14 Books Published by Harvard University Press on Our Site — Book Cover Mosaic

Click for more detail about The Origin of Others by Toni Morrison The Origin of Others

by Toni Morrison
Harvard University Press (Sep 18, 2017)
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America’s foremost novelist reflects on the themes that preoccupy her work and increasingly dominate national and world politics: race, fear, borders, the mass movement of peoples, the desire for belonging. What is race and why does it matter? What motivates the human tendency to construct Others? Why does the presence of Others make us so afraid?

Drawing on her Norton Lectures, Toni Morrison takes up these and other vital questions bearing on identity in The Origin of Others. In her search for answers, the novelist considers her own memories as well as history, politics, and especially literature. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Camara Laye are among the authors she examines. Readers of Morrison’s fiction will welcome her discussions of some of her most celebrated books—Beloved, Paradise, and A Mercy.

If we learn racism by example, then literature plays an important part in the history of race in America, both negatively and positively. Morrison writes about nineteenth-century literary efforts to romance slavery, contrasting them with the scientific racism of Samuel Cartwright and the banal diaries of the plantation overseer and slaveholder Thomas Thistlewood. She looks at configurations of blackness, notions of racial purity, and the ways in which literature employs skin color to reveal character or drive narrative. Expanding the scope of her concern, she also addresses globalization and the mass movement of peoples in this century. National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates provides a foreword to Morrison’s most personal work of nonfiction to date.

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Click for more detail about As If: Idealization and Ideals by Kwame Anthony Appiah As If: Idealization and Ideals

by Kwame Anthony Appiah
Harvard University Press (Aug 14, 2017)
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Idealization is a fundamental feature of human thought. We build simplified models in our scientific research and utopias in our political imaginations. Concepts like belief, desire, reason, and justice are bound up with idealizations and ideals. Life is a constant adjustment between the models we make and the realities we encounter. In idealizing, we proceed “as if” our representations were true, while knowing they are not. This is not a dangerous or distracting occupation, Kwame Anthony Appiah shows. Our best chance of understanding nature, society, and ourselves is to open our minds to a plurality of imperfect depictions that together allow us to manage and interpret our world.The philosopher Hans Vaihinger first delineated the “as if” impulse at the turn of the twentieth century, drawing on Kant, who argued that rational agency required us to act as if we were free. Appiah extends this strategy to examples across philosophy and the human and natural sciences. In a broad range of activities, we have some notion of the truth yet continue with theories that we recognize are, strictly speaking, false. From this vantage point, Appiah demonstrates that a picture one knows to be unreal can be a vehicle for accessing reality.As If explores how strategic untruth plays a critical role in far-flung areas of inquiry: decision theory, psychology, natural science, and political philosophy. A polymath who writes with mainstream clarity, Appiah defends the centrality of the imagination not just in the arts but in science, morality, and everyday life.

Click for more detail about Seven Modes of Uncertainty by Namwali Serpell Seven Modes of Uncertainty

by Namwali Serpell
Harvard University Press (Apr 30, 2014)
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Literature is rife with uncertainty. Literature is good for us. These two ideas about reading literature are often taken for granted. But what is the relationship between literature’s capacity to unsettle, perplex, and bewilder us, and literature’s ethical value? To revive this question, C. Namwali Serpell proposes a return to William Empson’s groundbreaking work, Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930), which contends that literary uncertainty is crucial to ethics because it pushes us beyond the limits of our own experience.Taking as case studies experimental novels by Thomas Pynchon, Toni Morrison, Bret Easton Ellis, Ian McEwan, Elliot Perlman, Tom McCarthy, and Jonathan Safran Foer, Serpell suggests that literary uncertainty emerges from the reader’s shifting responses to structures of conflicting information. A number of these novels employ a structure of mutual exclusion, which presents opposed explanations for the same events. Some use a structure of multiplicity, which presents different perspectives regarding events or characters. The structure of repetition in other texts destabilizes the continuity of events and frustrates our ability to follow the story.To explain how these structures produce uncertainty, Serpell borrows from cognitive psychology the concept of affordance, which describes an object’s or environment’s potential uses. Moving through these narrative structures affords various ongoing modes of uncertainty, which in turn afford ethical experiences both positive and negative. At the crossroads of recent critical turns to literary form, reading practices, and ethics, Seven Modes of Uncertainty offers a new phenomenology of how we read uncertainty now.

Click for more detail about Lines of Descent: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Emergence of Identity (The W. E. B. Du Bois Lectures) by Kwame Anthony Appiah Lines of Descent: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Emergence of Identity (The W. E. B. Du Bois Lectures)

by Kwame Anthony Appiah
Harvard University Press (Feb 27, 2014)
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W. E. B. Du Bois never felt so at home as when he was a student at the University of Berlin. But Du Bois was also American to his core, scarred but not crippled by the racial humiliations of his homeland. In Lines of Descent, Kwame Anthony Appiah traces the twin lineages of Du Bois’ American experience and German apprenticeship, showing how they shaped the great African-American scholar’s ideas of race and social identity.At Harvard, Du Bois studied with such luminaries as William James and George Santayana, scholars whose contributions were largely intellectual. But arriving in Berlin in 1892, Du Bois came under the tutelage of academics who were also public men. The economist Adolf Wagner had been an advisor to Otto von Bismarck. Heinrich von Treitschke, the historian, served in the Reichstag, and the economist Gustav von Schmoller was a member of the Prussian state council. These scholars united the rigorous study of history with political activism and represented a model of real-world engagement that would strongly influence Du Bois in the years to come.With its romantic notions of human brotherhood and self-realization, German culture held a potent allure for Du Bois. Germany, he said, was the first place white people had treated him as an equal. But the prevalence of anti-Semitism allowed Du Bois no illusions that the Kaiserreich was free of racism. His challenge, says Appiah, was to take the best of German intellectual life without its parochialism—to steal the fire without getting burned.

Click for more detail about The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America by Khalil G. Muhammad The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America

by Khalil G. Muhammad
Harvard University Press (Nov 30, 2011)
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At the turn of the 20th century, reformers and social scientists argued that high rates of crime and violence among white European immigrants could be explained by poverty, discrimination and social upheaval. Improve social conditions, they said, and immigrants would be like the native-born. But the same argument didn't apply when it came to African Americans. Liberals and conservatives alike accepted that high crime rates for blacks were evidence of racial inferiority.

In his new book The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Urban America, Khalil Gibran Muhammad, an assistant professor of history at Indiana University, tells "an unsettling coming-of-age story" about the idea of black criminality in modern America.

The conflation of crime and race takes hold in the post-Reconstruction period, he writes, when "Southerners used crime to justify disfranchisement, lynching and Jim Crow segregation; Northerners used it to justify municipal neglect, joblessness, and residential segregation."

The Condemnation of Blackness, published by Harvard University Press, shows how social scientists refashioned blackness through newly available crime data. In the words of historian David Levering Lewis, the book "disrupts one of the nation's most insidious, convenient and resilient explanatory loops: whites commit crimes, but black males are criminals."

At the heart of the initial story is the 1890 census, the first to describe the generation of African Americans born after the Civil War. Among its findings: blacks made up 30 percent of U.S. prisoners but only 12 percent of the overall population. Coming at a time of "race fatigue," with slavery abolished and the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution supposedly having extended civil rights to blacks, the data were presented as proof that America's "Negro Problem" was intractable. The age of Jim Crow segregation was just beginning.

"Even Northern liberals saw it as a reflection not of racism but of black people's bad behavior. They believed that African Americans hadn't developed 'internal controls' or recognized that freedom comes with responsibility," Muhammad said. "This is striking because, it's at the exact moment when the opposite argument was being made for European immigrants -- that they need to be helped, to be Americanized, and it needs to happen now." Northern social workers set about to save the "great army of unfortunates," but left blacks alone to "work out their own salvation."

The linking of race and crime rested heavily on the work of certain influential scholars. Harvard professor Nathaniel Shaler wrote that blacks "are a danger to America greater and more insuperable than any of those that menace the other great civilized states of the world." Statistician Frederick Hoffman's Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro, published in 1896, "combined crime statistics with a well-crafted white supremacist narrative to shape the reading of black criminality while trying to minimize the appearance of doing so," Muhammad writes.

At the same time, African Americans such as the social scientist W.E.B. Du Bois and the reformer Ida B. Wells documented racism and discrimination but remained outside the mainstream.

The story changes as the decades pass. The Great Migration, starting around 1910, brought a half million blacks from the South to the cities of the Northeast and Midwest. Race riots struck more than 20 cities, sometimes with police aiding white mobs who attacked blacks. Evidence accumulated that, in the North as in the South, American justice wasn't colorblind -- and a new generation of black and white social scientists concluded that crime statistics were not a reliable measure of criminal activity because racism was unaccounted for.

The book ends on the eve of World War II, but the story goes on. Muhammad points out that "the link between race and crime is as enduring and influential in the 21st century as it has been in the past," with blacks accounting for nearly half of the more than two million Americans now behind bars. He argues that numbers don't "speak for themselves," however, and that the flaws in how race and crime data were used in the past should make us cautious about how we use them today.

"The invisible layers of racial ideology packed into the statistics, sociological theories, and the everyday stories we continue to tell about crime in modern urban America are a legacy of the past," he writes. "The choice about which narratives we attach to the data in the future, however, is ours to make."

Click for more detail about Freedom Struggles: African Americans and World War I by Freedom Struggles: African Americans and World War I

Harvard University Press (Sep 30, 2011)
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For many of the 200,000 black soldiers sent to Europe with the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, encounters with French civilians and colonial African troops led them to imagine a world beyond Jim Crow. They returned home to join activists working to make that world real. In narrating the efforts of African American soldiers and activists to gain full citizenship rights as recompense for military service, Adriane Lentz-Smith illuminates how World War I mobilized a generation.Black and white soldiers clashed as much with one another as they did with external enemies. Race wars within the military and riots across the United States demonstrated the lengths to which white Americans would go to protect a carefully constructed caste system. Inspired by Woodrow Wilson’s rhetoric of self-determination but battered by the harsh realities of segregation, African Americans fought their own “war for democracy,” from the rebellions of black draftees in French and American ports to the mutiny of Army Regulars in Houston, and from the lonely stances of stubborn individuals to organized national campaigns. African Americans abroad and at home reworked notions of nation and belonging, empire and diaspora, manhood and citizenship. By war’s end, they ceased trying to earn equal rights and resolved to demand them.This beautifully written book reclaims World War I as a critical moment in the freedom struggle and places African Americans at the crossroads of social, military, and international history.

Click for more detail about A Level Playing Field: African American Athletes and the Republic of Sports by Gerald L. Early A Level Playing Field: African American Athletes and the Republic of Sports

by Gerald L. Early
Harvard University Press (Apr 29, 2011)
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As Americans, we believe there ought to be a level playing field for everyone. Even if we don’t expect to finish first, we do expect a fair start. Only in sports have African Americans actually found that elusive level ground. But at the same time, black players offer an ironic perspective on the athlete-hero, for they represent a group historically held to be without social honor.In his first new collection of sports essays since Tuxedo Junction (1989), the noted cultural critic Gerald Early investigates these contradictions as they play out in the sports world and in our deeper attitudes toward the athletes we glorify. Early addresses a half-century of heated cultural issues ranging from integration to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Writing about Jackie Robinson and Curt Flood, he reconstructs pivotal moments in their lives and explains how the culture, politics, and economics of sport turned with them. Taking on the subtexts, racial and otherwise, of the controversy over remarks Rush Limbaugh made about quarterback Donovan McNabb, Early restores the political consequence to an event most commentators at the time approached with predictable bluster. The essays in this book circle around two perennial questions: What other, invisible contests unfold when we watch a sporting event? What desires and anxieties are encoded in our worship of (or disdain for) high-performance athletes?These essays are based on the Alain Locke lectures at Harvard University’s Du Bois Institute.

Click for more detail about The Condemnation Of Blackness: Race, Crime, And The Making Of Modern Urban America by Khalil G. Muhammad The Condemnation Of Blackness: Race, Crime, And The Making Of Modern Urban America

by Khalil G. Muhammad
Harvard University Press (Feb 15, 2010)
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Lynch mobs, chain gangs, and popular views of black southern criminals that defined the Jim Crow South are well known. We know less about the role of the urban North in shaping views of race and crime in American society. Following the 1890 census, the first to measure the generation of African Americans born after slavery, crime statistics, new migration and immigration trends, and symbolic references to America as the promised land of opportunity were woven into a cautionary tale about the exceptional threat black people posed to modern urban society. Excessive arrest rates and overrepresentation in northern prisons were seen by many whites—liberals and conservatives, northerners and southerners—as indisputable proof of blacks’ inferiority. In the heyday of “separate but equal,” what else but pathology could explain black failure in the “land of opportunity”? The idea of black criminality was crucial to the making of modern urban America, as were African Americans’ own ideas about race and crime. Chronicling the emergence of deeply embedded notions of black people as a dangerous race of criminals by explicit contrast to working-class whites and European immigrants, this fascinating book reveals the influence such ideas have had on urban development and social policies.

Click for more detail about Big Enough To Be Inconsistent: Abraham Lincoln Confronts Slavery And Race (The W. E. B. Du Bois Lectures) by George M. Fredrickson Big Enough To Be Inconsistent: Abraham Lincoln Confronts Slavery And Race (The W. E. B. Du Bois Lectures)

by George M. Fredrickson
Harvard University Press (Feb 28, 2008)
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“Cruel, merciful; peace-loving, a fighter; despising Negroes and letting them fight and vote; protecting slavery and freeing slaves.” Abraham Lincoln was, W. E. B. Du Bois declared, “big enough to be inconsistent.” Big enough, indeed, for every generation to have its own Lincoln—unifier or emancipator, egalitarian or racist. In an effort to reconcile these views, and to offer a more complex and nuanced account of a figure so central to American history, this book focuses on the most controversial aspect of Lincoln’s thought and politics—his attitudes and actions regarding slavery and race. Drawing attention to the limitations of Lincoln’s judgment and policies without denying his magnitude, the book provides the most comprehensive and even-handed account available of Lincoln’s contradictory treatment of black Americans in matters of slavery in the South and basic civil rights in the North. George Fredrickson shows how Lincoln’s antislavery convictions, however genuine and strong, were held in check by an equally strong commitment to the rights of the states and the limitations of federal power. He explores how Lincoln’s beliefs about racial equality in civil rights, stirred and strengthened by the African American contribution to the northern war effort, were countered by his conservative constitutional philosophy, which left this matter to the states. The Lincoln who emerges from these pages is far more comprehensible and credible in his inconsistencies, and in the abiding beliefs and evolving principles from which they arose. Deeply principled but nonetheless flawed, all-too-human yet undeniably heroic, he is a Lincoln for all generations.

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Click for more detail about Experiments in Ethics (Flexner Lectures) by Kwame Anthony Appiah Experiments in Ethics (Flexner Lectures)

by Kwame Anthony Appiah
Harvard University Press (Jan 15, 2008)
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In the past few decades, scientists of human nature—including experimental and cognitive psychologists, neuroscientists, evolutionary theorists, and behavioral economists—have explored the way we arrive at moral judgments. They have called into question commonplaces about character and offered troubling explanations for various moral intuitions. Research like this may help explain what, in fact, we do and feel. But can it tell us what we ought to do or feel? In Experiments in Ethics, the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah explores how the new empirical moral psychology relates to the age-old project of philosophical ethics. Some moral theorists hold that the realm of morality must be autonomous of the sciences; others maintain that science undermines the authority of moral reasons. Appiah elaborates a vision of naturalism that resists both temptations. He traces an intellectual genealogy of the burgeoning discipline of "experimental philosophy," provides a balanced, lucid account of the work being done in this controversial and increasingly influential field, and offers a fresh way of thinking about ethics in the classical tradition. Appiah urges that the relation between empirical research and morality, now so often antagonistic, should be seen in terms of dialogue, not contest. And he shows how experimental philosophy, far from being something new, is actually as old as philosophy itself. Beyond illuminating debates about the connection between psychology and ethics, intuition and theory, his book helps us to rethink the very nature of the philosophical enterprise.

Click for more detail about Stagolee Shot Billy by Cecil Brown Stagolee Shot Billy

by Cecil Brown
Harvard University Press (May 22, 2003)
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Although his story has been told countless times—by performers from Ma Rainey, Cab Calloway, and the Isley Brothers to Ike and Tina Turner, James Brown, and Taj Mahal—no one seems to know who Stagolee really is. Stack Lee? Stagger Lee? He has gone by all these names in the ballad that has kept his exploits before us for over a century. Delving into a subculture of St. Louis known as "Deep Morgan," Cecil Brown emerges with the facts behind the legend to unfold the mystery of Stack Lee and the incident that led to murder in 1895. How the legend grew is a story in itself, and Brown tracks it through variants of the song "Stack Lee"—from early ragtime versions of the ’20s, to Mississippi John Hurt’s rendition in the ’30s, to John Lomax’s 1940s prison versions, to interpretations by Lloyd Price, James Brown, and Wilson Pickett, right up to the hip-hop renderings of the ’90s. Drawing upon the works of James Baldwin, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison, Brown describes the powerful influence of a legend bigger than literature, one whose transformation reflects changing views of black musical forms, and African Americans’ altered attitudes toward black male identity, gender, and police brutality. This book takes you to the heart of America, into the soul and circumstances of a legend that has conveyed a painful and elusive truth about our culture.

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Click for more detail about Stories of Freedom in Black New York by Shane White Stories of Freedom in Black New York

by Shane White
Harvard University Press (Nov 29, 2002)
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Through exhaustive research, White imaginatively re-creates the experience of black New Yorkers as they moved from slavery to freedom. He recovers the raucous world of the street, the elegance of the city’s African-American balls, and the grubbiness of the Police Office. This book offers a unique understanding of emancipation’s impact on everyday life, and on the many forms freedom can take.

Click for more detail about Liberating Voices: Oral Tradition In African American Literature by Gayl Jones Liberating Voices: Oral Tradition In African American Literature

by Gayl Jones
Harvard University Press (May 01, 1991)
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The powerful novelist here turns penetrating critic, giving us—in lively style—both trenchant literary analysis and fresh insight on the art of writing. “When African American writers began to trust the literary possibilities of their own verbal and musical creations,” writes Gayl Jones, they began to transform the European and European American models, and to gain greater artistic sovereignty.” The vitality of African American literature derives from its incorporation of traditional oral forms: folktales, riddles, idiom, jazz rhythms, spirituals, and blues. Jones traces the development of this literature as African American writers, celebrating their oral heritage, developed distinctive literary forms. The twentieth century saw a new confidence and deliberateness in African American work: the move from surface use of dialect to articulation of a genuine black voice; the move from blacks portrayed for a white audience to characterization relieved of the need to justify. Innovative writing—such as Charles Waddell Chesnutt’s depiction of black folk culture, Langston Hughes’s poetic use of blues, and Amiri Baraka’s recreation of the short story as a jazz piece—redefined Western literary tradition. For Jones, literary technique is never far removed from its social and political implications. She documents how literary form is inherently and intensely national, and shows how the European monopoly on acceptable forms for literary art stifled American writers both black and white. Jones is especially eloquent in describing the dilemma of the African American writers: to write from their roots yet retain a universal voice; to merge the power and fluidity of oral tradition with the structure needed for written presentation. With this work Gayl Jones has added a new dimension to African American literary history.

Click for more detail about Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market by Walter Johnson Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market

by Walter Johnson
Harvard University Press (Jun 21, 1905)
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Soul by Soul tells the story of slavery in antebellum America by moving away from the cotton plantations and into the slave market itself, the heart of the domestic slave trade. Taking us inside the New Orleans slave market, the largest in the nation, where 100,000 men, women, and children were packaged, priced, and sold, Walter Johnson transforms the statistics of this chilling trade into the human drama of traders, buyers, and slaves, negotiating sales that would alter the life of each. What emerges is not only the brutal economics of trading but the vast and surprising interdependencies among the actors involved. Using recently discovered court records, slaveholders’ letters, nineteenth-century narratives of former slaves, and the financial documentation of the trade itself, Johnson reveals the tenuous shifts of power that occurred in the market’s slave coffles and showrooms. Traders packaged their slaves by “feeding them up,” dressing them well, and oiling their bodies, but they ultimately relied on the slaves to play their part as valuable commodities. Slave buyers stripped the slaves and questioned their pasts, seeking more honest answers than they could get from the traders. In turn, these examinations provided information that the slaves could utilize, sometimes even shaping a sale to their own advantage. Johnson depicts the subtle interrelation of capitalism, paternalism, class consciousness, racism, and resistance in the slave market, to help us understand the centrality of the “peculiar institution“ in the lives of slaves and slaveholders alike. His pioneering history is in no small measure the story of antebellum slavery.

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