Month: May 2015

Thrift: A Post-Partisan Philosophy for Our Times

By Andrew L. Yarrow, author of Thrift: A History of an American Cultural Movement

As the new, 114th Congress arrives in Washington, is there any hope for greater bipartisanship and accomplishment than the recent, toxic, do-nothing Congresses? While most would grimly conclude that the United States faces another two years of bitter, partisan gridlock, what could spur Congress to improve on its performance during the last session, when fewer pieces of substantive legislation were passed than at any time in history.

It’s not that there aren’t issues on which broad majorities of the American people agree and want their lawmakers to take action: debt reduction, tax reform, immigration reform, gun control, investing more in scientific research and infrastructure, making higher education more affordable, a clean environment, and improving the fortunes of the middle-class and lower-income Americans.

However, rather than frame these issues in the same old ways—inviting the same old partisan rancor that has earned Congress its well-deserved single-digit approval ratings—there are ways to frame issues differently that could appeal to those on the left, right, and center. One such approach is to turn to older, broadly accepted American values and give them new meaning for the 21st century.

One such value is thrift. Thrift may seem like a dowdy, outdated idea connoting miserly penny-pinching in a society that relentlessly calls for us to spend. Although Benjamin Franklin and other Founders preached thrift, in a little-known chapter of American history, millions of Americans embraced an active thrift movement in the 1910s and 1920s, and many of their ideas remain strikingly relevant.

Today, about 140 million Americans—44 percent of the nation’s people—are either in debt or have only enough money saved to pay for up to three months of modest expenses, 31 percent of adults say they have no savings or pensions to afford to retire, and this lack of national savings limits the available capital for business investment to grow our economy.

During the early 20th century, civic, business, labor, religious, and political leaders of both parties came together under the banner of “thrift” to confront such disparate problems as Americans’ lack of savings, debt, and resulting economic insecurity; the destruction and waste of natural resources; the crassness of an emerging consumer society; the need for greater generosity; and business inefficiencies.

Issues not too different from today’s.

Aspects of thrift may be uncomfortable for some on both the left and the right, but it also can be a uniting, “common sense” philosophy, as Teddy Roosevelt said. Thrift combines strong individualism and a belief in personal responsibility with an equally strong belief in looking out for the community’s welfare.

As in the 1920s, thrift embraces the trinity of industry, frugality, and stewardship: Work diligently and productively; use financial, material, and natural resources with care for the future; and recognize that what we have is not ours alone, but for us to hold in trust for future generations.

Framed in these terms, there is something that most Republicans and Democrats could agree upon. Of course, broad philosophical agreement may be one thing, but a cynic might say: How can these ideas be translated into bipartisan initiatives that actually can be passed as legislation?

There are many ideas to increase individual savings and economic security that enjoy across-the-aisle support.

One proposal, for an automatic IRA, would serve small-business employees, who would contribute to private mutual funds contracted by the government, with the government subsidizing the plans’ administrative costs. This would benefit 80 million workers who don’t have workplace-based pension plans.

Individual development accounts (IDAs) have been proposed to help build adults’ savings through financial education and matching funds provided by government. These would be geared to low-income adults, and participants would receive up to a three-to-one match if they saved for an approved purpose such as a down payment on a house, paying college tuition, or starting a business. A pilot program run by the nonprofit Corporation for Enterprise Development helped spur the creation of some 20,000 such local initiatives.

A third bipartisan proposal is to expand the government’s Saver Credit, which provides a tax credit for moderate-income Americans’ contributions to an IRA or 401(k). Another idea is to create children’s savings accounts (CSA), which would be seeded by an initial $500 investment by government for each baby born into low- and middle-income families, with additional amounts added later during childhood. San Francisco has piloted a Kindergarten to College CSA, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, approved a similar plan in 2013, and bipartisan federal legislation, the American Dream Accounts Act, has been introduced by Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

Increasing saving benefits all Americans and makes our country stronger. Democrats and Republicans both know this and if they want “new” language to forge agreement, why not turn to that tried-and-true American value, thrift?


Andrew L. Yarrow, senior research advisor at Oxfam America, a historian who specializes in 20th-century America, former New York Times reporter, and author of
Forgive Us Our Debts: The Intergenerational Dangers of Fiscal Irresponsibility, has just published a new book, Thrift: The History of an American Cultural Movement through UMass Press. For more information, click here.  To read more op-eds by Andrew Yarrow, check out his Twitter feed at @ALYarrow.



National Bike Week & Boston’s Cycling Craze

The Bike Week movement, which is recognized each May in the U.S. as part of National Bike Month, advocates the importance of cycling as a means of transportation and recreation. Massachusetts is the only state in the nation with a truly statewide bike week, from May 9th to May 17th. National Bike to Work day, encouraging commuters to take to the road through active transportation, is May 15. In the Boston area, cyclists are encouraged to ride with one of ten convoys to City Hall Plaza for a breakfast party and commuter celebration.

Boston has long been the center of cycling enthusiasm – the Boston Bicycle Club, founded in 1878, was the first in the nation, and formed the nucleus of the national organization, the League of American Wheelmen. Cycling was a hotbed for clashes about race, gender, class, ethnicity – even religion. One of a small group of black women cyclists, Kittie Knox of the Riverside Cycle Club attracted much attention as a prominent activist and cyclist. Her insistences on riding a two-wheeled man’s bike and her personally-fashioned knickerbockers were frowned upon by many in the cycling society. But her most important contribution to the cycling craze was her appearance at the 1895 League of American Wheelman meet. The recent institution of a “color bar” prevented her attendance at the meet – however, members of the Massachusetts delegation of the league supported her despite the tension she raised. Her courage and pluck encouraged discussion of diversity in cycling clubs, something the modern community continues to face.  Knox’s image is feature on the cover of Finison’s Boston’s Cycling Craze, and has been discussed extensively in Finison’s interview at the Museum of African American History.

bostonNamed one of New England’s Best Books of 2014 by the Boston Globe, Larry Finison’s Boston’s Cycling Craze, 1880 – 1900 tells a story of race, sport, and society. In addition to being a UMass Press author, Finison is a founding member of Cycling Through History and has presented several papers at the International Cycling History conference in recent years. Thomas Whalen, author of Dynasty’s End, wrote that Boston’s Cycling Craze  “not only is . . . an informative history, but a compelling morality tale that meditates on the important intersection of sport, race, and gender in the broader spectrum of American culture.” For more information on his book, please visit our website. You can follow Finison on twitter at @ljfinison.



Emily Esten is an Editorial Intern at UMass Press. She is a junior History/Digital Humanities major at UMass Amherst. 

Alewives, a Sure Sign of Spring

By Barbara Brennessel, author of The Alewives’ Tale: The Life History and Ecology of River Herring in the Northeast

In New England, the arrival of river herring is a sure sign of spring.  But spring has been slow to arrive this year.  Even though snow was still on the ground, volunteer herring counters were getting ready. In Wellfleet, our herring count workshop on March 19 drew a good crowd; most were seasoned herring counters but we were lucky to recruit some new volunteers. We reviewed the protocols and volunteers signed up for various time slots. There was considerable excitement among audience members as we reviewed the results of the last six years of volunteer counts and discussed our plans for a major restoration project.  Derrick Alcott, a graduate student from the University of Massachusetts explained his PhD project in which he would be tracking the movements of herring through the Chequessett Neck Dike and into our Herring River.  This Dike, which prevents tidal flow, and may act as an impediment to river herring, is the focus of the restoration project.

At the end of April, our local herring warden, Ethan Estey, led a group of AmeriCorps volunteers down the Herring River.  Wearing waders and winter gear, they walked down the river to clear any debris that blocked water flow.  The river itself was not easily accessible for our volunteers because snow drifts, up to four feet in some places, lined the banks. We were fortunate that Derrick had to install tracking equipment at various locations along the river before the herring arrived, so he shoveled a path to our counting site. The snow removal revealed vegetation, mostly briars and vines, remnants of last summer, all along the path.  My husband Nick and I used hand tools to clear the underbrush, forming a narrow path that would allow access for the volunteers who were scheduled to count fish. We were all ready for the herring to arrive.

But in Wellfleet, and other locations in Massachusetts, volunteer herring counters spent many days staring at the water without seeing a single fish.  Finally, a few sightings put everyone on alert.  Even though the call, “The herring are running,” was a week or two later than usual in some locations, the fish arrived at last.

Thousands of the silvery fish were the main attraction at the second annual River Herring Festival in Middleborough on April 11.  Children lined up along the banks of the Nemasket River at Oliver Mills Park.   The braver ones attempted to catch the fish with their bare hands…the children that were successful squealed in delight as the fish squirmed out of their small hands and dove back into the river.

Last week, river herring were spotted in Wellfleet’s Herring River. The water is starting to warm up. On April 19, I saw my first fish in Wellfleet.  We should continue to see river herring (alewives and bluebacks) in Wellfleet, on a regular basis until late in May.  So, until Memorial Day, I will be watching the river with other dedicated volunteer herring counters to see how our river herring are f9781625341051aring.

New Books: May 2015

This month, UMass Press releases titles in American Studies and British/European Studies.

9781625341440On the Cusp by Daniel Horowitz: Part personal memoir, part collective biography, and part cultural history, Horowitz’s newest book reconstructs the undergraduate career of Yale College’s class of 1960 and follows them into the next decade. He begins by looking at curricular and extracurricular life on the all-male campus, then ranges beyond the confines of Yale to larger contexts, including the local drama      urban renewal, the lingering shadow of McCarthyism, and decolonization movements around the world. He ponders the role of the university in protecting the prerogatives of class while fostering social mobility, and examines the growing significance of race and gender in American politics and culture, spurred by a convergence of the personal and the political. Consistent with much of Horowitz’s previously published scholarship on postwar America, this work further exposes the undercurrent of discontent and dissent that ran just beneath the surface of the so-called Cold War consensus.

On the Cusp is a book of many pleasures. Horowitz writes about his college years with both the memoirist’s attention to color and detail, and the historian’s attention to scale . . . a valuable retrospective and reappraisal for those who remember these years; it will be an education in itself to those who do not.” – Matthew Frye Jacobson, William Robertson Coe Professor of American Studies and history, Yale University

For more information on the works of Daniel Horowitz, click here

9781625341662Forms of Association by Paul Yachnin and Marlene Eberhart: In today’s connected and interactive world, it is hard to imagine a time when cultural and intellectual interests did not lead people to associate with others who shared similar views and preoccupations. In this volume of essays, fifteen scholars explore how these kinds of relationships began to transform early modern European culture. Forms of Association grows out of the “Making Publics: Media, Markets, and Association in Early Modern Europe” (MaPs) project, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. This scholarly initiative convened an interdisciplinary research team to consider how “publics” developed in Europe from 1500 to 1700. This collaborative study provided a dynamic way of understanding the political dimensions of artistic and intellectual works and open the way toward a new history of early modernity. This collection represents the issues and questions coming out of the MaPs project, and how Renaissance scholarship could be advanced by projects like this one.

“With the overall high quality of the essays, the significant voices that are addressing the issues, and the direction forward that it suggests for work in the early modern period, this is an excellent collection and a valuable publication for scholars.” – Shannon Miller, San Jose State University

For more titles on British and European history, please visit our subject listings.

9781625341433Storytelling and Science by David K. Hecht: No single figure embodies Cold War science more than renowned physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. The “Father of the Atomic Bomb” has drawn Americans to the story of the Manhattan Project he helped lead, and the riveting McCarthy politics that caught him in its crosshairs. Journalists and politicians, writers and artists have told Oppenheimer’s story in many different ways since he first gained notoriety in 1945. In Storytelling and Science, Hecht examines why they did so, and what they hoped to achieve through their stories. In these different renditions, Oppenheimer was alternately portrayed as hero and villain. Yet beneath the varying details of these stories, Hecht discerns important patterns in the ways that scientists shape popular understandings – and misunderstandings – of science.

“An original contribution to its field that opens the way to similar studies of the public images of other scientists and their science.” – David C. Cassidy, author of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the American Century

For more titles in American Studies, review this list.

9781625341358Dickens and Massachusetts by Diana C. Archibald and Joel J. Brattin: Charles Dickens traveled to North America twice, in 1842 and twenty-five years later in 1867-68, and on both trips Massachusetts was part of his itinerary. Massachusetts was the one state that met and even exceeded Dickens’s expectations for “the republic of [his] imagination.” This volume provides insight from leading scholars who have begun to reassess the significance of Massachusetts in the author’s life and work. The collection begins with a broad biographical and historical overview, enhanced by images to tell the story of Dickens’s relationship with the vibrant cultural and intellectual life of Massachusetts. The second section includes essays that consider the importance of Dickens’s many connections to the commonwealth.

“This book fills an important gap in our understanding of Dickens’s first trip to America. Authored by some of the most highly respected scholars in Dickens studies and including thorough and authoritative research, this volume makes a timely and original contribution.” – Nancy Aycock Metz, author of The Companion to Martin Chuzzlewit

For more titles on British and European Literature, review this subject list.

9781625341570Making the Desert Modern by Chad H. Parker: In 1933, American oilmen, representing what later became the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco), signed a concession agreement with the Saudi Arabian king granting the company sole proprietorship over the oil reserves in the country’s largest province. Aramco built the infrastructure necessary to extract oil and also carved an American suburb out of the Arabian desert, with all the air-conditioned comforts of Western modern life. At the same time, executives cultivated powerful relationships with Saudi government officials and, to the annoyance of U.S. officials, even served the monarchy in diplomatic disputes. Before long, the company became the principal American diplomatic, political, and cultural agent in the country, a role it would continue to play until 1973, when the Saudi government took over its operations. In this book, Chad H. Parker tells Aramco’s story, showing how an American company seeking resources and profits not only contributed to Saudi “nation building” but helped define U.S. foreign policy during the early Cold War.

“A valuable case study of ‘private diplomacy,’ Making the Desert Modern will serve as a model for a growing number of scholars in diplomatic history who are turning their attention to the roots of economic globalization and the interplay between corporations and states in an international context.” – Christian G. Appy, author of American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity

For more books in the Culture, Politics and the Cold War series, visit our website.