Not Only For Scholars

University press publications appeal to the general reader

PICTURING A NATION: ART AND SOCIAL CHANGE IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY AMERICA By David M. Lubin Yale University Press, 364 pp., $45. THOMAS EAKINS Edited by John Wilmerding Smithsonian Institution Press, 212 pp., $49.95. THE PHOTOGRAPHIC EXPERIENCE, 1839-1914: IMAGES AND ATTITUDES By Heinz K. Henisch and Bridget A. Henisch Penn State Press 462 pp., $95. VANISHING GEORGIA Text by Sherry Konter Photographs from the Georgia Department of Archives and History University of Georgia Press, unpaged $19.95 paper. PASSIONATE VISIONS OF THE AMERICAN SOUTH: SELF-TAUGHT ARTISTS FROM 1940 TO THE PRESENT Edited by Alice Rae Yelen University Press of Mississippi, 351 pp. $65 cloth, $35 paper. HOWLING WOLF AND THE HISTORY OF LEDGER ART By Joyce M. Szabo University of New Mexico Press, 270 pp., $50. CONVERSATIONS WITH LOUISE ERDRICH AND MICHAEL DORRIS Edited by Allan Chavkin and Nancy Feyl Chavkin University Press of Mississippi 262 pp., $35 cloth $14.95 paper. RONALD REAGAN IN HOLLYWOOD: MOVIES AND POLITICS By Stephen Vaughn Cambridge University Press, 359 pp., $24.95. PROJECTIONS OF WAR: HOLLYWOOD, AMERICAN CULTURE, AND WORLD WAR II By Thomas Doherty Columbia University Press, 364 pp., $32.50. SEEDS OF THE SIXTIES By Andrew Jamison and Ron Eyerman University of California Press, 235 pp., $25. THE HIGH FRONTIER: EXPLORING THE TROPICAL RAINFOREST CANOPY By Mark W. Moffett Harvard University Press 192 pp., $39.95 cloth $24.95 paper. COLD RUNNING RIVER By David N. Cassuto University of Michigan Press, 141 pp. $29.95 cloth, $15.95 paper. DOWN THE ASPHALT PATH: THE AUTOMOBILE AND THE AMERICAN CITY By Clay McShane Columbia University Press 288 pp., $29.50. THE LAWN: A HISTORY OF AN AMERICAN OBSESSION By Virginia Scott Jenkins Smithsonian Institution Press, 246 pp. $14.95 paper. THROWAWAYS: WORK CULTURE AND CONSUMER EDUCATION By Evan Watkins Stanford University Press 230 pp., $37.50 cloth $14.95 paper. HARRIET BEECHER STOWE By Joan D. Hedrick Oxford University Press


Edited by Jennifer Waelti-Walters and Steven C. Hause University of Nebraska Press, 337 pp. $42.50 cloth, $16.95 paper. WOMEN IN WAITING IN THE WESTWARD MOVEMENT: LIFE ON THE HOME FRONTIER By Linda Peavy and Ursula Smith University of Oklahoma Press, 381 pp. $35 cloth, $17.95 paper. FIGURES IN A WESTERN LANDSCAPE: MEN AND WOMEN OF THE NORTHERN ROCKIES By Elizabeth Stevenson Johns Hopkins University Press, 222 pp., $25.95.

UNDERPINNING the wide-ranging subjects recently published by university presses is an unstated consensus that current academic concerns may interest nonacademic audiences.

In his study of how various social groups were imaged in 19-century American painting, David M. Lubin explicitly attempts to empathize with the public by creating a ``readable, stimulating, provocative, friendly'' text. While he acknowledges that Picturing a Nation: Art and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century America was influenced by social historians who dispute the idea of America as a melting-pot, Lubin does not argue the proposition abstractly. Instead, he demonstrates how artists as well known as George Caleb Bingham and as uncelebrated as Lilly Martin Spencer engaged conflicting 19th-century notions of religious tolerance, race relations, domesticity, and feminism.

Like Lubin, John Wilmerding meets his audience half way in a collection of essays he edited on American painter Thomas Eakins (1844-1916). Published by the Smithsonian Institution Press - along with the National Academy Press, the nation's university press - Thomas Eakins is a richly illustrated and handsomely produced catalog for a London exhibition of Eakins's work. It brings together 30 scholars whose writing ranges from clear, if conventional, antiquarian reconstruction of the circumstances of Eakins's work to overcast psychological theory.

Many essays in Wilmerding's collection examine Eakin's use of photography. With the ongoing academic weight given to popular culture and the history of representations, photographic history has become an attractive topic for university presses. Heinz K. Henisch and Bridget A. Henisch, long active in photographic studies, have issued an extensively illustrated compendium on The Photographic Experience, 1839-1914: Images and Attitudes. The authors' strength is a knowledge of the last century's everyday uses of photography as well as popular accounts of the medium. The cartoons, title pages, collages, photographic jewelry, and even clothing printed with photographs that the Henisches discovered rival the actual photographs in rarity and interest.

Perhaps a fresh academic interest in the breadth of photographic practice will help to reprint more books like Vanishing Georgia. These photographs from the Georgia Department of Archives and History, spanning a period from the early daguerreotype to the 1930s, picture the transition from agriculture to urban industrialism. It is to the credit of Sherry Konter, who coordinated the effort, that she defined ``the Georgia experience'' broadly enough to include some unsettling photographs of lynchings and grueling agricultural labor.

One of the lasting benefits of changing academic priorities has been the overdue recognition of so-called ``outsider art.'' Passionate Visions of the American South: Self-Taught Artists from 1940 to the Present, an impressive catalog, offers a rich profusion of images as well as insightful observations by Alice Rae Yelen on this traveling exhibit. Self-taught artists, we learn, seldom refer to themselves as artists. Nor are they as fully concerned with stylistic progress as are mainstream artists.

Kindred observation could be made about the subject of Joyce M. Szabo's attractive opus on native-American ledger art, a practice that got its name from the ledger paper 19th-century native Americans obtained at military posts. In her book Howling Wolf and the History of Ledger Art, Szabo focuses on the work of Howling Wolf, a Southern Cheyenne warrior who depicted contemporary life and events of the Plains people.

Howling Wolf's vividly colored drawings refute the belief that native-American art is concerned only with ritualistic subject matter. Conversations with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris, a series of interviews with these prominent writers of native-American descent, delineates how they have opposed all stereotypes of native Americans, even portrayals that might be considered positive. Erdrich and Dorris challenge the notion that their work is significant only as a specimen of ethnic enterprise. Like Howling Wolf, they insist that their art should be part of mainstream American culture.

Current academic conjecture ranks film among the most influential of cultural products. In Ronald Reagan in Hollywood: Movies and Politics, Stephen Vaughn investigates the ways in which politics and motion-picture entertainment merged in the last years of the Depression through World War II. As Reagan became a spokesman for the film industry and entertainers, he also developed a political philosophy that led him to take a more active role in public affairs. Similarly, Thomas Doherty's Projections of War: Hollywood, American Culture, and World War II examines the persuasive power of motion pictures during the war era. He explores interactions between the film industry and government and looks at how the movies shaped assumptions about class, race, and gender.

In the wake of the cold war, the 1940s and the 1950s are receiving increased academic scrutiny. Andrew Jamison and Ron Eyerman offer an overdue enumeration of the 1960s' intellectual roots. Seeds of the Sixties relates the old left to the new left, showing how progressive alternatives to technologically driven mass culture were formulated throughout the 1950s. One of those '60s seeds, environmental concern, has emerged as a mainstay of the university presses. The High Frontier: Exploring the Tropical Rainforest Canopy, a large-format book of text and photographs, surveys the rain-forest canopy at 17 sites around the globe. Author Mark W. Moffett's startling lush photographs of this aerial world are amplified by his comprehensive user-friendly text on ecological relationships.

David N. Cassuto's Cold Running River, Clay McShane's Down the Asphalt Path: The Automobile and the American City, and Virginia Scott Jenkins's The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession exemplify the recent university-press priority given to environmental issues on the home front. Cold Running River is a community diary - a collaborative biography of Michigan's Pere Marquette River and watershed, written not only through the use of scientific data, but also from the memories of those who have dwelled in the region.

There are considerable advantages to presenting environmental materials historically. For example, McShane and Jenkins enable readers to decipher the transactions that made the automobile and the front lawn emphatic marks of American respectability. To understand their deeply entrenched social symbolism is to realize why it is has been so difficult to change behaviors.

Increasingly, domestic ecological problems are being calibrated as consumer and lifestyle issues. The appearance of Evan Watkins's Throwaways: Work Culture and Consumer Education, an occasionally dense yet rewarding look at past innovations, may signal a more subtle, less ideological look at the intricate interaction between consumerism and self-image.

Pioneers in the area of women's studies, university presses continue to issue volumes that enlarge or restore women's history. Chief among these is Joan D. Hedrick's magisterial biography Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life. Hedrick thoroughly integrates new information about Stowe's private life with the public success she enjoyed as a popular writer and public intellectual. In the same vein, Feminisms of the Belle Epoque: A Historical and Literary Anthology, a collection edited by Jennifer Waelti-Walters and Steven C. Hause, offers a wide-ranging selection of feminist writings from turn-of-the-century France. In their engaging work, Women in Waiting in the Westward Movement: Life on the Home Frontier, Linda Peavy and Ursula Smith handily synopsize the lives of more than 50 19th-century women whose husbands were away in the American West.

Analogously, Elizabeth Stevenson pored over the journals and records of 16 white men and women who settled the northern Rocky Mountains and the high Plains to produce Figures in a Western Landscape: Men and Women of the Northern Rockies. Investigating how the landscape helped shape their lives, Stevenson relates their values, their ambitions - and their blunders.

Although the nucleus of university-press publishing is still the academic reader, the breadth of this spring's offerings indicates that the presses may be taking a substantial step in expanding their clientele.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Not Only For Scholars
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today