment that federal redistribution catapulted the Sun Belt to its position of decisive influence within the nation. That moment of waxing power for the old agricultural periphery coincided with American-led economic integration, so that the ethos of Christian free enterprise-the odd pairing of Jerry Falwell and Milton Friedman, so to speak-gave late twentieth-century globalization some of its most distinctive characteristics. Ultimately I join writers like Janet Jakobsen, Ann Pellegrini, Lisa Duggan, Tanya Erzen, and Linda Kintz in arguing that the Left's frustration with the" culture wars" misreads the necessary connection between conservative sexual mores and the post-1973 economy that Wal-Mart ultimately dominated.
That I got to learn about this complex relationship while living in the Ozarks, knee-deep in chicken droppings, was my good fortune.
By Bethany Moreton
About Bethany Moreton
"Dr. Moreton has the unique ability to present material in a highly intellectual way that everyone can grasp."...
"Moreton has the power to comfortably accomodate, yet critically challenge all students. Her lectures are my favorite; they are always well-prepared, brilliantly articulated, intellectually stimulating, and very exciting. She also facilitates powerful discussions among students; she asks the right questions."...
"I always leave Dr. Moreton's classes as a better writer than I was before. Her deep discussions into the core of the subject matter encourage and empower students to argue a thoroughly well-written paper. Dr. Moreton offers extensive (positive) criticism and help to improve any student's writing. Also, she challenges me on a greater intellectual level than any other professor."...
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"This class was one of the few at UGA that gave me not only new information or facts, but new concepts." - -- Anonymous Students
Associate Professor of History,
J.W. McConnell Family Foundation Chair in American Studies, Université de Montréal.
My grandfather on my mother's side, Félix-Paul Codaccioni, was an historian. He taught in high schools in France for many years and then, when he completed his monumental thèse d'état, a two-volume work on the working class of Lille, an industrial city in the north of France where he had settled with his family, he began teaching at the University. For my grandfather, as for many Corsicans starting with his own father, education was road out of the grinding poverty of the rural peasantry; educational achievement was probably the single most important value for him.
I grew up in the United States and only saw my grandfather every other year, when the family went to Corsica on vacation. (As a teacher, he was able to spend the summers in his ancestral home in a small village in the mountains there). No doubt misinterpreting my awkward shyness as intellectual profundity, he imagined I was interested in school and so he would, on occasion, try to mentor me. I have vivid memories of the two of us in the middle of the afternoon on the house's balcony, me sitting on an uncomfortable chair facing my grandfather, my eyes stinging from the blinding white sun, sweating and miserable, as he droned on and on about Hegel's dialectic-thèse, antithèse, synthèse… thèse, antithèse, synthèse-while I listened despondently to the other kids playing in the village, blissfully unaware of nineteenth-century German philosophy.
I wish I could say it was he who inspired me to become an historian, but I think the truth is probably more complicated. Other, more powerful and direct influences intervened in college and graduate school to shape my professional choices and intellectual interests. What is strangely true, however, is that I seem to have lived the life that he imagined for himself.
My grandfather always dreamed of moving to Canada. I have no idea why. Certainly he wasn't enamored of the cold. I think it must have been the scale that caught his imagination: of the forests and mountains and lakes and rivers, and the great Saint Laurent in particular, all of it so different from the smallness and cramped life of postwar Europe in general and of arid Corsica in particular. My grandmother wouldn't hear of moving to Canada, however, and so they never got further than the north of France.
I, on the other hand, not only became a university professor of history, but went on to get a job teaching in French in Québec: exactly the life my grandfather would have chosen had if he had been able to follow through on his dreams. It is a curious fate for me; my education was in English in big-named American universities, and like most Americans I never gave Canada the slightest though-until I got a job and moved there. Historians as much as anyone else lack perspicacity when the benefits of distance and hindsight are absent, so I won't even try to speculate about how it is that, without any conscious intent whatsoever, I fulfilled my grandfather's dream.
By François Furstenberg
Martha ultimately took it upon herself to free her husband's slaves early: some two years before her own death. But it was not humanitarian reasons that drove this early emancipation, the existing evidence suggests she disapproved of freeing slaves, nor was it from the expense or difficulty involved in supporting² the slaves. It was out of fear. It was found necessary, reported Martha¹s grandson, to free the slaves for prudential reasons. Hidden in this circumlocution was the fact that George;s deathbed emancipation had put Martha¹s life in jeopardy. As she and the slaves all recognized, the longer she lived, the longer their bondage extended."In the state in which they were left by the General," wrote Adams,"she did not feel as tho her Life was safe in their Hands, may of the [the slaves] would be told that it was [in] their interest to get rid of her." She therefore was advised to set them free at the close of the year.
Martha Washington, first First Lady, wife of the father of the nation, lived her last days among hundreds of enslaved people she called family, people she believed would try to kill her. -- François Furstenberg in"In the Name of the Father: Washington's Legacy, Slavery, and the Making of a Nation"
About François Furstenberg
Associate Professor of History, University of California, Santa Barbara and
Co-Director of Indigenous Studies Minor
This happened many times in 2006 and 2007:
It is 2 AM, and I'm suddenly wide awake. I've had less than an hour of sleep, but the adrenaline jolt has eliminated any chance of getting more. I know the cause of my unwelcome alertness: panic. The writing is too slow, the tenure deadline is too soon, my kids are growing up too fast, and my insomnia is worse than ever. I suppress the urge to howl in frustration, and instead get dressed and leave the house. I walk the half-mile to the office, convinced that the night is ruined-as is the following day, which will find me exhausted and unable to think or write. I cling to the idea that if I get down just one half-decent sentence tonight, surely it must be better than nothing.
I ended up staying in the office for twenty hours, writing more than I had managed in weeks. I couldn't count on this pattern, but it happened often enough for me to finish the book and become a professional historian. I found writing my first book-a book that I knew would be controversial-a dreadful and debilitating task, and I don't think I would have made it without those moments when expectations and self-criticism were temporarily suspended. Most of the thinking and conceptualizing happened while I was busy with other things. They still do. I sleep better these nights, but getting anything worthwhile on paper still requires mind tricks; insights only come when I'm preoccupied with things-running, hanging out with the kids, cleaning the house-that seemingly have nothing to do with the job.
This, of course, is commonplace. Anyone who has tried to write on a sustained basis knows the workings of the subconscious. And they know that for mind tricks to work, they must catch one by surprise; they must be-or at least feel-thoroughly accidental. One can't force them, or even be aware of them. One can only appreciate them in hindsight.
Like almost all my friends in academia, I wrote my first book slightly scared and enormously annoyed, thinking that there was little in the way of method to my madness. I'm glad that I didn't realize at the time that I did have a method, all along.
By Pekka Hämäläinen
The Comanches, then, were an imperial power with a difference: their aim was not to conquer and colonize, but to coexist, control, and exploit. Whereas more traditional imperial powers ruled by making things rigid and predictable, Comanches ruled by keeping them fluid and malleable. This informal, almost ambiguous nature of Comanches' politics not only makes their empire difficult to define; it sometimes makes it difficult to see. New Mexico and Texas existed side by side with Comanchería throughout the colonial era, and though often suffering under Comanche pressure, the twin colonies endured, allowing Spain to claim sweeping imperial command over the Southwest. Yet when examined closely, Spain's uncompromised imperial presence in the Southwest becomes a fiction that existed only in Spanish minds and on European maps, for Comanches controlled a large portion of those material things that could be controlled in New Mexico and Texas. The idea of land as a form of private, revenue-producing property was absent in Comanche culture, and livestock and slaves in a sense took the place of landed private property. This basic observation has enormous repercussions on how we should see the relationship between the Comanches and colonists. When Comanches subjected Texas and New Mexico to systematic raiding of horses, mules, and captives, draining wide sectors of those productive resources, they in effect turned the colonies into imperial possessions. That Spanish Texas and New Mexico remained unconquered by Comanches is not a historical fact; it is a matter of perspective. -- Pekka Hamalainen in"The Comanche Empire" pp. 4-5.
About Pekka Hämäläinen
Associate Professor and Verlin and Howard Kruse '52 Founders Professor and the Director of Programming, Scowcroft
Institute of International Affairs at the Bush School of Texas A&M University.
I did not set out to write my first book. At least, I did not set out to write the book that finally appeared a decade after I began graduate school. The overarching topic never changed. It remained from beginning to end a study of Anglo-American diplomatic competition for control of the vital aerospace marketplace after World War II.
The topic never changed. But the book itself changed wholly, completely, and unexpectedly. I like to think for the better.
It began, as did I in many ways, as a good example of Wisconsin new-left revisionism. Not only was a I trained by disciples of this powerful strain of diplomatic history, as an undergraduate by Walt LaFeber and in graduate school by Tom McCormick, but revisionism's ingrained bias towards economic considerations and concerted policymaking by elite interests fit well my own red-diaper upbringing. Seminars and books that concluded, to crudely paint with a broad brush, that moneyed interests helped dictate Washington's international priorities simply made intuitive sense following years of similar intergenerational invectives from the host of New York Jewish socialists who gathered around the family dinner table (even after we moved to Nebraska).
My dissertation proposal fit this model. Having arrived in Madison-and really, where else would a would-be leftist historian go for grad school?-determined to study what I termed the local impact of diplomacy, that is the measurable human, social, and economic costs and benefits of foreign policy upon communities, I quickly chose Anglo-American aviation diplomacy as my broad topic. Planes during the Cold War were built largely in single sites, thus ensuring that one could quickly discern the effects of plane sales, or their dearth, on the well-being of cities from Seattle to Farnborough. It had to be a topic politically-sexy enough to have garnered the attention of Prime Ministers and Presidents, thus ensuring that diplomacy and sales interacted and produced an extant documentary record. Finally, it had to be an Anglo-American study as well, because good diplomatic work of the era was invariably comparative and transnational, and having studied in England as and undergrad I was determined to get back as quick as possible.
I thus wrote what I thought to be a rather eloquent dissertation proposal befitting the best of what I understood to be the Wisconsin tradition. This would be a story of economic competition for markets, I posited. It would show British and American diplomats battling throughout the world to secure sales for their domestic producers, thereby ensuring prosperity at home and influence abroad. Policymakers would invariably ensure that trade followed the flag, I expected to show. And if their Special Relationship took a beating for the sake of national sales, well this was exactly the type of economic primacy trumping allied solidarity I expected to find once I hit the archives.
The dissertation proposal proved a beautifully constructed piece of tripe. I was not in England 48 hours, immersed in the documents for the second day of an expected year-long cruise through the archives, when I realized I had the story entirely wrong. This was not a tale of export promotion, the records revealed. It was instead one of export-constraint. The story of Anglo-American aviation diplomacy was not a tale of diplomats fighting to open markets for their own producers. It was instead a saga of policymakers vainly struggling to hold back the tide of eager salespeople, whose lust for exports paid little concern for the potential loss of strategically valuable aviation technologies to communist foes. It was a also, I ultimately discovered, a tale of divergent and contradictory British and American strategies for waging and winning the Cold War, one in which strategic concerns trumped economic considerations; though I first had to accept how wrong I'd originally been before I could see this story emerge.
In short, I had it wrong. I won't say the experience of watching my expectations dashed and then reborn destroyed my revisionist leanings in one fell swoop, because in truth these had already begun to both decline in zeal in favor of a (hopefully) more complex worldview colored by different and even contradictory theories of analysis. At the least, it taught a valuable lesson: history is not always what we expect, but more often what we discover. First, however, one has to be willing to look. And to change one's mind, no matter how the final product is received around the dinner table.
By Jeffrey A. Engel
At the start of the year, the globe's strategic map looked much like it had since the end of World War II. Communist leaders in China and the Soviet Union held power. Their American counterparts, skeptical of the sincerity of recent calls for change throughout the Communist world, prepared for a reinvigorated Cold War of unknown duration and ferocity. Europe prepared for another year divided along fault lines imposed by conquering armies nearly a half-century before.
A year later, communism would be dead in Eastern Europe and dying in the Soviet Union itself. China would be once more in the grip of hard-liners wary of reform, and once more on the precipice of isolation. Washington would be looking to capitalize on its Cold War victory. Europe would soon by rejoined. The future-our twenty-first century present-would be at hand. And no one had seen it coming. -- Jeffrey Engel in"The Fall of the Berlin Wall: The Revolutionary Legacy of 1989" (Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 1.
About Jeffrey A. Engel
Hugo K. Foster Associate Professor of African Studies, Department of History,
Harvard University, July 2005 to present.
Assistant Professor, Department of History, Harvard University, July 2001 to July 2005.
Area of Research: Modern Africa, including human rights and British colonial violence.
Education: Ph. D. History, Harvard University, June 2001.
Major Publications: Elkins is the author of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize winning Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya (New York: Henry Holt, 2005). This book was simultaneously published in Britain and the Commonwealth by Jonathan Cape under the title Britain's Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya; Elkins is the co-editor of Settler Colonialism in the Twentieth Century: Projects, Practices, Legacies, with Susan Pedersen (New York: Routledge, 2005). Elikins is currently working on a book project entitled Twilight: The Decline and Fall of the British Empire that will re-examine the end British colonial rule during the years after World War Two. The research combines archival and oral data in order to integrate perspectives from the metropole and the colonies, and focuses primarily on the nature of British colonialism and the violence and human rights abuses that accompanied retreat.
Awards: Elkins is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including:
Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, 2006;
Walter Channing Cabot Fellow, Harvard University, 2005-06;
Gelber Prizer for Non-Fiction, Finalist, 2006;
The Economist, Best History Book Selection for Imperial Reckoning, 2005;
The New York Times, Editors' Choice, Imperial Reckoning, 2005;
The Daily Telegraph, Editor's Choice, Paperback, Britain's Gulag, 2005;
Phi Beta Kappa, Honorary Member, Harvard University Chapter, June 2006;
Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Fellowship, 2006-07;
Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Faculty Research Leave Fellowship, spring 2005;
Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Bunting Fellow, 2003-04;
J. William Fulbright Fellowship for Kenya (IIE), 1998-1999;
Social Science Research Council, International Dissertation Research Fellowship, 1998-1999;
Frank Knox Memorial Fellowship, 1997-1998;
Krupp Foundation Fellowship in European Studies, 1997-1998;
Harvard University Derek Bok Award for Teaching Excellence, 1996-1997 and 2000-01;
Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship, Intensive Swahili III, 1995;
Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities, Woodrow Wilson Foundation, 1994-1995.
Elkins has appeared on a number of television news media shows including; ABC, Radio Australia; Charlie Rose Show, PBS; Tavis Smiley Show, PBS; Here and Now, NPR,"Imperial Reckoning," Talk of the Nation, NPR,"Pulitzer Winners Describe that Winning Feeling;" Morning Edition, NPR,"Kenya's Mau Maus Seek Restitution;" BBC World,"Imperial Reckoning;" Here and Now, NPR,"Imperial Reckoning;" BBC, Radio Four,"The Mau Mau Rebellion;" BBC, Five Live; All Things Considered, NPR,"Author Details Harsh British Rule in Kenya."
Elkins's research on detention camps and villagization during the Mau Mau Emergency was the subject of a one-hour film on the BBC,"Kenya: White Terror." Elkins was a feature of the documentary, as well as a consultant to the project. The documentary was filmed in Kenya and Britain, September/October 2002. It was aired in Britain on 17 November 2002 to an audience of some 1.5 million viewers. It has subsequently been aired on BBC Worldwide several times. It won the International Committee on the Red Cross Award at the Monte Carlos Film Festival in June 2003.
Founder and Co-director, Kenya Oral History Centre, Nairobi, Kenya. Directing a project aimed at the collection of several thousand life histories of Africans from various ethnic groups who lived through the colonial experience in Kenya. The Center is modeled on similar projects in South Africa and post-WWII Germany, though it is the first of its kind in Kenya. Nearly $100,000 of funding has been drawn primarily from the Kenya Government, Harvard University, Ford Foundation, and the Kenya Human Rights Commission.
Editorial Board Member, Princeton University Press Series,"Crimes Against Humanity," August 2005 to present.
It was September 2003 and I still remember the feeling of opening my office door for the first time at the Radcliffe Institute where I was beginning my fellowship year. I practically dropped to my knees and wept. The room was spacious with sun streaming in and had an enormous desk with a computer that was the latest in technology. But, those weren't the reason for my out-of-character moment of emotion. The office was, to take off from someone else's words, a room of my own. It was away from the teaching and administrative distractions of my department office, and away from the lovable chaos generated by my two young sons, then one and three, at home. When I shut my Radcliffe door, I was alone, joyfully alone with my ideas and my writing.
And, it was at Radcliffe that I immersed myself in routine. When I write I love routine. I would come at almost precisely the same time day in and day out and leave at the same time. After I put my children to bed, I did the same thing in the evening; on the weekends the same thing. I had a story to tell, and like some athletes, when I'm in my routine, or game, I feel as if I'm in the"zone." It's as if I can hear or think of nothing else; instead, I can almost see the words and story in my mind before they unfold on the computer screen. Routine also has other implications. I don't answer the phone (except for the emergency cell phone number which is given to my sons' schools), I occasionally answer email, I almost never accept lunch or coffee invitations, I eat the same thing for lunch at my desk (with Imperial Reckoning it was butternut squash soup from Hi-Rise Bakery with a hunk of bread and loads of butter), I wear virtually the same clothes every day, I get my mid-morning and late afternoon coffee at the same time - the list could go on and on. Some might call this compulsive. I like to think of myself as focused!
Of course, I had every reason to keep my eye on the ball during my time at Radcliffe. I was up for my first review at the end of the academic year, and I had to finish my manuscript. I had also agreed with my publisher to deliver the draft by May of 2004. In other words, the whole book had to be written from start to finish during my year of leave. But, I suspect, with or without these deadlines I would have written the book at the same pace. For me, once I sit down to write I can't stop. I become so utterly focused that it is simply better for everyone around me to let me finish rather than to drag it out. In the case of writing Imperial Reckoning, it meant making up a lot of time with my family once the book was finished. Fortunately, the writing projects I've taken on since then have been smaller - articles, book reviews, and short essays - so I'm cloistered less often in my own world. That said, whether the project is big or small, I'm ruthless with my routine, and, gratefully, I've adjusted to thinking and writing without a room of my own.
By Caroline Elkins
About Caroline Elkins