I’m not a particularly political person, nor do I wear my political, ethical, moral or spiritual commitments on my sleeve. In general, my scholarship and teaching tends toward the mundane and I’m about the last person you’d consider inviting to your webinar on social justice issues in archaeology or history or Classics or to pen an open letter on some matter of ethical concern.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that I don’t care or that I don’t see issues such as racism, xenophobia, economic and environmental justice, and the disturbing rise of the populist right as matters of pressing and immediate concern. At the same time, I’ll admit that I’ve struggled to find my voice in current debates and despite an effort to remain engaged in both the popular and scholarly conversations, I’ve found myself unsettled by the constant refiguring of national conversations and the significant nuances associated with political speech.
What I do try to do, however, is support others who have found their voice in contemporary debates and to do what I can to amplify their messages and to promote thoughtful engagement with issues.
Along those lines, I’d like to highlight three books from my press, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, that speak to contemporary issues with an eloquence, creativity, and thoughtfulness that goes well beyond what I could do.
First, the events in the NBA and across professional sports last night moved me deeply. I’ve consistently admired the current group of athlete’s commitment to justice and activism. I learned a good bit about the complex history of activism in sports by reading Eric Burin’s edited volume, Protesting on Bended Knee: Race, Dissent, and Patriotism in 21st century America. As any number of voices in the national media have acknowledged, Burin’s reading of the Kaepernick protests is not only careful, but wise. The voices that he brought together in his volume bring nuance and perspective to the debate as well. Racism, policies that support mass incarceration and police violence, diverse readings of patriotism, and the pain of seething, generational anger motive both protests and our national response to them. Check out Protesting on Bended Knee.
Second, as if anticipating the protest by NBA players, a group of community leaders, scholars, and politicians gathered on the capital grounds in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to dedicated the Commonwealth Memorial. This monument, titled “A Gathering at the Crossroads” commemorated the 150th anniversary of the 15th amendment, which gave African-American men the right to vote, and the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote. The monument featured a list of 100 activists who shaped the African American community in Harrisburg and promoted justice, equality, and political and social advancement. Read some of the media coverage here, here, and here.
Earlier this summer, The Digital Press published a companion to this monument which tells the stories of the 100 names that it commemorates and the community in which they lived and worked. The book is titled One Hundred Voices: Harrisburg’s Historic African American Community, 1850-1920 and like all of our titles it can be downloaded for free here.
Finally, amid protests, hurricanes, and COVID, both political parties are gearing up for the 2020 election. While political change is only part of the answer. There is no doubt that the current political institutions complicate and often obstruct efforts to resolve long-standing problems in American society.
Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College, unpacks the Electoral College from multiple political, historical, and philosophical perspectives to show how our system makes some change more possible than others. It doesn’t propose a simple or equitable solution, but by complicating the picture, we can understand how and why the system works the way that it does.