What We’re Reading

What We’re Reading: Week of 11th September

Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.



Pankaj Mishra, “What Is Great About Ourselves” (LRB)

Rembert Browne, “Colin Kaepernick Has a Job” (Bleacher Report)

Toni Morrison, “The Color Fetish” (The New Yorker)



Wyatt Mason, “Violence and Creativity” (NYRB)

Ruth Graham, “Could Father Mychal Judge Be the First Gay Saint?” (Slate)

Geoffrey Stone and Eric J. Segall, “Faith, Law, and Diane Feinstein” (NYT), responding to Noah Feldman, “Feinstein’s Anti-Catholic Questions are an Outrage” (Bloomberg)



Jon Baskin, “Philosophy and the Gods of the City: Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft’s “Thinking in Public,” (LARB)

Adrien Chen, “The Fake News Fallacy,” (The New Yorker)

Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro, “Making war illegal changed the world. But it’s becoming too easy to break the law,” (Guardian)

Parul Sehgal, “The Gloom, Doom and Occasional Joy of Writing Life,” (NYT)



Maura Ewing, “How One Agency is Fixing American Amnesia about Reconstruction” (Pacific Standard)

Jennet Conant, “From Triumph to Terror” (Lithub)

James McCorkle, “A History of Barbed Wire” (New England Review)

John Lanchester, “The Case Against Civilization” (The New Yorker)

Charlotte Gao, “One Man, One Road: A Funny Tale of Civic Protest in China” (The Diplomat)

Leah Donnella, Kat Chow, Gene Demby “What Our Monuments (Don’t) Teach Us About Remembering the Past” (NPR)


Susan Sontag, “Simone Weil” (NYRB)

Okwui Enwezor with David Carrier & Joachim Pissaro, “In Conversation” (Brooklyn Rail)

Mary Jo Bang, “Five Hundred Glass Negatives” (The Paris Review)

Ken Gordon, “Narration Vs.Curation” (Design Observer)



The fall books issue of the NYRB is excellent! I’ve enjoyed these pieces:
Tim Flannery, “Gone Fishing” (NYRB)
Geoffrey O’Brien, “Five Magnificent Years” (NYRB)
Edmund White, “Under a Spell” (NYRB)
Joyce Carol Oates, “The Poet of Freakiness” (NYRB)

Film Series:
New Yorkers should check out Anthology’s “The Cinema of Transgression: Trans Film,” screening September 15-25 and Metrograph’s “UCLA Festival of Preservation,” September 15-20.

What We’re Reading: Week of 4th September

Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.


Hanneke Grootenboer, “Sublime Still Life: On Adriaen Coorte, Elias van den Broeck, and the Je ne sais quoi of Painting” (J. of Historians of Netherlandish Art)

Richard Saul Wurman and Henry Wilcots, “Louis Kahn in Dacca (originally published in Domus 548 / July 1975)” (Domus)

Alexandra Schwartz, “500 Words: Helen Frankenthaler”  (Artforum)

Daniel Duane, “Goodbye, Yosemite. Hello, What?” (NYT)


Elizabeth Kolbert, “Who Owns the Internet” (The New Yorker)

USFSP Unearths Treasure Trove of Florida’s Distant Past With New Project” (University of South Florida, St. Petersburg)

Susan Straight, “The American Experience in 737 Novels” (Story Maps)

Clint Smith, “Affirmative Action as Reparations” (New Republic)



Arabelle Sicardi, “The Bonds of Power Are Diffuse: An Interview with Jenny Zhang” (Hazlitt)

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, “Not At That Price: On The Future of DACA” (n+1)

Francisco Herrera, “Theorizing Race in America: An Interview with Juliet Hooker” (African American Intellectual History Society)



Chris Bryant, “How the aristocracy preserved their power,” (Guardian)

Ramon Glazov, “The Maid of Orleans, sacred and profane,” (overland)

Hua Hsu, “A Writing Workshop for Workers, and a Long Poem About Taking Orders,” (New Yorker)

Branko Marcetic, “Fighting the Klan in Reagan’s America,” (Jacobin)

Michael Wood, “The French are not men,” (LRB)



Stuart Kelly, “Pratchett, Kafka, Virgil: Difficult final demands” (TLS)

​Reed McConnell, “Orphan Utopia” (Cabinet)​
​Annette Gordon-Reed, “Our Trouble With Sex” (NYRB)​

What We’re Reading: Week of 28th August

Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.



Josephine Livingstone, “The British Museum Was Built on Coral, Butterflies, and Slavery” (The New Republic)

Jeannie Riess, “Removal” (Oxford American)

Stephen Pimpare, “Where do we learn that poverty is shameful and dangerous? At the movies” (Washington Post)

Ron Rosenbaum, “Deeper than Deep: David Reich’s genetics lab reveals our prehistoric past“ (Lapham’s Quarterly)

Meg Schoerke, “More than Just”: A Partial View of Robert Lowell” (The Hudson Review)



Gabrielle Schwartz, “Hélio Oiticica’s playful approach to protest” (Apollo)

Brian Droitcour, “Critical Eye: Venice: Off Beat” (Art in America)

Andrea Scott, “Etore Sottsass” (4Columns)

Louise Steinman, “Slight Exaggeration: An Interview with Adam Zagajewski” (LARB)



Jeffrey Kastner and Sina Najafi, “Historical Amnesias: An Interview with Paul Connerton” (Cabinet)

Blake Smith, “The Alt-Right Apocalypse” (Marginalia Review of Books)

Margaret Drabble, “Strawberry Hill forever” (TLS)

Josephine Livingstone, “The British Museum Was Built on Coral, Butterflies, and Slavery” (New Republic)



Susanna Berger, “The Art of Philosophy” (PDR).

Sophie Guérard de Latour, “Changer la sociologie, refaire de la politique” (Vie des idées).

Tim Lacy, “History Conferences: What Are They Good For?” (USIH).

Brink Lindsey, “The End of the Working Class” (American Interest).

What We’re Reading: Week of 21st August

Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.


Neal Ascherson, “A Swap for Zanzibar,” (LRB)

Michael P. Jeffries, “How Chester B. Himes Became the Rage in Harlem, and Beyond,” (NYT)

Roundtable, parts 1 & 2 from the USIH, edited by Michael Landis:

Frank Towers, “Roundtable: Reflections on David Potter’s The Impending Crisis, part 1,” (USIH)

Kerry Leigh Merritt, “Roundtable: Reflections on David Potter’s The Impending Crisis, part 2,” (USIH)



Nancy Princenthal, “David Wojnarowicz” (Art in America)

Arthur Lubow, The Renaissance of Marisa Merz, Carol Rama, and Carla Accardi: Three Italian Women Artists Having a Moment” (W Magazine)

Kara Nandin, “Review: ‘Carol Rama: Antibodies’ at the New Museum” (The Bottom Line: The Drawing Center’s blog)

Richard Martin, “Painting for Pleasure: An Interview with Carolee Schneeman” (Apollo)

Joachim Kalka, “Madame Bovary’s Wedding Cake” (The Paris Review)



Dimitra Fimi, “Alan Garner’s The Owl Service at fifty” (TLS)

Giovanni Vimercate, “Soviet Pseudoscience” (LARB)

Philip Hoare, “Peter Adey’s wonderfully digressive book explores the science and history of levitation” (New Statesman)

David Dabydeen, “David Olusoga’s look at a forgotten history shows there’s always been black in the Union Jack” (New Statesman)



Merve Emre, “Two Paths for the Personal Essay” (Boston Review)

Nathan Heller, “Is There Any Point to Protesting?” (New Yorker)

Hilary Mantel, “2017 Reith Lectures.” (BBC audio).



Ian Frazier, “The Pleasures of New York by Car” (New Yorker)

Kelefa Sanneh, “Mayweather versus McGregor: Who’s worse?” (New Yorker)

John Banville, “Ending at the Beginning(NYRB)

April Bernard, “Eloise: The Feral Star(NYRB)

What We’re Reading: Week of 14th August

Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.


Steve Kolowich, “What is a black professor in America allowed to say?” (Guardian)

Elaine Showalter, “The Austenista,” (New Republic)

Marina Warner, “Back from the Underworld,” (LRB)

Aaron Winter & Aurelien Mondon, “Normalized Hate,” (Jacobin)

Robert Wood, “On Australian poetry now: a response to David Campbell,” (overland)



Adrienne Lafrance  and Vann R. Newkirk II, “The Lost History of an American Coup d’Etat” (The Atlantic)

Gerald Shea, “Teaching Them to Speak: On Juan Pablo Bonet and the History of Oralism” (The Paris Review)

Jack Christian and Warren Christian “The Monuments Must Go: An open letter from the great-great-grandsons of Stonewall Jackson” (Slate)



Beverly Gage, “An Intellectual Historian Argues His Case Against Identity Politics” (New York Times) – on Mark Lilla, from whom see “The Liberal Crackup” (Wall Street Journal).

John Lanchester, “You Are the Product” (LRB).

Ellen J. Stockstill, “Rescuing England: The Rhetoric of Imperialism and the Salvation Army” (PDR).



Omnia El Shakry, “Psychoanalysis and Islam” (Princeton University Press).

Gil Anidjar, “Everything Burns: Derrida’s Holocaust” (LARB).

Lara Deeb and Jessica Winegar, “Middle East Politics in US Academia: The Case of Anthropology” (CSSAAME)



Larry Wolff, “Wagner on Trial” (NYRB)

James M. McPherson, “Southern Comfort” (NYRB)

Alev Scott, “Getting Close to Judgement Day” (TLS)

What We’re Reading: Week of 7th August

Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.



Rudrapriya Rathore, “India’s Imagined Worlds” (Hazlitt)

Natalie Diaz, “A Native American Poet Excavates the Language of Occupation” (The New York Times)

Lauren Michele Jackson, “We Need To Talk About Digital Blackface in Reaction GIFs” (Teen Vogue)

Cyrus Schayegh, “Switch Cities, Decolonization, and Globalization: Singapore, Beirut, Dakar” (Medium)



Cord Aschenbrenner, “Albert Speer – Hitlers Architekt” (Neue Züricher Zeitung)

Elizabeth Bruenig, “Notes on Locke (against this critic)” (ESB).  

Anthony Madrid, “H.D. Notebook, Part 2” (The Paris Review).

Matthew J. Smith, “Overpowered: Control and Contingence in Haiti” (LARR).



“How The Kellogg Brothers Revolutionized Breakfast“ (Fresh Air, podcast)

Daniel Dreisbach, “Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers” (New Books Network, Podcast)

Dan Chiasson, “Susan Howe’s Patchwork Poems” (The New Yorker)



Larissa Pham, “Agnes Martin Finds the Light that Gets Lost” (The Paris Review)

On passion, professionalization, and the disciplinary and economic structures that scaffold the production of art and knowledge: Molly Nesbit with Jarrett Earnest, “Close Encounters: A Conversation” (The Brooklyn Rail)

Susan Sidlauskas, “On Graduate Education: A Primer (with Memoir) For the Art History Graduate Student” (Rutgers Art Review)

Sharon Louden, “3 Examples of Proactive Artists Creating New Opportunities” (Creative Capital Blog)

Miya Tokumitsu, “Completely Unprofessional” (Frieze)

In Memoriam, Judith Jones: Julia Moskin, “An Editing Life, A Book of Her Own” (The New York Times)



Steven Salaita, “A Few Thoughts on Leaving Academe” (Jadaliyya)

Alex Mayassi, “Of Money and Morals” (Aeon)

Gayatri Spivak, “On Teaching Reading” (ICLS Columbia, lecture abstract)

Suzy Hansen, “James Baldwin’s Istanbul” (Public Books)

John Hutnyk, “Marx in Algeria 1882” (Trinketization)



Marina Warner, “Back from the Underworld” (LRB)

Ian Sansom, “Jane Austen, on the money” (TLS)

Ariel Sophia Bardi, “The Soft Nationalism of Amma, India’s Hugging Saint” (LARB)

Lewis Lapham, “Petrified Forest” (Lapham’s Quarterly)

Ron Charles, “Stop dissing romance novels already” (Washington Post)

What We’re Reading: Week of 31st July

Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.


Zia Meral, “The Question of Theodicy and Jihad” (War on the Rocks)

Max Ajl, “Critical Readings in Political Economy: 1967” (Jadaliyya)


Michael Stahl, “A Sneak Peek Inside the National Comedy Center’s George Carlin Archives” (Splitsider)

Anna Kornbluh, “The Murder of Theory” (Public Books)

Maria Michela Sassi, “The sea was never blue” (Aeon)


Nicola Twilley and Cynthia Graber,  “Britain’s Great Tea Heist” (The Atlantic)

Roberto Suro, “Leave Emma Lazarus Out of It” (Politico)

Jenna Weissman, “Breaking the Ten Commandments: A Short History of the Contentious American Monuments” (Religion and Politics)

Alec Luhn, “Gulag grave hunter unearths uncomfortable truths in Russia” (Guardian)


David Horspool, “Theatre of cruelty” (TLS)
D. Graham Burnett, “Out From Behind This Mask” (Public Domain Review)
Bee Wilson, “I am the fifth dimension!” (LRB)

What We’re Reading: Week of 24th July

Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.



Adolfo Aranjuez, “Death of the Editor,” (overland)

Mary Beard, “What do academics do in the summer ‘vacation’?” (TLS)

Hua Hsu, “Stuart Hall and the Rise of Cultural Studies,” (New Yorker)

Jamie Martin, “Nudged,” (LRB)

Cathy Otten, “Slaves of Isis:The Long Walk of the Yazidi Women,”

Russell Rickford, “Neo-McCarthyism and the Radical Professor,” (Back Perspectives)



Paul Barrett, Darcy Ballantyne, Camille Isaacs, and Kris Singh, “The Unbearable Whiteness of CanLit,” (The Walrus)

A review of Enzo Traverso’s Left-Wing Melancholia: Marxism, History, and Memory:

Peter E. Gordon, “Mourning in America,” (Boston Review)

(Podcast interview) Raul Coronado, “A World Not to Come: A History of Latino Writing and Print Culture” (New Books Network)

Richard Brody, “‘Dunkirk’: A War Movie about Patriotic Ciphers” (The New Yorker)

Eric Kurlander, “A Song of Ice and Fire” (Lapham’s Quarterly)



On Cultural Analytics, or how do we make sense of Instagram:

“Lev Manovich in conversation with Hunter O’Hainan” (CAA News)

What happens when poetry meets photography:

> “America Today, in Vision and Verse” (NY Times)

> “How Poems Inspire Pictures” (NY Times)

Rebecca Fulleylove, “Art Director, Author, and Editor Steven Heller on His Favourite Books” (It’s Nice That)

Even poetry needs design and branding. Here, designers describe how they approach the task of creating a visual experience equal to the poetry itself:

> Lucy Bourton, “Pouya Ahmadi’s Typographic Designs for the Festival of Poets Theater” (It’s Nice That)

>Rebecca Fulleylove, “Michael Bierut’s new brand identity for the Poetry Foundation” (It’s Nice That)

> Fraser Muggeridge, “[The Making of a Concrete Poem: Sun-cheese Wheel-Ode” (Eye)

Junot Díaz interviews Samuel R. Delany, “Radicalism Begins in the Body” (Boston Review).

Kevin M. Gannon, “Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and a Revolutionary Praxis for Education I & II” (Age of Revolutions).

Dan Gorman, “All Things to All People? (symposium on Duncan Bell’s Reordering the World)” (Disorder of Things)

Achille Mbembe “There is Only One World (extract from Critique of Black Reason)” (The Con).

John Strawson, “Colonialism and the Jews” (fathom).



Allison Meier, “Washington Irving Bishop: The Magician Killed by an Autopsy” (Atlas Obscura)

Will Wiles, “The Corner of Lovecraft and Ballard” (Places)

Julianne Neely, “20 Literary Would-You-Rathers” (McSweeney’s Internet Tendency)

What We’re Reading: Week of 17th July

Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.



Kate Evans, “Day in the Working Life of a Historian: Kate Evans,” (Vida)

John Rapley, “How Economics Became a Religion,” (Guardian Long Reads)

James Robertson, “The Life and Death of Yugoslav Socialism,” (Jacobin)

Andy Seal, “The Controversy Over Democracy in Chains,” (USIH Blog)

Robyn Spencer, “Writing an Organizational History of the Black Panthers: An Author’s Response,” (Black Perspectives)



Rebecca Rideal, “Forget the big historical names, it’s historic fear of disease that Game of Thrones nails” (New Statesman)

John Toohey, “The Long, Forgotten Walk of David Ingram” (Public Domain Review)

Rhodri Lewis, “Pre-Modern Post-Truth” (LARB)



Hua Hsu, “Stuart Hall and the Rise of Cultural Studies” (The New Yorker)

Christina Heatherton, “Not Just Being Right, But Getting Free: Reflections on Class, Race, and Marxism” (Verso Blog)

Brenna M. Munro, “Atlantic Got Your Tongue: On The Poetry of Safia Elhillo” (Public Books)



If you can, get yourself over to Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum to see “Raphael: The Drawings.” If you can’t, well, here are some reviews that you can read:

>Andrew Butterfield, “Raphael Up Close” (NYRB)

>Charles Hope, “At the Ashmolean” (LRB)

>Catherine Whistler, the curator of the Ashmolean exhibition, on her approach to curating an exhibition of Raphael’s drawings, “A New Way to Look at Raphael” (Apollo)


On time and its monuments:

Anthony Grafton, “Invented Antiquities” (LRB)

Heidi Julavits, “The Art at the End of the World” (NY Times)

Yo-Yo Ma, “Save Louis Kahn’s Concert Boat” (NYRB)

Julian Bell, “The Perennial Student: The Art of Camille Pissaro” (NYRB)

Hua Hsu, “Jay-Z, Dr. Dre and the Music of Success” (New Yorker)

Hua Hsu, “Stuart Hall and the Rise of Cultural Studies” (New Yorker)

Christine Philips, “Why these professors are warning against promoting the work of straight, white men” (Washington Post)

Ottoman History Podcast, “Genetics and Nation-Building in the Middle East

Lydia Kiesling, “Letter of Recommendation: The Life of Marshall Hodgson”(New York Times)

What We’re Reading: Summer Books Edition


Here are some of the books that the Blog’s editors have lined up for summer. From art history to critical theory, from fiction to poetry, we’ve got you covered if you’re looking for something to pick up during the academic off season.


I have a confession to make: I have never read D.F. McKenzie’s Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts from cover to cover. As a working bibliographer I encounter a huge variety of “texts,” from incunabula to 20th century manuscripts printed on Xerox machines, to 45 rpm sound recordings, even recordings on magnetic tape. As Jerome McGann wrote in a 1988 review for the London Review of Books, “In a series of trenchant illustrations, [McKenzie] unfolds a profound truth about ‘the book’ itself – and thence about every kind of possible text: that it is meaning-constitutive not simply in its ‘contained’ or delivered message, but in every dimension of its material existence.” So, Marshall McLuhan meets Phillip Gaskell and Fredson Bowers?  I’m about to find out.


Eve Babitz, age 14, reading a biography of novelist and screenwriter Elinor Glyn.

I’m also going for it with Hollywood fiction to support my work with a private collection of film scripts and cinematic ephemera this summer. As a New Yorker, Los Angeles seems the land of good vibes, great hair, and Fridays off to me – I loved Pynchon’s Inherent Vice and P.T. Anderson’s film adaptation. So, I’m looking for a sense of the place on the ground, without completely bursting my Beach Boys bubble.  I just started Eve Babitz’s Eve’s Hollywood, up next is Darcy O’Brien’s A Way of Life Like Any Other, and then comes Don Carpenter’s Hollywood Trilogy. Babitz is a sophisticated, well read, well connected, and totally liberated mid-century California woman, and best of all she is a tremendous writer.  O’Brien and Carpenter’s books both come highly recommended as novels of the note-so-glamorous side of Hollywood life on both ends of the 20th century.


The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases, ed. Jeff VanderMeer and Mark Roberts (2003): I’m a hopeless science fiction/fantasy addict, as well as a history of science buff. Rarely do those passions come together, but some of the genre’s cleverest writers—Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore—have compiled this darkly comic “anthology” of imaginary maladies. Being something of a hypochondriac, I am a little nervous (in a good way).

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 9.11.45 AMKate Tempest, Hold Your Own (2014). Kate Tempest is a brilliant, prize-winning poet from the UK, whose debut collection, Hold Your Own, explores gender, sexuality, and the life cycle through a reimagining of the story of Tiresias, the blind prophet of Greek mythology. A brief sample: “Snakes. Two snakes! / Coiling, uncoiling / Boiling and cooling / Oil in a cauldron / Foil in a river / Soil on a mood ring.”

Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (1719). The beach read extraordinaire. One of those books that has sat on my shelf unread for far too long. Arguably the first English novel. It created its own genre—the Robinsonade—of castaway or “desert island” stories.


One summer, I carried W.G. Sebald’s After Nature all over Europe, like a talisman. I read it quietly in hotel rooms, and over coffees in little squares. The historian’s work can be alienating, so much solitude, so many hours and days spent unmoored from your own time. Here was someone else who did that deep dive, and came back with a work of lapidary beauty. It’s a work that always sets me thinking about the writer’s craft.

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 9.35.14 AM

Summer, for me, is also a time for re-reading those books that first opened certainintellectual doors. I often go back to T.J. Clark’s work – whether the more conventional art historical works, like The Painting of Modern Life – or stranger ones like Farewell to an Idea, The Sight of Death. Clark both knows how to look and how to leap from ekphrasis to argumentation. I plan to read and and look at the art work under discussion again, and somewhere between reading and looking, come to a new understanding of work and text.

But it’s also a season of sun, and salt, and blue. This summer, I’ll have Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse in my beach bag, for something that feels deceptively diaphanous, along with Joan Didion’s South and West for a glimpse at another writer’s working process. I’m also carrying Solmaz Sharif’s first book of poetry, Look, because something about the heat and pain in these poems demands slow, careful reading. Read a stanza. Look at the sea. Repeat. If I should find myself stuck at an airport, I’ll reach for Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet. I second Eric on this recommendation. They are gripping. They pull you into another world and nothing makes a four-hour travel delay go by faster.


Elena Ferrante. The Neapolitan Quartet surely need me least of all to sing their praises at this point. They are very good and (at least for me) gripping enough that the summer is the right time to sit down with them. Pay more attention to the backdrop of postwar Italy than to the sexist shenanigans around authorship that have recently overshadowed the novels themselves.

Moishe Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory (Cambridge, 1993). This classic in recent critical theory has since provided an important base for significant work in intellectual history. I should have read it a long time ago.

Benjamin Straumann, Crisis and Constitutionalism: Roman Political Thought from the Fall of the Republic to the Age of Revolution (Oxford, 2016). This is well outside my area of expertise, but I just finished teaching a semester of Roman history and David Armitage’s Civil Wars whetted my appetite for this sort of thing.


A film series and book pairing: the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive presents a summer-long series on the centennial of Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973). His oeuvre extends well beyond films about the Occupation of France, but I’ll look at those films through the lens of this book, by Professor Leah Hewitt, Remembering the Occupation in French Film: National Identity in Postwar Europe (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 9.25.35 AM

Jean-Pierre Melville

Mary Sarah Bilder’s Madison’s Hand Revising the Constitutional Convention (Harvard UP, 2015), through a range of fascinating research tools, invites us into James Madison’s writing of his Notes on the Constitutional Convention of 1787, showing the complex biography of a text often treated as an unimpeachable primary source.

Another pairing—and in this vein of the biography of a text: William Carlos Williams’s epic American poem Paterson (1946-1958) and the multiply eponymous film Paterson (2016), a film about writing poems, which has stirred interest in Williams’s work.


I have read the historical novel Hild by Nicola Griffith every summer since 2014. Griffith is best known for her fantasy writing, and has produced a stirring and lush story with fantastical elements that is rooted in the fragmentary records left by Bede of the life of St. Hilda of Whitby. Griffith also kept a blog in which she recorded the progress of her historical writing: https://gemaecce.com/. Set in 7th century Anglo-Saxon England, this novel details the childhood and early adulthood of a young woman of a royal house, and moves languidly through loss, sexuality, the rhythms of political and everyday life, and the tumult of living in changing and unprecedented times. I find it equally comforting and unsettling. A sequel is forthcoming. The author’s interview in The Paris Review is also a helpful look at what writing about the fantastical/real is like.

Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital by Vivek Chibber is a book I have read about, but have not read. I hope to correct that this summer. It is a work with immense political stakes as well as implications for work done in the space between the fields of intellectual history, critical theory, postcolonial studies, political thought, and global history (a zone with which I find myself increasingly preoccupied). I will no doubt have to read it alongside the many critiques and responses to it (some of which has been helpfully collected here).

Daniel Brückenhaus’s 2017 book, Policing Transnational Protest: Liberal Imperialism and the Surveillance of Anticolonialists in Europe: 1905-1945 is an exploration of the effect of state pressure, surveillance, and policing on anti-imperial activity. Brückenhaus has detailed here the development of a transnational anti-colonial government in the first half of the twentieth century, in northwestern Europe in particular. This book is also framed in terms of a pre-history of current debates about such a transnational surveillance operation, and the trajectory of such an entity over the last century told through archival research in Britain, France, and Germany.


Richard Swedberg Tocqueville’s Political Economy (2009). Tocqueville: political thinker, proto-sociologist, or political economist? Although the text primarily interests me for its perspective on Tocqueville in America, it is sure to prove useful to intellectual historians more generally as well. By examining the intersection between Tocqueville’s thought as a proto-sociologist and political thinker, Swedberg unearths an easily missed yet crucial aspect of Tocqueville’s outlook and method: political economy.


Photograph of Claude McKay, taken for ‘Home to Harlem’ promotion, c. 1928.

David Motadel Islam and Nazi Germany’s War (2014). In good graduate student fashion, this is one of the books I preordered, received a few months later, read the first chapter meticulously, and promptly placed on my bookshelf. Summer is finally here and with it more time for pleasure reading. This text is fascinating for its depiction of colonial societies’ interaction with Nazi Germany and the latter’s views on Islam. 

Claude Mckay Amiable with Big Teeth (2017). I first encountered Claude McKay after reading Brent Edwards’ “Taste of The Archive.” Written in 1941, a Columbia graduate student discovered the unpublished manuscript in 2012 (an amusing story in its own right). The novel touches on the mood and climate in Harlem on the cusp of World War II.