Airports and the New Politics of National Belonging in the Age of the Travel Ban

“By participating in this key, if seemingly unremarkable, ritual of contemporary American militarism, we also verify our fitness for citizenship. We prove that we belong.”

Following the September 11 attacks, U.S. airports became immeasurably more complicated— politically, practically, and symbolically. Once relatively unremarkable waypoints, distinguished primarily by their forms of convenience or lack thereof, airports acquired a range of functions and meanings. In my book, Beyond the Checkpoint: Visual Practices in America’s Global War on Terror (UMass Press, 2014), I situate airports within the broader landscape of militarized visual culture. The airport is, after all, the place where the story of the Global War on Terror began the moment the hijackers moved seamlessly through security and headed toward their flights.

9781625340702Newly positioned as front lines in the War on Terror, airports became battlegrounds for contestations over the meanings of citizenship, mobility, freedom, and privacy, all articulated against a matrix of security. In the process, security became a function of visibility, as screening procedures were refined and devised to maximize the exposure of travelers passing through. Travelers were required to acculturate themselves to longer security lines, restrictions on what they could pack, and more intimate and invasive screening procedures. The controversy these new measures engendered often framed them as examples of state overreach (embodied in the probing hands of TSA screeners) and so rested on the notion that U.S. citizens deserved more respectful treatment.

Over time, these rituals have become more normalized; removing our shoes, sandwich-bagging our toiletries, waiting with our arms stretched overhead while the millimeter wave machine scans for hidden explosives are, for most travelers, predictable inconveniences. Beyond the price of the ticket, the cost of air travel now includes the willingness to comply with these routines.  Eligible travelers can apply for TSA Pre✓®; the $85 fee for this program buys successful applicants out of these hassles, but also verifies their harmlessness for five years at a time.  When we navigate these security procedures  successfully, we are rewarded with the chance to go somewhere else, and the sense of freedom that might entail. But not only. In the process, by participating in this key, if seemingly unremarkable, ritual of contemporary American militarism, we also verify our fitness for citizenship. We prove that we belong.

More recently, however, the politics of national belonging have taken a different shape at American airports. Within minutes of Trump’s signing the first executive order on immigration (a 90-day ban on entry for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen and a 120-day suspension of entry by any refugee), airports became impassable checkpoints for travelers from these countries. For those with visas or Green Cards who were caught in the immediate and chaotic rollout of the ban, airports became sites of detention and confinement. For those awaiting the arrival of loved ones who were barred from boarding their planes in other countries or detained upon arrival here, airports became sites of individual grief. In the book, I describe how the placelessness of airports links them to territorially ambiguous locations like Guantánamo Bay or black sites; as they were temporarily refashioned as detention centers, this similarity was starkly borne out.

Yet American airports also drew scores of people who were not directly affected by the travel ban, rapidly and dramatically becoming sites of protest and counter-protest. Demonstrators opposed to the travel ban characterized it as antithetical to American values; those who supported it characterized the ban as totally coherent with them. Both positions were predicated on a particular understanding of national identity and citizenship. And both recognized the airport as a place where such claims could, and should, be made. There is a practical logic to this decision, insofar as airports were the locations at which the consequences of the travel ban played out most visibly. But in the long aftermath of September 11, an airport is never just an airport. Whether one believes that the travel ban will have a negative, positive, or negligible impact on the security of the nation-state (there is no real evidence that it will make the U.S. safer), the debate is haunted on all sides by the specter of terrorism. And so the airport once again became the place where Americans attempted to exorcise it.

Rebecca_Adelman-2981-200x300Rebecca A. Adelman is the author of Beyond the Checkpoint: Visual Practices in America’s Global War on Terror (University of Massachusetts Press, 2014).

Will Nativism and Racism Rear Their Ugly Heads Again in Boston?

On the evening of January 27, more than a thousand people flooded Terminal E at Logan Airport to protest the Trump administration’s travel ban against immigrants and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Two days later, thousands more packed Copley Plaza to raise their voices against the ban, and just last week, hundreds gathered in silence with linked arms around the Roxbury mosque in an interfaith Chain of Peace to express solidarity with the local Muslim community. While Massachusetts Muslims continue to face a barrage of hostility and abuse fueled by Trump’s anti-Muslim invective and policies, the strong public push back to his policies offers some reassurance that immigrants and refugees are not alone and will not be abandoned to reactionary forces and policies as they have been in the past.

9781625341464The city of Boston and the commonwealth as a whole have long been recognized as immigrant- and refugee-friendly places. As chronicled in my book, The New Bostonians, and the Global Boston website that has grown out of it, Boston has welcomed large-scale migrations of newcomers since the Great Famine sent tens of thousands of destitute Irish to our ports in the 1840s. Although there were no official refugee policies prior to World War II, Massachusetts repeatedly became a refuge for the persecuted and the vulnerable—Eastern European Jews fleeing Tsarist repression, survivors of the Armenian genocide of 1915–16, and periodic streams of new arrivals fleeing epidemics and earthquakes in Italy and Portugal.

After World War II, religious-affiliated groups in Boston such as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and Catholic Charities resettled Holocaust survivors and displaced persons from across Europe as well as Cold War–era refugees from Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, Cuba, the Soviet Union, and Southeast Asia. Since the 1980s, violence, repression and wars across the world—many in which the U.S. was involved—have brought thousands to Massachusetts from places such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Iran, Iraq, Haiti, and Somalia.

These common experiences of repression and exile have often fostered sympathy and solidarity with refugees and immigrants among the region’s native-born. But we should not assume that the vocal support we’ve seen recently will be sustained. History also offers numerous examples of Massachusetts residents leading the fight against immigration—from the Know Nothing Party’s attack on Irish immigrants in the 1850s, to the Brahmin-led Immigration Restriction League’s racialized campaign to curtail immigration in the early twentieth century, to the widespread acts of assault, arson, and murder of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees in greater Boston during the 1980s. These events remind us that nativism and racism are an ugly and persistent current in our history. They flare up when economic and social resentments grow and politicians exploit those resentments to consolidate their power.

marilynn-johnsonMarilynn S. Johnson is author of The New Bostonians: How Immigrants Have Transformed the Metro Area since the 1960s.

Celebrate Black History Month with New Books from UMass Press


UMass Press continues its proud tradition of offering strong and various titles in African American studies, literature, and history. Here are some of our newest books:

Black Bostonians and the Politics of Culture, 1920-1940 by Lorraine Elena Roses

9781625342423In the 1920s and 1930s Boston became a rich and distinctive site of African American artistic production, unfolding at the same time as the Harlem Renaissance. Lorraine Elena Roses employs archival sources and personal interviews to recover this artistic output.

An Abolitionist Abroad: Sarah Parker Remond in Cosmopolitan Europe by Sirpa Salenius

Sarah Parker Remond (1826–1894) left the free black community of Salem, Massachusetts, where she was born, to become one of the first women to travel on extensive lecture tours across the United Kingdom.

Measuring the Harlem Renaissance: The U.S. Census, African American Identity, and Literary Form by Michael Soto

Michael Soto examines how the U.S. Census placed persons of African descent within a rigid taxo9781625342508nomy of racial difference and thus defined a uniform African American identity in Harlem. Soto explores how black writers and intellectuals during the same period described a far more complex community of interracial social contact and intra-racial diversity.

The Harlem Renaissance and the Idea of a New Negro Reader by Shawn Anthony Christian

Many scholars have written about the white readers of the Harlem Renaissance, but during the period many black writers, publishers, and editors worked to foster a cadre of African American readers. Shawn Anthony Christian illustrates that the drive to develop and support black readers was central in the poetry, fiction, and drama of the era.


Remember Little Rock by Erin Krutko Devlin

In Remember Little Rock Erin Krutko Devlin explores public memories surrounding the iconic Arkansas school desegregation crisis of 1957 and shows how these memories were vigorously contested and sometimes deployed against the cause.9781625342683

Ragged Revolutionaries: The Lumpenproletariat and African American Marxism in Depression-Era Literature by Nathaniel Mills

 In Ragged Revolutionaries, Nathaniel Mills argues that the lumpenproletariat was central to an overlooked yet vibrant mode of African American Marxism formulated during the Great Depression by black writers on the Communist left, including Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and Margaret Walker.

All Eyes Are Upon Us: Race and Politics from Boston to Brooklyn by Jason Sokol

 All Eyes Are Upon Us explores the history of racial struggles in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York from World War II to the present—struggles that involve warring traditions of welcoming inclusion and violent segregation.


Put Christ Back in Palestine

I’m interested (and amused) when Americans feel that “Christ is being removed from Christmas.” For example, expanding the winter holiday season to include non-Christian holidays, like Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and even Ramadan when it falls in the winter, is somehow an assault on Christianity.

This time of the year, I see on the news and on my Facebook feed stories and posts about customers who are angry about Starbucks coffee cup designs or parents who are angry that their children’s schools are having a “holiday party” or a “winter concert” rather than a Christmas celebration.

We’re so deeply invested in defending Christ, it seems, in restoring him to where he belongs.

I wonder if those same people know that they should think about perhaps putting Christ back in Palestine, the birthplace of the Savior and of Christianity itself.

Yes, it’s true—Jesus Christ lived and died in Palestine, and places like Bethlehem and Nazareth are not just towns in Pennsylvania. They are real cities that are the centers of Palestinian Christian life. All those places mentioned in the New Testament, such as the Galilee, are real places, in which Palestinian Arabs still live despite a brutal occupation that has lasted over sixty years.

My parents’ hometown, al-Taybeh, is the biblical town of Ephraim. After raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus went to Ephraim to think and meditate:

Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim. (John 11:54)

Al-Taybeh, or Ephraim, is still a vibrant place, and its people and its several churches celebrate Christmas every year, along with the churches in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and other towns that have Christian populations. In Ramallah, near al-Taybeh,  a large Christmas tree is erected every year, and this year it was named by the Huffington Post as one of the memorable Christmas tree displays in the world.


All of this is to say that the Middle East is more diverse than people realize. Palestinians are regularly depicted as terrorist and fanatics, out to destroy Israel. The truth is that the Palestinians have lived under a colonial occupation and have been struggling to liberate themselves from it—Muslims and Christians alike. In my collection, A Curious Land: Stories from Home, there is a story titled “Christmas in Palestine,” in which my main character returns to Palestine in the Christmas season and is confronted by the changes that have taken place politically since she left.

It would be refreshing for once to see Americans interested in restoring Christ historically. The historical Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem and in the hills of the Galilee, which are still in existence—they are not just ephemeral places without root, or just words delivered from a Sunday pulpit.

Palestinians are a wonderful, diverse, and progressive people. As Sandra Cisneros writes, in her beautiful poem, “homecoming,”  it “ain’t like they say in the newspapers.”


Susan Muaddi DarrajSusan Muaddi Darraj is the author of A Curious Land: Stories from Home, winner of the Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction, The American Book Award, The Arab American Book Award, short-listed for the Palestine Book Award, and named the Best Fiction Book of 2016 by City Paper.

Seeking Less Animosity in Debates Surrounding Sex Hormones

Bob Ostertag wrote his recent book, Sex Science Self: A Social History of Estrogen, Testosterone, and Identity, in the belief that if more people at least knew the long, bizarre, and often funny history of the debates about sex hormones, we might be able to proceed
with less animosity between us and better odds that the 9781625342126medical choices we make will bring happiness. The details recounted below about the controversies surrounding the Pill in the 1960s and 1970s as well as the treatment of hysteria by surgically removing ovaries a hundred years before are from his book.

Once Again Sex Hormones are Making People Angry

Once again the so-called sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone) are proving their astounding power to make human beings angry, declare truths about their selves, and even proclaim their faith in God.

The “sex hormones” in this case are the synthetic estrogen and progestin found in contraceptive pills. Researchers at the University of Copenhagen studied the health records of Danish women aged between 15 and 34 and found that those on the estrogen-progestin pill were 23% more likely to be prescribed an antidepressant by their doctor, mostly within six months of starting on the pill. For those on the progestin-only pill, the figure rose to 34%. It increased even further, to 80% more likely, for girls aged between 15 and 19 on the combined pill.

Why should this make anyone angry?

Holly Grigg-Spall, author of the 2013 book Sweetening the Pill: or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control, explained:

Having spent the past eight years researching and writing on the emotional and psychological side-effects of hormonal birth control, I initially felt elated to read this study. Not just for myself, but for the hundreds of women I’ve interviewed over the years. . . . Finally, here was the kind of large-scale, long-term study I’d been told was necessary before we could seriously talk about this issue or make a change in how we prescribe hormonal contraceptives. However, I was naive, because it seems that no study will ever be good enough for the medical community to take women’s experiences seriously. As soon as this research dropped, the experts lined up to deliver their usual mix of gaslighting and paternalistic platitudes. We’re told not to be alarmed, concerned, or deterred from continuing to use our hormonal contraceptives, mostly by men who have never and will never take them themselves. . . . This “pillsplaining” . . . is nothing short of sexism.

Examples of “pillsplaining” abound in the media coverage of the Danish study. Dr. Ali Kubba, for example, is widely cited offering a boilerplate explanation of the basics of the study design, noting that the study shows only a correlation between depression diagnosis and use of the Pill, and does not show that use of the Pill actually causes depression. Dr. Kubba then concludes, “Women should not be alarmed by this study.” Dr. Channa Jayasena likewise appears in many articles explaining the same point about proving correlation but not causation, then concludes that “women should not be deterred from taking the pill.”

However, no scientific study, whether designed to show correlation or causation, instructs us how we should feel about the study’s results, whether happy, sad, indifferent, or alarmed. What if some women decide that even though no causal relationship between contraceptive pills and depression has been demonstrated, they would rather ask their male sexual partners to use condoms rather than worry about going on antidepressants? This response would be just as rational as remaining “undeterred” in taking the drug.

It is noteworthy that both Kubba and Jayasena are men, telling women how to behave, and dressing up their instructions with a phony air of science. It is likewise noteworthy that both doctors present continued use of contraceptive pills as the only reasonable reaction to the study—which means undiminished profits for the manufacturers. Dr. Kubba, in declarations he has made for conflict-of-interest protocols, has admitted that he “speaks at national and international meetings sponsored by pharmaceutical companies and receives honoraria and travel expenses.”

Holly Grigg-Spall is not the only one who is angry about this. So is Lara Prendergast. The title of her article in The Spectator asks, “The Pill has been linked to depression. Why isn’t this more of a scandal?” The subtitle answers, “Because it is a sin to suggest that oral contraceptives may not be the greatest gift ever given to womankind.”

The conservative American Spectator featured a piece by the right-wing columnist Melissa Clouthier titled “Why the Medical Profession Ignores Negative Pill Research.”

Even God was invoked. Brianna Heldt, writing in the National Catholic Register, declared that the Danish study underlines “why it is so very crucial for Catholics to first believe, then live and tell the truth about the dignity of the human person.”

But wait. Grigg-Spall’s book was resoundingly criticized by other feminist writers who declared it “sexist and dangerous” and “part of a disturbing effort to reduce women to their biological functions in the name of feminism.” In their view, the Grigg-Spalls of feminism irrationally seek to deny women access to drugs that do have negative side effects but that are genuinely needed for everything from contraception to menopause.

The bitterness that colors this debate comes when research and debate about estrogen becomes a debate about who is and is not a woman; who is “really female.”  Grigg-Spall asks, “If we shut down the essential biological center of femaleness, the primary sexual characteristics, then can we say that women on the pill are still ‘female’?” If that is so, Lindsay Beyerstein replies in Slate, “postmenopausal women, pregnant women, girls, ovarian cancer survivors, and transwomen aren’t really female.”

Who is “really female”—women on the pill, which interferes with their bodies’ normal estrogen production? Preadolescent girls, whose bodies have yet to produce adult levels of estrogen? Postmenopausal women, whose bodies produce less estrogen? People born male taking prescription estrogen their bodies did not produce? Those whose ovaries have been surgically removed? These are disagreements over who people “really are,” so they quickly escalate to anger. But all sides agree that, somehow or other, estrogen is what makes women women.

Very few people are aware of the long history of this dispute. In the 1950s, Dr. William H. Masters, the tireless evangelist of “hormone replacement therapy” (HRT), sold American women on the idea of taking estrogen for their entire postmenopausal lives by claiming that without the prescription they would fall out of womanhood into “the third sex” or “the neutral gender.”

In 1969, Barbara Seaman wrote a best-selling book documenting extensive anecdotal evidence of the Pill’s negative effects, most prominently depression. Seaman argued that many doctors were aware of these dangers but did not share this information with their patients, patronizingly assuming that only (male) doctors and not (female) patients could rationally think through the troubling details of their drug regimens. The book led to Senate hearings on the safety of the Pill, which were disrupted by members of D.C. Women’s Liberation, protesting that none of the Senate hearing’s witnesses were women so how would they know what it was like to take the Pill? The book, the hearings, and the protest by a new generation of militant women became an iconic moment for the feminist movement of the 1970s.

One hundred years earlier, doctors claimed to have found a correlation between ovarian cycles and “hysteria.” We no longer recognize hysteria as a disease, but surely some of what was diagnosed as hysteria in the nineteenth century would be diagnosed today as depression. So doctors began to treat hysteria by surgically removing ovaries. Up to 100,000 women lost their ovaries in this fashion. Bitter controversy ensued. To supporters, the operations were “one of the unequalled triumphs of surgery,” while those who wanted to prevent women who demanded them from receiving them were “wanting in humanity” and “guilty of criminal neglect of patients.” Critics of the procedure were just as adamant, casting the surgeons who performed the operations as “gynaecological perverts.” (Present-day wisdom holds that surgical removal of the ovaries, far from curing “hysteria,” causes surgically induced menopause which can result in dangerous depression.)

More research was called for after Seaman’s book was published, and more was done. We can now review a half century of studies on oral contraceptives and depression. The result? Some associate oral contraceptives with higher rates of depression, some show lower rates, and some show mostly less depression but more in certain subgroups.

The effects of estrogen, whether from prescription drugs or synthetic chemicals in the environment, have proven maddeningly difficult to pin down. Take the new Danish study, for example. The study shows that teenage girls who use contraceptive pills also get diagnosed with depression more than teenage girls who are not on the Pill. And in a way, this fits with many other studies that have shown that estrogen exposure can have a very different impact on females depending on the time of the exposure (prenatal, very young, adolescent, adult, menopausal, and postmenopausal). Adolescence seems to be a time when exogenous hormones have an especially strong effect. However, teenage girls on the pill may also be having sex for the first time, falling in love for this first time, breaking up for the first time, etc. Feelings of ambivalence, disappointment, and guilt are common to these situations and are feelings for which antidepressants are prescribed. Beyond all that, who can say if the only correlation the study found is that teenage girls who feel comfortable talking to their doctor about sex also feel more comfortable than other girls talking to their doctors about feelings of depression? Or if a teenage girl taking a pill a day for contraception is more open to the idea of taking another one for depression than a girl who is taking no pills and has never talked with her doctor about her feelings or her sexual behavior?

The BBC concluded its report on the new study by noting that despite all the controversy, “two points at least are uncontroversial: anyone concerned about symptoms of depression should seek help—and more research would be very welcome.”

But we have years of studies showing a correlation of oral contraceptives and depression, no correlation, and a partial correlation. Those who already agree with one position or another take heart when a new study seems to corroborate their position and are incensed when a new study challenges them.

Aside from giving us all another opportunity to yell at each other, what would more research accomplish?

New research that could prove or disprove a causal relationship between oral contraceptives and depression would move things forward, but no one has an idea of how to do this in a complex world in which there is no universally agreed upon measure of what precisely constitutes “depression” and when it should be treated, and in which women do not shut themselves in isolation chambers and do nothing other than take pills. In the real world where people have sex, fall in love, break up, have poorly understood and unmeasurable risk factors for depression, are exposed to all kinds of chemicals and estrogens in their environment, and read articles and books and warnings and promotions concerning contraception, no one knows how to design a study that would prove a causal link.

In the meantime, we get angry, we declare who we are and who others are, we talk about God, receive contradictory advice about what prescription drugs to take, and continue to take them in ever-increasing quantities.


ostertagAuthor Bob Ostertag will discuss his new book, Sex Science Self: A Social History of Estrogen, Testosterone and Identity (2016), in conversation with Trystan Cotten, an associate professor of gender studies at California State University, Stanislaus.


Thursday, October 20
The GLBT History Museum
4127 18th St., San Francisco
$5, free for members

Facebook invite here


Whose History Do We Preserve?

Fifty years ago, in 1966, Congress passed the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). Its aim was to preserve historical and archaeological sites in the United States. The act created the National Register of Historic Places, the list of National Historic Landmarks, and the State Historic Preservation Offices.

A half century later, the NHPA still regulates preservation in the United States—but whose history does it preserve?

9781625342140In Bending the Future: Fifty Ideas for the Next Fifty Years of Historic Preservation, fifty scholars meditate on what historic preservation will look like in the future. The essays ask: “If the ‘arc of the moral universe . . . bends toward justice,’ how can preservation be a tool for achieving a more just society and world?”

The emphasis on social justice through historic preservation echoes a similar trend within the wider realm of public history. Just as museums choose which stories to tell and how to interpret them, historic preservationists choose whose history to preserve. Recent work within the field of public history has made an effort to include marginalized voices, amplifying histories that have been frequently ignored or overlooked.

Choosing what to preserve is always that: a conscious choice. We choose what stories to tell in history books and what interpretations to include in museum exhibits. Whether it be documents stored in climate-controlled archives or the familiar buildings that we walk past every day, we need to reexamine not only what needs to be preserved, but why we are choosing to preserve it. Historic preservation is always an act of legitimizing someone’s history, and, potentially, delegitimizing someone else’s.

As many of the contributors in Bending the Future suggest, the NHPA has inherently privileged the history of the majority, reinforcing systematic racism, sexism, and colonialism. For a building or a district to be considered worthy of preservation, it must meet the standards stipulated in the NHPA. While the act aims to preserve historical sites, it also makes it difficult to preserve sites that might be recently built or architecturally uninteresting but still historically significant.

Public historians are working to preserve the histories of all Americans and historical preservationists should follow suit. Society is changing while the NHPA has remained largely stagnant. In 2016—and in the coming decades—we need theories and methods of historical preservation that are particular to the challenges of preservation in the twenty-first century.

RebekkahRubinRebekkah Rubin is a graduate student in the history department at UMass Amherst. She is specializing in public history.

Thinking about news in the post-newspaper age

By Dan Kennedy

Will the struggling newspaper business survive? No. And yes.

Let me explain. Several days ago, the New York Times media reporter Jim Rutenberg wrote an elegy for the age of newspapers, by which he meant ink spread across the reconstituted pulp of dead trees and trucked hither and yon to be deposited on the porches of grateful readers. News will survive, Rutenberg told us, but the medium through which that news appears will soon be entirely digital.

Yet, as Rutenberg also pointed out, here we are some twenty years into the era of digital news—and advertising revenue from print editions continues to be what keeps newspapers afloat. “I don’t think there’s anyone in the industry whose majority revenue is not still print,” the Minneapolis Star Tribune publisher Michael J. Klingensmith told him.

9781625340054Print is dying, but it pays the bills. Many if not most readers have shifted to online, yet digital ads bring in pennies compared to the dollars earned by their print counterparts. It’s an existential crisis, and it’s one that I explored several years ago in my book The Wired City: Reimagining Journalism and Civic Life in the Post-Newspaper Age (University of Massachusetts Press, 2013).

Much of The Wired City is devoted to the New Haven Independent, a nonprofit website founded in 2005 by the longtime New Haven journalist Paul Bass. Taking advantage of the savings realized by not having to produce a print product, Bass was able to support a staff of four full-time reporters, raising money from foundations, local institutions, wealthy individuals, and reader contributions. And if four reporters doesn’t sound like a lot, consider that of the dozens of journalists employed by the New Haven Register, a chain-owned daily paper, only four of them were assigned to cover New Haven.

The Independent was my major focus, but I examined other growing news projects as well. In Hartford, both a for-profit website, CT News Junkie, and a nonprofit, the Connecticut Mirror, were covering politics and public policy. In Batavia, New York, a former newspaper executive named Howard Owens was publishing The Batavian, a for-profit website festooned with well over a hundred local ads. On the West Coast, the nonprofit Voice of San Diego was seeking out new ways of reaching readers and making money, and had formed a partnership with a local for-profit television station.

Meanwhile, large metropolitan newspapers continue to struggle. According to the Pew Research Center’s latest State of the News Media report, the newspaper business in 2015 experienced its worst year since the Great Recession, with advertising revenue dropping by nearly 8 percent.

The one great exception to the downward trend is the Washington Post, which, under the ownership of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has bolstered its staff and attracted the largest digital audience of any American newspaper. (I examined the Post under Bezos in a paper I wrote earlier this year for the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, part of the Harvard Kennedy School.) But if there is a solution for regional papers such as the Boston Globe, the Philadelphia Inquirer, or, for that matter, the New Haven Register, it has not yet appeared on the horizon.

Meanwhile, every online-only project that I wrote about in The Wired City continues to thrive and even expand. In the summer of 2015 I visited the New Haven Independent to report on a story for the Nieman Journalism Lab about Paul Bass’s latest venture: a community radio station, WNHH, to be broadcast online and over the air via a low-power FM (LPFM) license.

Today, the Independent and WNHH complement each other. The radio station features a large staff of volunteer broadcasters representing every demographic group in the city: African American, Latino, white, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. Highlights from their shows are regularly featured in the Independent, making the site feel like a true reflection of the community.

Will newspapers survive? No. Will the news survive, as Jim Rutenberg assures us it will? Yes. But the large commercial ventures that support the news may not. Rather, the future may belong to grassroots projects, both nonprofit and for-profit, that can raise money locally and live off the land in a way that large-scale publishers simply can’t—or won’t.

dan-kennedy-croppedDan Kennedy is an associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University and a panelist on Beat the Press, a weekly media program on WGBH-TV in Boston. He also writes regular media and political commentary for His blog, Media Nation, is online at

The First American Puppeteer

While many contemporary Americans look to movie theaters for entertainment and relief from the summer heat, early Americans looked forward to “itinerant entertainers,” or artists who were passing through “for a short time only.” Please read about one strolling artist-the first American puppeteer-in this excerpt from Peter Benes’s new book, For a Short Time Only: Itinerants and the Resurgence of Popular Culture in Early America 

The First American Puppeteer

The beginning of professional American puppetry may have occurred in New England in the 1730s. According to two entries in the diary of Reverend Ebene9781625341990zer Parkman, a man showed up at Ensign John Maynard’s tavern in Westborough, Massachusetts, who attracted considerable attention. On Tuesday, 14 August 1739, Parkman had spent much of that day supervising the plowing and mowing of his fields. That evening he attended a “Puppett show at Ensign Maynards.” No doubt Parkman, his neighbors, and the entire Westborough parish were delighted by this unusual turn of events. Probably the first puppets ever seen in this rural Massachusetts town, they may have been the only ones circulating in North America during the 1730s. Before the puppeteer left the town on Friday morning, he stopped at Parkman’s home: “Mr. Edward Burley Son came to my House in his Cabbin with his Puppetts, etc. there in. N.B. I had my Self Seen them in some measure my self Yesterday just at Evening.”

Parkman’s second entry confirms that the puppeteer was none other than Edward Burlesson, Jr., an animal handler who previously had taken “the Lyon, the black and whight bare, and the Lanechtskipt” to Boston. This was the same individual who had been warned out of that city by its selectmen, and his appearance in Westborough once again indicates that strolling cultural carriers—figures entirely out of keeping with what is commonly believed about New England or early America—were wandering the region in the early eighteenth century. He was an old-world character thriving in a provincial setting.

The facts concerning Edward Burlesson, Jr., are sparse but suggestive. One of five children of Edward Burlesson (or Burleson), Sr., of Suffield, Connecticut, the son grew up with an unknown handicap. Whatever his physical disability, Burlesson seems to have overcome it. Two surviving letters signed by him, now in the Kent Memorial Library in Suffield, reveal not only that his writing was legible but that his spelling was excellent—indications he had an above-average education. In 1725, he was composing, illustrating, and selling broadsides and was the author of a verse mourning fifty victims of a fatal epidemic in Hartford.

Despite his uncertain past, Edward Burlesson occupies a critical place in American entertainment history. He marks a turning point not only as the earliest puppeteer in North America—one of about forty-three active between 1730 and 1825—but also as the first American-born showman this country produced.

Peter Benes
Peter Benes is director of the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife in affiliation with Hist
oric Deerfield, Inc., in Deerfield, Massachusetts. His books include 

Meetinghouses of Early New England
(University of Massachusetts Press, 2012), winner of the 2014 Abbott Lowell Cummings Prize of the Vernacular Architecture Forum. 


COVERAGE OF POLITICAL CONVENTIONS: Max Weber, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton


By Christopher B. Daly

“Trump had a successful convention in one sense: he managed the almost impossible task of making a modern convention interesting.”

Nothing so aptly captures the phenomenon of Donald Trump as the social theory laid out more than a century ago by the German social thinker Max Weber. In Weber’s scheme of understanding power, Trump epitomizes a type known as the “charismatic leader.”

American politicians are sometimes described as charismatic by people who really want to use a word more like “charming.” But leaders like Trump are actually pretty rare in American political history.

Which means, in turn, that Trump is likely to present challenges to the journalists trying to cover him. Most of the national political press corps has never seen the like. On the one hand, Trump is a gift to the news media because he’s exciting; on the other, he does not fit nicely into any conventional category or narrative.

According to Weber, “charismatic authority” is different from traditional or legal sources

max weber

Max Weber 

of authority. As the great German sociologist argued in “Politics as a Vocation,” the charismatic leader is followed because of his personal qualities. His success depends on “devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism, or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him.” In essence, a charismatic leader is endowed with special qualities because his followers believe he has those qualities. He is powerful because people think he’s powerful.

Trump’s authority is entirely personal. It is not connected to a party or a movement or a set of policies. It is all about him. His subliminal message to the convention and the television audience was: I will make you safe. It’s the rough equivalent of saying “I will walk you to school so no one will scare you.”

As a businessman, he is the “Lord of the Tower.” High inside Trump Tower, he rules over a privately held company. He is not like a CEO of a big publicly traded corporation. The modern corporate executive is a cog in a giant machine – made up of corporate boards, executive committees, finance committees, legal counsel, giant organizational charts, rules, policies, and guidelines. This environment produces CEOS who are risk-averse and who know that their time at the top is limited to about four or five years.

None of that pertains to Trump. He trusts only those people who work for him in Trump Tower. Any authority they have flows from him directly, in proportion to how close they are to him or how trusted. No one in the Trump camp exercises power independently or by virtue of a place in a bureaucracy. It’s all about personal relationships, as in a royal court or a cult.

¨         ¨         ¨         ¨

While Trump was rising last week, another career in American conservative politics was ending. Roger Ailes, the founding chief of Fox News, was ousted from his powerful position by his only boss, media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Like Trump, Ailes was a charismatic leader in the Weberian mold. For decades, Ailes ruled Fox News by fear, bullying, helping favorites, and attempting to exercise the droigt de seignuer by “flirting” with the many attractive news readers he hired.

Trump and Ailes also shared a masterful instinct for managing the public’s resentment. Even if you never watch Fox News, you have probably heard phrases like these:

  • “liberal elites”
  • “the War on Christmas”
  • “mainstream media”
  • “radical Islamic terrorism”

These and similar conservative tropes (or “memes”) are all hobgoblins intended to amplify the fear and loathing felt by some Americans. These memes reinforce the fear that something is slipping away and reinforce the loathing of those responsible – smart people, immigrants, jihadis, liberals.

Ailes toiled for decades inside the conservative meme factory – generating, refining, and broadcasting the idea that America used to be a great country until ___________________________ (fill in the blank: secularism, feminism, political correctness, elites, blacks, gays, immigrants) came along and ruined everything. Like Trump, Ailes practiced a politics of restoration.

¨         ¨         ¨         ¨

Trump had a successful convention in one sense: he managed the almost impossible task of making a modern convention interesting. For decades, the national conventions have been highly scripted, fully produced pageants made for television. No surprises – and no real politics, either. Everything is decided beforehand.

As the Democratic National Convention unfolds in Philadelphia, watch for a dramatic contrast from last week’s show in Cleveland. Hillary Clinton is the opposite of a “chaos candidate” like Trump. He huddles with a small team of political novices and makes decisions at the last minute. In Hillary’s approach to politics, by contrast, professionals are respected, and qualities like steadiness, consistency, and predictably (which Trump disdains) are considered virtues.

She makes plans and sticks to them.  She limits access. Everything is vetted. There is a structure with veteran professionals staff all key positions, from speechwriting to finance to policy.

Not so with the charismatic candidate Trump. He harkens back to political insurgents like Huey Long or George Wallace – not (just) in his bigotry but in his personal approach. Trump has no bureaucracy around him. A reporter cannot go seek out Trump’s “foreign policy shop” and get briefings on his approach to the Mideast. First of all, there is no “shop.” Second, even if there were a shop, there is no policy. There will be a policy when Trump makes one up, and it will change when he feels like it. He may meet with Netanyahu, for example, and if they hit it off personally, then Israel is under U.S. protection. If they don’t hit it off, then all bets are off. What are Trump’s budget plans? Who would make up the Cabinet? No one has a clue. Reporters are hard pressed to find reliable sources.

In covering Trump, the media have a further problem: they feel obligated to treat Trump with a straight face. Their professional code prevents them from writing and saying many things that they know to be true.

Moreover, the press gets no down time with Trump. Even when he has retreated to Trump Tower, he could still feel the urge to tweet out some message or insult or provocation at any time, creating a brand-new controversy and “winning” that news cycle.

Trump likes to talk about law and order. But in his style, he is the candidate of chaos. Fasten your seatbelt.



Chris DalyA veteran journalist, Christopher B. Daly teaches journalism and history at Boston University. He is coauthor of Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World, which won the Albert J. Beveridge Award of the American Historical Association and the Merle Curti Award of the Organization of American Historians. He is the author of Covering America: A Narrative History of a Nation’s Journalism (UMass Press, 2012)







RealClear Politics rounds up analysis from different points of view.


History News Network

Historians on Trump (not Historians Against Trump)

The conservatives: Breitbart, the Blaze, Drudge. Fox News. Rush Limbaugh (harping on the “drive-by” media)


Richard Reeves, Convention. (a whole book about the 1976 Democratic convention in NYC)

Hunter S. Thompson, Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail (the 1972 campaign processed through the lit-up mind of HST)

Rick Perlstein, Nixonland. (a deep plunge into the politics of resentment as practiced by Richard Nixon – and his young TV aide, Roger Ailes)

David Greenberg, Republic of Spin (the arms race between American journalists and politicians, from McKinley to Obama)

Richard Ben Cramer, What it Takes (about the 1988 campaign; the new benchmark for campaign coverage.)

Gabriel Sherman, The Loudest Voice in the Room. (a detailed biography of Ailes and his role at Fox).

And, of course, Covering America, by me!

The Paradox of Capital Punishment in Connecticut

For more than fifty years, Connecticut has had a death penalty statute under which no one was executed except two convicted men who waived appeals and “volunteered” for death at the hands of the state.  They were serial killers Joseph Taborsky who died by goodheart_300electrocution in 1960, and Michael Ross, by lethal injection in 2005. In this Kafkaesque situation no one was executed unless they wanted to be.  The contradiction was blatant and absurd.

            Although systematic efforts to abolish capital punishment in Connecticut began in the pre–Civil War era, the recent finale had unusual twists and turns in governance.  In 2009, for the first time in the history of colony and state, the General Assembly with a majority of Democrats voted to end the death penalty, but Republican governor Jodi Reill vetoed the bill.  In 2012, however, Democratic governor Dannel Malloy signed a law that banned the death penalty prospectively.  Public outrage over the heinous murders of the Petit family in Chesire in 2007 meant that the perpetrators Steven J. Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky were still subject to execution.

The political expediency of prospective abolition left the oddity of eleven condemned men
still on death row.  Prompted by the prospective ban and the appeal of death row inmate Eduardo Santiago, the State Supreme Court on August 13, 2015, sought consistency by ruling the death penalty unconstitutional in a narrow 4-to-3 decision.  In its opinion, the court relied extensively on my book, The Solemn Sentence of Death: Capital Punishment in Connecticutto document that capital punishment historically overwhelming fell on those on the margins of society and that significant limits on the capital code began to be set during the seventeenth century.

Prosecutors appealed, arguing that the high court had overstepped its authority.  They too cited my book, correctly arguing that historically the legislature, not the judiciary, had exercised oversight of the death penalty.  Unmentioned in the appeal, however, was that the state and federal courts, in establishing guidelines and a lengthy appeals process in death penalty cases, had in effect, at least in Connecticut, obviated executions unless the condemned “volunteered.”

On May 26, 2016, the State Supreme Court in State v. Peeler upheld its 2015 total abolition in a 5-to-2 decision.  Rather than usurping its authority, the court made overt its decades-long, covert involvement in blocking executions laying the death penalty with its multiple contradictions to a final rest.


Lawrence B. Goodheart is Professor Emeritus of History at University of Connecticut and author of  The Solemn Sentence of Death: Capital Punishment in Connecticut  (University of Massachusetts Press, 2011)