Many of us are sharing the universal reality that involves being affected, on some level, by COVID-19 and the measures put in place to mitigate its spread. We have seen across social media and our own networks different book lists springing up for those who turn to books, or want to turn to them, during this time as a means of turning inward, outward, and everything in between.
With this in mind, we have assembled some more recent publications from faculty within the American Studies department here at UNC. By no means is this an exhaustive list of the incredible work that our faculty have collectively produced throughout their careers and for this reason we recommend you head over to our faculty page to explore everyone’s research interests and accolades. But with this list, we have a feeling there is likely something for every reader from topics such as foodways if perhaps you turn to baking for connection and comfort, to delving into understanding the multiple and intersecting cultures and histories that constitute America. We hope a book here catches your interest or inspires you in some way.
Gabrielle Berlinger, Framing Sukkot: Tradition and Transformation in Jewish Vernacular Architecture (Indiana University Press, 2017)
The sukkah, the symbolic ritual home built during the annual Jewish holiday of Sukkot, commemorates the temporary structures that sheltered the Israelites as they journeyed across the desert after the exodus from Egypt. Despite the simple Biblical prescription for its design, the remarkable variety of creative expression in the construction, decoration, and use of the sukkah, in both times of peace and national upheaval, reveals the cultural traditions, political convictions, philosophical ideals, and individual aspirations that the sukkah communicates for its builders and users today.
In this ethnography of contemporary Sukkot observance, Gabrielle Anna Berlinger examines the powerful role of ritual and vernacular architecture in the formation of self and society in three sharply contrasting Jewish communities: Bloomington, Indiana; South Tel Aviv, Israel; and Brooklyn, New York. Through vivid description and in-depth interviews, she demonstrates how constructing and decorating the sukkah and performing the weeklong holiday’s rituals of hospitality provide unique circumstances for creative expression, social interaction, and political struggle. Through an exploration of the intersections between the rituals of Sukkot and contemporary issues, such as the global Occupy movement, Berlinger finds that the sukkah becomes a tangible expression of the need for housing and economic justice, as well as a symbol of the longing for home.
Elizabeth Engelhardt, The Food We Eat, The Stories We Tell: Contemporary Appalachian Tables (Ohio University Press, 2019)
Blue Ridge tacos, kimchi with soup beans and cornbread, family stories hiding in cookbook marginalia, African American mountain gardens—this wide-ranging anthology considers all these and more. Diverse contributors show us that contemporary Appalachian tables and the stories they hold offer new ways into understanding past, present, and future American food practices. The poets, scholars, fiction writers, journalists, and food professionals in these pages show us that what we eat gives a beautifully full picture of Appalachia, where it’s been, and where it’s going.
Contributors: Courtney Balestier, Jessie Blackburn, Karida L. Brown, Danille Elise Christensen, Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle, Michael Croley, Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt, Robert Gipe, Suronda Gonzalez, Emily Hilliard, Rebecca Gayle Howell, Abigail Huggins, Erica Abrams Locklear, Ronni Lundy, George Ella Lyon, Jeff Mann, Daniel S. Margolies, William Schumann, Lora E. Smith, Emily Wallace, Crystal Wilkinson
Bernard Herman, The South You Never Ate: Savoring Flavors and Stories from the Eastern Shore of Virginia (University of North Carolina Press, 2019)
Nestled between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, and stretching from Hampton Roads to Assateague Island, Virginia’s Eastern Shore is a distinctly southern place with an exceptionally southern taste. In this inviting narrative, Bernard L. Herman welcomes readers into the communities, stories, and flavors that season a land where the distance from tide to tide is often less than five miles. Blending personal observation, history, memories of harvests and feasts, and recipes, Herman tells of life along the Eastern Shore through the eyes of its growers, watermen, oyster and clam farmers, foragers, church cooks, restaurant owners, and everyday residents.
Four centuries of encounter, imagination, and invention continue to shape the foodways of the Eastern Shore of Virginia, melding influences from Indigenous peoples, European migrants, enslaved and free West Africans, and more recent newcomers. Herman reveals how local ingredients and the cooks who have prepared them for the table have developed a distinctly American terroir–the flavors of a place experienced through its culinary and storytelling traditions. This terroir flourishes even as it confronts challenges from climate change, declining fish populations, and farming monoculture. Herman reveals this resilience through the recipes and celebrations that hold meaning, not just for those who live there but for all those folks who sit at their tables–and other tables near and far.
Seth Kotch, Lethal State: A History of the Death Penalty in North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press, 2019)
For years, American states have tinkered with the machinery of death, seeking to align capital punishment with evolving social standards and public will. Against this backdrop, North Carolina had long stood out as a prolific executioner with harsh mandatory sentencing statutes. But as the state sought to remake its image as modern and business-progressive in the early twentieth century, the question of execution preoccupied lawmakers, reformers, and state boosters alike.
In this book, Seth Kotch recounts the history of the death penalty in North Carolina from its colonial origins to the present. He tracks the attempts to reform and sanitize the administration of death in a state as dedicated to its image as it was to rigid racial hierarchies. Through this lens, Lethal State helps explain not only Americans’ deep and growing uncertainty about the death penalty but also their commitment to it.
Kotch argues that Jim Crow justice continued to reign in the guise of a modernizing, orderly state and offers essential insight into the relationship between race, violence, and power in North Carolina. The history of capital punishment in North Carolina, as in other states wrestling with similar issues, emerges as one of state-building through lethal punishment.
Keith Richotte, Jr., Federal Indian Law and Policy: An Introduction (West Academic Publishing, 2020)
Federal Indian Law and Policy: An Introduction is designed to help students, instructors, and others without a legal background to learn and teach about the legal landscape that shapes Native America. Covering both the historical foundations that continue to inform the present as well as hot button issues facing Native America today, each of the thirty chapters is a concise, readable synopsis of an aspect of this dynamic, ever evolving field of law. Anyone interested in any aspect of Native America, regardless of their familiarity with the law, will find their own studies, classes, and knowledge enhanced by this text.
Michelle Robinson, Dreams for Dead Bodies: Blackness, Labor, and the Corpus of American Detective Fiction (University of Michigan Press, 2016)
Dreams for Dead Bodies: Blackness, Labor, and the Corpus of American Detective Fiction offers new arguments about the origins of detective fiction in the United States, tracing the lineage of the genre back to unexpected texts and uncovering how authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Pauline Hopkins, and Rudolph Fisher made use of the genre’s puzzle-elements to explore the shifting dynamics of race and labor in America.
The author constructs an interracial genealogy of detective fiction to create a nuanced picture of the ways that black and white authors appropriated and cultivated literary conventions that coalesced in a recognizable genre at the turn of the twentieth century. These authors tinkered with detective fiction’s puzzle-elements to address a variety of historical contexts, including the exigencies of chattel slavery, the erosion of working-class solidarities by racial and ethnic competition, and accelerated mass production. Dreams for Dead Bodies demonstrates that nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American literature was broadly engaged with detective fiction, and that authors rehearsed and refined its formal elements in literary works typically relegated to the margins of the genre. By looking at these margins, the book argues, we can better understand the origins and cultural functions of American detective fiction.
Jenny Tone-Pah-Hote, Crafting an Indigenous Nation: Kiowa Expressive Culture in the Progressive Era (University of North Carolina Press, 2018)
In this in-depth interdisciplinary study, Jenny Tone-Pah-Hote reveals how Kiowa people drew on the tribe’s rich history of expressive culture to assert its identity at a time of profound challenge. Examining traditional forms such as beadwork, metalwork, painting, and dance, Tone-Pah-Hote argues that their creation and exchange were as significant to the expression of Indigenous identity and sovereignty as formal political engagement and policymaking. These cultural forms, she argues, were sites of contestation as well as affirmation, as Kiowa people used them to confront external pressures, express national identity, and wrestle with changing gender roles and representations.
Combatting a tendency to view Indigenous cultural production primarily in terms of resistance to settler-colonialism, Tone-Pah-Hote expands existing work on Kiowa culture by focusing on acts of creation and material objects that mattered as much for the nation’s internal and familial relationships as for relations with those outside the tribe. In the end, she finds that during a time of political struggle and cultural dislocation at the turn of the twentieth century, the community’s performative and expressive acts had much to do with the persistence, survival, and adaptation of the Kiowa nation.
Sharon Holland, The Erotic Life of Racism (Duke University Press, 2012)
A major intervention in the fields of critical race theory, black feminism, and queer theory, The Erotic Life of Racism contends that theoretical and political analyses of race have largely failed to understand and describe the profound ordinariness of racism and the ways that it operates as a quotidian practice. If racism has an everyday life, how does it remain so powerful and yet mask its very presence? To answer this question, Sharon Patricia Holland moves into the territory of the erotic, understanding racism’s practice as constitutive to the practice of racial being and erotic choice.
Reemphasizing the black/white binary, Holland reinvigorates critical engagement with race and racism. She argues that only by bringing critical race theory, queer theory, and black feminist thought into conversation with each other can we fully envision the relationship between racism and the personal and political dimensions of our desire. The Erotic Life of Racism provocatively redirects our attention to a desire no longer independent of racism but rather embedded within it.
Marcie Cohen Ferris, The Edible South (University of North Carolina Press, 2016)
In The Edible South, Marcie Cohen Ferris presents food as a new way to chronicle the American South’s larger history. Ferris tells a richly illustrated story of southern food and the struggles of whites, blacks, Native Americans, and other people of the region to control the nourishment of their bodies and minds, livelihoods, lands, and citizenship. The experience of food serves as an evocative lens onto colonial settlements and antebellum plantations, New South cities and civil rights-era lunch counters, chronic hunger and agricultural reform, counterculture communes and iconic restaurants as Ferris reveals how food–as cuisine and as commodity–has expressed and shaped southern identity to the present day.
The region in which European settlers were greeted with unimaginable natural abundance was simultaneously the place where enslaved Africans vigilantly preserved cultural memory in cuisine and Native Americans held tight to kinship and food traditions despite mass expulsions. Southern food, Ferris argues, is intimately connected to the politics of power. The contradiction between the realities of fulsomeness and deprivation, privilege and poverty, in southern history resonates in the region’s food traditions, both beloved and maligned.
Daniel Cobb, Say We Are Nations: Documents of Politics and Protest in Indigenous America since 1887 (University of North Carolina Press, 2015)
In this wide-ranging and carefully curated anthology, Daniel M. Cobb presents the words of Indigenous people who have shaped Native American rights movements from the late nineteenth century through the present day. Presenting essays, letters, interviews, speeches, government documents, and other testimony, Cobb shows how tribal leaders, intellectuals, and activists deployed a variety of protest methods over more than a century to demand Indigenous sovereignty. As these documents show, Native peoples have adopted a wide range of strategies in this struggle, invoking “American” and global democratic ideas about citizenship, freedom, justice, consent of the governed, representation, and personal and civil liberties while investing them with indigenized meanings.
The more than fifty documents gathered here are organized chronologically and thematically for ease in classroom and research use. They address the aspirations of Indigenous nations and individuals within Canada, Hawaii, and Alaska as well as the continental United States, placing their activism in both national and international contexts. The collection’s topical breadth, analytical framework, and emphasis on unpublished materials offer students and scholars new sources with which to engage and explore American Indian thought and political action.
We hope this has provided a meaningful resource to you during this time. We would love to stay connected to you on the platform of your choice, make sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!