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.

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 WGBHNews.org. His blog, Media Nation, is online at http://www.dankennedy.net.

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)    

The Legacies of Blanche Knopf


Biographer Laura Claridge gives well-deserved center stage to publis9781625340931her Blanche Knopf in The Lady with the Borzoi, released last month—a century after Blanche Wolf married Alfred Abraham Knopf and cofounded a house that many consider to be the crown jewel of American publishing. Bringing to life an enigmatic tastemaker who introduced an international roster of award-winning authors to American audiences, Claridge delivers a portrait of a shrewd, driven, elegant luminary who transformed the literary landscape but was continually denied full credit for her achievements because of sexism. As late as 1965, a year before her death, Blanche Knopf was still barred from the all-male Publishers’ Lunch Club despite the multiple Nobel Prize–winning authors she had published.
In researching my history of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., The Art of Prestige: The Formative Years at Knopf, 1915–1929 (UMass Press, 2014), I read hundreds of documents written by Blanche, evidence of countless hours she spent competing for important acquisitions, negotiating contracts, requesting editorial revisions, making design choices, overseeing advertising plans, and every other minute facet in the life of a book, yet the letterhead omitted her name; Alfred named the firm for himself, emblazoning his identity on all correspondence.

In 1922, the company trademarked the term Borzoi Books, along with the emblem of a Russian wolfhound. Some readers notice the phrase “This is a Borzoi Book” on copyright pages and think it refers to a special Knopf imprint, but in fact every Knopf book is a Borzoi Book, and the term was used heavily in marketing promotions throughout the company’s early yBorzois in Colorears. Alfred always attributed the choice of a borzoi colophon to Blanche, and it’s my opinion that she hoped the firm would become known as Borzoi Books so that the branding would reflect a neutral partnership, putting the spotlight on the flair of the authors, not the ego of her husband. In one of the rare advertisements that features Blanche’s name, appearing in the New York Times in 1922, she omits Alfred’s name altogether to proclaim that “my first catalog of first editions of (for the most part) younger English and American writers is now ready and will be sent on request post free. . . . A few desirable French titles are also listed. Blanche W. Knopf/The Borzoi/220 West 42nd St., New York.”

Claridge’s book left me with a tantalizing what-if. What if Blanche had used the sizable inheritance from her mother to strike out on her own? Would her firm have become the favored crown jewel, outpacing Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., in revenue, prizes, and laudatory reviews? Blanche lacked a college education, while Alfred’s first literary alliances were the result of his coursework at Columbia. Yet perhaps that was one of Blanche’s advantages: he was steeped in an old-world canon of male European authors, mirroring the priorities of the faculty, while she enthusiastically embraced modernism. Neither was she at a disadvantage in terms of professionalization. Alfred was fortunate enough to learn the ropes through apprenticeships with Frank Nelson Doubleday and Mitchell Kennerley, but Blanche soon caught up, rapidly completing her phase as Alfred’s apprentice. She easily learned the systematic details while mastering the aspects of successful publishing that can’t be taught (how to be fiercely competitive yet financially rational; how to manage talent; how to influence cultural tastes, not just react to them).

Of course, this is a decidedly twenty-first-century question; in American book publishing today, a majority of the professionals are women. Blanche Knopf would surely have excelled as a digital media magnate.

Cropped Amy ClementsAmy Clements is the author of The Art of Prestige: The Formative Years at Knopf, 1915–1929 (UMass Press, 2014) and associate professor of English at St. Edward’s University.



For a review of Clements’s book along with Claridge’s, please see the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Book Trailer for The Art of Prestige

Mentor/Mentee Relationships Embody Process

“He ate the entire apple—core, seeds, and all,” said the young man in red pants and black high tops. “I do that, too. I knew he could become my mentor.”

GathLiontas updatesered in a nook of the Johnson Library at Hampshire College, March 7, an audience of people eager to hear about writing mentorship listened as Polina Barskova, Sabina Murray, Rachel Conrad, and Jeff Parker talked about the book co-edited by Parker and novelist Annie Liontas: A Manner of Being: Writers on their Mentors.

Parker opened the conversation by sharing that the idea for this collection of more than seventy essays by writers on their mentors came from the notion that mentoring young writers is only in part about passing down wisdom and knowledge and that another part, perhaps the most important part, is apprenticeship in a certain “manner of being.”

To explain this “manner of being,” Parker shared a story from George Saunders‘s contribution. Standing at a reception, a young writer shared a personal story with Saunders that was so grueling that he wanted to run away. He observed, however, that his mentor, Douglas Unger, listened with rapt attention and obvious concern. Unger let the person have full say of the disturbing incident without interruption and then offered affirmation and support. And Saunders did what he had so often done in his apprenticeship under Unger, did his best to emulate him.

Murray elaborated on what “support” can mean. She said, “Apple guy knew he could trust his mentor because they ate apples the same way. So he could believe his mentor when he said, ‘Look, this is not an apple. This is an orange. And you need to peel an orange in order to eat it.’” A mentor, she said, sometimes needs to care enough to say—kindly—this section is not helping your story, you need to change it.

When asked if a mentor needs to be a good writer, Barskova told us about her teacher, “the bald, well-wrinkled man with the alcoholic nose and the lively eyes of a raccoon.” She knew he was a poet, she said, but he was not a particularly compelling poet. “His real gift,” she said, “was to find the gifts in others, like geologists do with their minerals—hidden in the deep dark soil.”

And that is how mentorship becomes a reciprocal relationship, the speakers agreed, each participant growing and learning from the other. Parker told us that George Saunders’s mentors “helped Saunders grow into a better version of himself, more dignified and less selfish.” In his turn, Parker hopes he too has begun to model a manner of being.

Chosen as one of the Best Books for Writers by Poets & Writers, A Manner of Being: Writers on their Mentors, edited by Annie Liontas and Jeff Parker is available from the University of Massachusetts Press.

New study credits Howe for launching “the story of autism”


“No person familiar with these cases would be likely to mistake them for idiots; they look differently, walk differently, and have different developments of body and mind.”—Samuel Woodward


In 1943, the psychiatrist Leo Kanner created the label, autism, to identify unusual behavior that he h9781558499584ad observed in some children. These behaviors included no speech or sometimes repetitive speech, the avoidance of social contact and the failure to learn social skills, and a propensity for obsessive interests. Since that time, autism has become a condition. Conditions, of course, influence labels and, in turn, labels affect conditions. In the case of autism, this process of constructing difference has created controversy. Is autism a set of nominal conditions, or is it a spectrum of the same condition? Is it increasing in the general population? If so, is the increase the result of childhood immunizations? Should behaviors associated with autism be altered and adjusted, or should autism be accepted as an alternative neurological variation? Basic to these questions is a prior question that takes us back to Leo Kanner’s 1943 label: When did autism begin?

In The Manliest Man: Samuel G. Howe and the Contours of Nineteenth-Century American Reform (2012), James Trent argues that Samuel Howe identified autism nearly a century before Kanner gave a name to the condition. He did so beginning in 1844 in conjunction with his advocacy for the first Massachusetts school for “idiots” that eventually opened in 1848. In 1844 and 1845 he also exchanged letters with Samuel Woodward, the medical superintendent of the Worcester Lunatic Asylum, which Howe expanded and published in the Boston Advertiser. In these published letters, Howe maintained that there were intellectually disabled children who were not classically “idiotic.” In a 13 February 1845 letter to Woodward, for example, Howe wrote, “I have discovered two very singular & interesting cases in this city, of children under ten years of age who have been insane, & dumb from infancy, who are now nearly unmanageable by their parents, but who I am sure, in a proper establishment, might be taught many useful things, & perhaps trained to habits of simple labor, such as would [be] profitable in several ways.” Two weeks later in the Advertiser Howe quoted Woodward, “Their movements are free, easy and graceful, many of them are sprightly, even handsome; they are generally restless, irritable and extremely mischievous, and are rarely able to speak. . .  No person familiar with these cases would be likely to mistake them for idiots; they look differently, walk differently, and have different developments of body and mind. Like other insane persons, there is difficulty in fixing the attention, they move with great rapidity from one thing to another, and are impatient of restraint. In some such persons particular faculties seem much more active than others.  One lad had never learned to read, but was observing of many things, particularly of mechanical operations, drawing, &c.”

In The Manliest Man argues, Trent contends that “although autism would be a century away from Leo Kanner’s creation of the label, Woodward’s and Howe’s descriptions of the children suggest the condition. ‘Insanity’ had almost always been associated with adults; Howe in the Advertiser, however, argued that children too can have a particular form of mental illness.”

In their article, “The Early History of Autism in America,” in the January–February 2016 edition of the Smithsonian, John Donvan and Caren Zucker note Trent’s claim and expand upon it by crediting Howe for launching “the story of autism.” They call Trent’s biography of Howe “superb” and use it in their forthcoming book, In a Different Key: The Story of Autism to identify Howe’s place in the earliest history of the condition. As Trent asserts in The Manliest Man, Howe’s primacy in the American development of services for the blind and intellectually disabled now expands to his importance in our understanding of autism.

The Manliest Man: Samuel G. Howe and the Contours of Nineteenth-Century American Reform by James Trent is available for purchase at https://www.umass.edu/umpress/title/manliest-man

Reason Connects Pope Francis, Jonathan Edwards, and Climate Change

“The reason why almost all people, even those that seem very miserable, love life is because they cannot bear to lose sight of such a beautiful and lovely world.”—Jonathan Edwards


Background of green fern leaves

In his climate Encyclical Pope Francis points to the looming possibility of environmental collapse. Our environment is in crisis, says Francis, because we have lost our conviction that the earth belongs to us all and to God rather than to those who act as though the earth belongs to them. We have lost our sense of the common good.

We have instead, says Francis, a culture of selfness—of self-centeredness, instant gratification, and rampant individualism. We have a cult of unlimited progress, competition and consumerism.

We need an ecological approach, the pope urges a sense that we are ecological citizens who have responsibilities to others. We need to make a new commitment to the common good rather than to our own individual interests.

Jonathan Edwards lived, preached and wrote three centuries before Pope Francis, and many generations before there was any sense of the ecosystem at risk. Before 1950 Pope Francis’s encyclical could not even have been imagined, let alone written. The science was not there, or the crescendo of environmental disasters, or the vocabulary of ecology. What could Jonathan Edwards possibly say to us that would matter?

Actually, quite a lot. For starters, Edwards was one of the great preachers of his or any time on the wonder, beauty, and significance of the natural world.

He was an avid student of nature. He observed how woodland spiders “fly” by floating through the air as they change the length of their filament, and how you can see their webs from a distance if the sun is behind them–an effect he understood from reading Isaac Newton. He studied rainbows, why bubbles burst, why lightning bolts zigzag, why sunlight is warmer at sea level, how light shifts during an eclipse. He urged people to study the Bible, but he also urged them to study the “Book of Nature.”

Above all, Edwards found in nature what he called “images or shadows of Things Divine.” The whole of nature was an image, shadow, or type of God. The “immense magnificence of the visible world,” he wrote, “its inconceivable vastness, the incomprehensible height of the heavens,” was a representation of the “infinite magnificence, height and glory of God’s work in the spiritual world; the most incomprehensible ex
pression of his power, wisdom, holiness and love, in what he has wrought and brought to pass.” To see nature was to see the Divine.

Would the prospect of climate change alarm Edwards? How could it not? Rising seas, the devastation of the land, nightmarish weather all pose a threat to the wonder and beauty of nature that he held dear, and, just as important, to our ability to glimpse God and the divine through nature.

Separated by three centuries and different creeds, Jonathan Edwards and Pope Francis do not use quite the same language or concepts or assume the same intellectual or spiritual tools or address identical problems. Yet they have much in common.

For both Edwards and Francis, all human beings are children of God and therefore brothers and sisters and hold the earth in common on behalf of its true owner, God.

Both urge us to remember the plight of the poor and do what we can to assist them, and to seek the common good rather than private interests.

Both believe the world is and must remain a place of beauty and renewal and spiritual discernment.

Both distrust mere economic or technological responses to the problems of human society. For both, complete economic freedom should be restrained, if necessary by governments.

Both are willing to speak truth to powerful interests. This, at least in part, cost Edwards his job. We do not yet know what it will cost Francis.

For both, reason and science are indispensable to understanding humanity and its troubles. For Edwards, reason is what separates us from beasts. The pope’s encyclical is crammed with climate science. Reason, for both Edwards and Francis, is a vital common trait of humanity, whether Christian or non-Christian, believers or non-believers.  We need reason to help us transcend our differences, and to facilitate shared understanding and action.

For both men, faith and grace also matter. Faith and grace offer a time-tested means to transcend the sin of self and foster affection for God and God’s world and the people and creatures God has created. Politics and reason matter. But in the end what matter most are values. The crisis of the environment is a crisis of values. In this sense, what matters most in the end for Edwards and Francis is the Gospel of Love: to love God and God’s creation with all our hearts, and to love others as ourselves.

Ron Story is the author of Jonathan Edwards and the Gospel of Love and co-editor with 9781625341518Gerald McDermott of The Other Jonathan Edwards: Selected Writings on Society, Love, and Justice