The World’s First Epitaph Writing Contest: A Brief Report

Guest post by Michael Wolfe

wolfeOver a three-week period in July, Johns Hopkins University Press hosted an epitaph writing contest on the Goodreads website, which you may still access and review here. The Press proposed the contest as a way to mark the shortlisting by PEN/America of my recently published book, Cut These Words into My Stone, a collection of ancient Greek epitaphs in English translation.

As the book’s author and translator, I agreed to judge the contest. The ground rules were simple enough: Compose an original epitaph in English and submit it to our online contest at Goodreads for others to read. From each week’s collected submissions I then agreed to select a winner, whom Johns Hopkins would award with a free copy of the book and publication of the winning epitaphs here on the Press’s blog. Three weeks, three winners, three awards.

Criteria for Judging
The criteria for a good epitaph were presented in a post on the JHU Press Blog site.  Rather than reprint them here, let me simply say that authentic emotion, brevity, compression, and the few formal constraints that have accrued to good epitaphs in a variety of languages over the centuries were all recommended to the contestants and abided by in the judging of the winners.

The Winners

There was one winner in Week One:

He ran as free as a young stag,
but like the stag’s rippling shadow
he also got entangled in the leaves.

by Daniel Abdal-Hayye Moore

No winner in Week Two; but two winners in Week Three:

Do not mourn me . . .
I have lived.
Have you?

by Tina Paggi


Eye me—you’ll find I’ve changed and so we’re free:
Green maid, green man, two eyes for you and me.

by Wilson Engel

Comments on other submissions

From Week One:

If you don’t live for something you will die for nothing.

by Raphael

Comment: Though more an aphorism than an epitaph, Raphael’s notion contains the core idea of many classical sepulchral epigrams. This was the first submission to the contest.

From Week Two:

Open the windows —
he always loved the sky.

A change of address
from his home in Uruguay.

by Abdal-Hayye Moore

Comment: The voice in line 1 instructing the living to honor something the deceased loved is very much in keeping with the spirit the epitaph. The humor in line 3, when the poet refers to “A change of address,” is subtle but hard to miss, implying the deceased has, as people used to say, “died and gone to heaven.” The rhyme of “sky” with “Uruguay” is admirable, too.

From Week Three:

My body rests below you
Yet no stone at my head
Nor soil to make my bed
Has kept my soul—it is free.
Dry your tears—don’t cry for me.
My spirit soars above you.

by Sherry 

Comment: One of the longer submissions, I appreciate this poem for the way it holds together a complex thought from start to finish.

And, lastly, this strophe sent in by JoJo:

Silence the drummer in my chest
He has become too passionate.
He strides and flicks the surface
Having no care of the flames atop my shoulders.

Comment: Although not an epitaph exactly, these lines show passion, powerful imagery, and word for word precision—all hallmarks of Greek epitaphic verse.

Comments on the Process: Looking Back, How Did it Go?

General instructions for a “giveaway” on Goodreads are available here  for those who may want to experiment with the format. A contest, however, is not precisely a “giveaway.” The design of the epitaph writing contest, without precedent in more than one way, was produced by JHUP’s Jack Holmes.

Goodreads welcomed the idea but did forewarn us that success was hardly guaranteed. The main challenges to attracting submissions seem to be 1) the problem of distinguishing your contest from a welter of material on the Internet; 2) drawing attention to the fact that a contest exists; and 3) bringing the contest to the attention of likely contestants. It helps, of course, for your page to gain a high ranking on Google and other search engines, but a contest with lifespan of three weeks isn’t likely to do that.

The contest took a while to get up to speed. I had imagined that of the innumerable Goodreads members, some would be writers interested in being published. To hedge my bets, I posted an invitation on a LinkedIn Group called “Poetry Editors and Writers,” which boasts a readership of 16,000. At the end of Week One, with only a pair of Contest entries to judge, my wife suggested we add some potential to the Contest by signing up with Google’s Ad words program, to try to increase participation.

The Ad Words must have helped. Time helped solve our problems too, I think. Week Two saw an increase in submissions (from two in Week One to nine in Week Two). Week Three showed a substantial increase over Week Two both in quantity and quality. I should express thanks here to a couple of contestants, Daniel and Wilson, who submitted multiple entries and not only boosted the numbers of submissions but also, more importantly, explored the potential of the epitaphic form, thus enriched our reading pleasure.

At the end of Week Three, I was sorely tempted to keep the contest going, but free copies of a $20 book don’t grow on trees, and in the end reason prevailed.

Many thanks to everyone on all ends of this effort, from PEN/America, which first introduced us to Goodreads, to Goodreads itself, whose operatives gave us many useful tips, and to Johns Hopkins Press for designing the contest and providing the prize books. The winning poems are also singled out in the final post on the Goodreads Epitaph Writing Contest Page.

wolfe comp.inddMichael Wolfe is a poet, author, documentary film producer, and president of Unity Productions Foundation, a nonprofit media organization. He is the author of many books of verse and prose, including Cut These Words into My Stone: Ancient Greek Epitaphs, now available from JHU Press.


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Politics in the nation’s capital: Meet us in DC at APSA

By Brendan Coyne

JHUPBooksinPoliticalScience2014-2015As people across the world grapple with such issues as the Islamic State and continued hostilities between Palestinians and the Israeli state to institutionalized discrimination and militarized police to climate change and unstable governments, the world’s largest collection of political scientists meets this week in Washington, D.C. We’re happy to be here supporting the vital scholarship done by members of the American Political Science Association and showcasing the books and journals we publish in support of the field’s many disciplines. Here’s a handful of highlights of what’s new in political science at America’s oldest university press. Come on over to booth #501 to see everything we’re exhibiting this year. All books are 30% off using code HEZE.

jod25 years of taking the temperature of democracy around the world: the Journal of Democracy celebrates its silver anniversary. Cited in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, Journal of Democracy is an influential international forum for scholarly analysis and competing democratic viewpoints. Its articles have been widely reprinted in many languages and the books that come out of the Journal are used in classrooms, government and NGO offices, and think tanks around the world.

Layout 1Entropy and international relations. Called “the most original and thought-provoking forecast of future world politics to be published in recent years” by G. John Ikenberry, Randall L. Schweller’s new book, Maxwell’s Demon and the Golden Apple, tackles the question: What will follow the American century? Looking through the lens of entropy, the answers Schweller finds are unsettling.

bertiFrom bullets to ballots. Huffington Post named Armed Political Organizations, by Benedetta Berti, on of the best political science books of 2013, and it’s no wonder why. Berti’s examination of how and why some violent actors stop shooting and start voting is based on an innovative framework that advances our understanding of the integration of insurgents into the political process. With the latest battle between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza on hold, smart leaders on all side would be well advised to look to Berti’s work for insight on moving forward.

wailooPain is political. Pain, historian and public affairs scholar Keith Wailoo‘s latest book, takes us on a tour of the modern history of the politics behind pain relief in America. If this isn’t a subject you’ve given a lot of thought to previously this book will be an eye-opener, as Wailoo explains how the intricate and at-times contradictory-seeming maneuvering of groups from war veterans to the American Medical Association has played out historically and politically. But don’t take our word for it, take Harvard University’s Arthur Kleinman’s instead: “No other work I know of sustains such a macro-analysis while attending to pain’s medical, moral, and media significances. And reading it hurts not—and for policy makers might even be therapeutic! Bravo!”

hudsonsketch1.inddOld age policy in America. Now in its third edition, Robert Hudson’s The New Politics of Old Age Policy not only explains the politics behind the country’s age-based programs and describes how those programs work but also assesses how well—or poorly—they meet the growing and changing needs of older Americans. Featuring new chapters focusing on financial security and retirement in the context of the Great Recession, diversity and inequality in aging populations, and implications of the Affordable Care Act, this book is a vital tool for understanding the politics of aging in America.

6x9Game theory and coup dynamics. In Seizing Power, Naunihal Singh provides the first book-length analysis of why some coups work and others fail.  Called “the best piece of social science research on military coups so far” by Stathis Kalyvas of Yale, this volume uses coordination game to understand coups and show that, above all else, military dynamics are the most accurate predictors of any given coup’s success.

baillardDigital media and democracy. The free flow of information online is supposed to enable people to be more active and knowledgeable participants in democratic governance. But as Catie Snow Bailard shows in Democracy’s Double-Edged Sword, access to information does not necessarily ensure that democracy will automatically flourish. Democratization specialists especially will appreciate the two new theories on which Bailard’s work rests, mirror-holding and window-opening.

 Brendan Coyne is associate sales manager at the Johns Hopkins University Press and will be representing JHUP at the APSA meeting in Washington from August 28 to 31.


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Filed under American History, APSA 2014, Foreign Policy, labor studies, Middle East, Military, Politics, War and Conflict

A New Vision for College Athletics

Guest post by Howard L. Nixon II

Arguments in favor of “pay for play” for college athletes in big-time college sports make National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and university officials cringe. However, both groups have had to address this issue repeatedly this year in the face of media attention to the Northwestern University National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling and the O’Bannon and Kessler lawsuits about compensation for the use of names, images, and likenesses (NILs) and scholarship limits. The NCAA president has also had to testify before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee in its hearings on “Promoting the Well-Being and Academic Success of College Athletes.” In addition, there has been pressure on the NCAA from schools and the Big Five conferences to grant them more autonomy in matters such as rule-making about compensating athletes.

ncaa_wordmark_logo_largeThe NCAA does not like it when the term “compensation” is applied to college athletes. It prefers “educational support” to describe the money given to their “student-athletes” as athletic grants-in-aid or athletic scholarships. Its “collegiate model” is built on the idea of the student-athlete as an amateur playing sports for fun while pursuing an education. By defining athletes as amateur student-athletes rather than as employees, the NCAA has been able to deny scholarship athletes in its most commercialized realm the customary rights enjoyed by workers, from direct compensation or payment for their services to legal representation, freedom of movement, worker’s compensation, and the right to organize and engage in collective bargaining. These restrictions have led critics and many disinterested observers to call the NCAA a labor cartel that exploits athletes. They ask how the NCAA can credibly sustain the notion of amateurism when big-time college sports make so much money and get so much media attention as mass entertainment. However, the NCAA must try to sustain this illusion because its business model depends on it.

Defenders of the NCAA’s collegiate model and the status quo in college sports contend that athletic scholarships are more than adequate compensation for playing sports. They also point out that, for some, college sports is a stepping-stone to lucrative careers in professional sports. Then, too, there are the seemingly compelling assertions that figuring out a system to pay college athletes is not feasible, would be too complicated if it were possible, and would fundamentally destabilize the financial structure of college sports that is already threatened by the arms race.

Yet there remains the troubling reality that athletic scholarships are standardized and capped by the NCAA and may not cover the full cost of attendance. Furthermore, star athletes have not been permitted until recently to benefit from the commercial use of their NIL rights. They also have not been allowed to share directly in the media revenue generated from the games they play.

nixonWhether and how much college athletes should be paid are legitimate and interesting questions. However, they suggest more fundamental questions about how college sports must change to be more responsive to the interests and welfare of athletes. My proposal for change is presented in the reform chapter of my recently published book The Athletic Trap: How College Sports Corrupted the Academy. A basic aspect of this proposal is the partitioning of college sports. I believe that significant change must begin with the separation of those schools that can afford to compete at the expensive, big-time level from those that cannot. If this seems unrealistic or unreasonable, consider that the churning that has whittled the Elite Six to the Big Five super conferences is a step in this direction. Giving the Big Five (or Four or Six . . . ) true autonomy to run college sports without input or interference from less competitively and financially established programs would be a big step in reorganizing college sports in a way that injects much-needed logic and reason into the enterprise. This reorganization would make the status of athletes compatible with the environment in which they are competing and the demands this environment imposes on them.

What would this partitioning look like, and what are its implications for the compensation of athletes? I propose a division of college sports into two main sectors: a highly commercialized one organized around super conferences and a second sector that would be more truly amateur and include all of the other athletic programs. The commercial partition would be populated by athlete-students, while the amateur one would have student-athletes. Former Florida and Louisiana State University president John Lombardi fleshed out a model for athletic programs in the big-time realm of the super conferences. They would be organized as not-for-profit enterprises, have ties to universities but largely run themselves, and be expected to be financially self-sufficient. University hospitals illustrate their administrative and fiscal structures. Relatively few athletic programs would meet the requirements to be run this way. Although not inherently gender segregated, the current reality is that the big-time super conference domain would initially include men’s sports because only football and men’s basketball have the capacity at this time to generate enough revenue to be self-supporting.

The organizational framework linking the big-time conferences and programs in the super conference domain would supplant the NCAA as the governing body of big-time college sports. Thus, the super conference domain I envision would be a logical extension of the autonomy currently being pursued by the Big Five conferences. The conferences and schools in this domain would operate in an environment in which revenue flows from the media and businesses in a network I call the “intercollegiate golden triangle.” The media and business sectors of this golden triangle make a profit from selling media rights and merchandise and embellish their corporate images through their association with big-time sports programs and stars. Star athlete-students are currently exploited as commodities in this environment, but in my model they are permitted to cash in on the commercial use of their NIL rights and to share in the revenue that is generated from the games they play. This means that athlete-students would become paid professionals. They would also have the legal and economic rights of employees in commercial entertainment enterprises. The NCAA president estimated that athletes competing at the most commercialized level of college sports are approximately 3.5% of all NCAA athletes. The percentage of athletes who qualify as athlete-students in the super conference domain I am proposing may be an even smaller segment of the college athlete population.

All other college athletes would be student-athletes and compete in the amateur domain governed by a “new NCAA.” This domain approximates the model of amateur college athletics in the NCAA Division III. It is what the NCAA president conjures up when he uses lofty rhetoric about the collegiate model and amateur student-athletes. Shifting the attention of his organization exclusively to the proposed amateur domain would make this rhetoric seem less disingenuous. Student-athletes in this new NCAA domain would be treated like all other students. They would compete with these other students for financial aid based on their need or academic credentials, since there would not be any athletic scholarships. They would have a chance to participate in a wide range of men’s and women’s sports programs. Unlike the semi-autonomous super conference programs that operate largely on their own, amateur programs would be part of the university or college, would be financed by general university funds, and would have much more modest athletic, financial, and status aspirations than their counterparts in the more commercial realm. Consequently, the physical and time demands on student-athletes would be far less than the demands on athlete-students.

Since the super conference and amateur domains would both be part of college sports, athletes in both domains would have to meet traditional academic expectations for initial eligibility and for classroom performance and abide by student conduct codes. However, athlete-students would have reduced academic loads for part of the academic year. They would be required to take the equivalent of one term of academic courses each year from the school for which they compete. They would not be permitted to matriculate during the academic term of their primary season. This provision should alleviate many of the current concerns about distractions from academics, since big-time athletes would not be in class during the main part of their sports season. Athlete-students would be allowed to change schools without penalty after one or two years at a particular school. This is comparable to the free agency rules in professional sports. These athlete-students could also negotiate for financial support to cover the completion of their undergraduate degrees over an extended period of time. In both domains, athletes’ interests could be represented by current and former athletes serving on governing bodies of presidents and athletic officials with ultimate authority over each domain.

Athletic directors for super conference sports would have to wrestle with issues of equity and practicality in figuring out the compensation packages for coaches and athlete-students. Pay scales would replace athletic scholarship limits for athlete-students. On the other hand, the elimination of compensation restrictions for athlete-students would make issues of illegal cash payments and gifts to athletes largely irrelevant. These financial benefits have accounted for a significant number of rule violations under the current NCAA rules. Reducing deviance in this area does not mean that all the problems concerning outside compensation will be gone. In allowing gifts from boosters and endorsement contracts, the new policies would create some challenges for athletic directors and coaches who want to restrain the influence of boosters and the intercollegiate golden triangle on athlete-students. Restrictions may be difficult to enforce, though, since boosters and the golden triangle are likely to expect substantial access as part of their quid pro quo or contract.

This is only a brief and general outline of how college sports could change to accommodate pay for play in big-time college sports. There would likely be much resistance to these kinds of changes, perhaps surprisingly mostly among the presidents with programs that have aspired to big-time status and their boosters. In fact, the elite programs in college sports in the current super conferences are already moving in the direction I have proposed, albeit without the specific changes in the status of athlete-students. However, the vast majority of college presidents will need to face the reality that they lack the resources needed to play in the domain where the big money, exposure, and branding opportunities in the intercollegiate golden triangle are found. If they genuinely care about the students who participate in sports at their institution, they should embrace the new NCAA as a way to downsize institutional aspirations in athletics and allow athletes to be genuine students. The question is whether presidents will try to free themselves from the powerful entanglements of obligations, promises, and expectations associated with being big-time in athletics or aspiring to this status. I have called these entanglements the athletic trap, and the trap has made presidents hesitant about exercising real leadership in athletics on their campus.

Presidential leadership that will result in the kinds of reforms I have proposed will take courage and a clear sense of purpose. Without this leadership, the NCAA and big-time college sports are likely to face a steady stream of challenges and threats and spend an increasing amount of time in court, Congressional hearings, and dealing with politicized athletes and their advocates. They may argue about issues such as compensation of big-time college athletes. But there are bigger and deeper issues about college athletics that need to be addressed. This is why I have proposed a reform model that gets at the underlying structure of all of college sports. Whatever the specific details of reform, trying to implement the kind of model I have proposed could make athletics at the big-time commercialized level more organizationally accountable, fiscally responsible, and responsive to the interests of athlete-students. It could also inject far more genuine amateurism into college athletics, make playing college sports more like real play for a lot more athletes, and turn more athletes into student-athletes on more campuses. Furthermore, coming to terms with the realities of contemporary college sports in the ways I have suggested could help defuse much of the discontent about the status of the NCAA and its treatment of college athletes. The result could be more sanity, honesty, and stability in college sports.

Howard L. Nixon II is a professor of sociology at Towson University. He is author or coauthor of seven books, including The Athletic Trap: How College Sports Corrupted the Academy, Sport in a Changing World, and A Sociology of Sport.


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Robin Williams and Depression

The Doctor Is In is an occasional series where JHU Press authors discuss the latest developments and news in health and medicine.

Guest post by Susan Noonan, M.D., M.P.H.

On  August 11, 2014, the world learned that we had lost a dearly beloved, charismatic human being to the devastating illness and consequences of depression. To most of us, the actor Robin Williams was the dynamic, clever man who made us laugh in hundreds of ways. He had the uncanny ability to take us out of our doldrums and bring a moment of joy to our lives through his many creative performances, from Mork & Mindy to Good Morning, Vietnam, Mrs. Doubtfire, and many others. His talents extended to the dramatic as well when he won an Academy Award for Good Will Hunting.

We watched, but did not know that underneath, Williams was in emotional pain, suffering so much that, despite having access to healthcare, he was unable to bear the burden of his demons. According to the popular press, he was known to have the risk factors of depression, anxiety, and subsequent self-treatment with substances of abuse. After his death, Williams’ wife, Susan Schneider, made a public statement that he had recently been diagnosed with the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, adding another major stressor to his life. Parkinson’s is a neurologic condition that affects one’s ability to control the muscles of the body. It is also thought to be associated with major depression. This August, Mr. Williams finally succumbed to his depression and was drawn to take his own life. He took a step that indicated he could no longer go on and thought the world was better off without him. It is tragic that he felt he had no choice, when we know that the impulse to suicide is transient and that depression is a treatable, biologically-based illness. Depression affects approximately 30 million adults in the United States, as well as 18% of adolescents by the age of 18 years.

We did not know of Williams’ sleepless nights, sad empty moods, feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, fatigue, irritability, or disorganized thinking. Nor did we know of his overwhelming distorted negative thoughts about himself and his world, the thoughts which drove his actions. We knew nothing of his self-doubt and despair. These are all characteristic of depression and, if and when he experienced them, he kept them well-hidden from the general public. On the surface, his appearance was one of a man with a successful life, a loving wife, and three children. In the midst of depression he most likely engaged in a type of thought distortion that caused him to dismiss those successes in his life, one that made him unable to acknowledge or see past them. But as we know, families and financial security are not protective if one is determined to take the path of suicide.

This tells us that, despite the exterior façade of the seeming ability to function in society or at a job, a person may be seriously suffering deep down and be in need of professional help. Look around you right now: do you see anyone like this? Are you in a position to speak with this person about receiving care? We lose approximately 38,000 people per year to suicide, and 90% of these deaths are due to mental illness. Did Mr. Williams seek out help? Were there barriers to his receiving treatment, or did ego or the stigma of depression get in his way? We will never know. We will only suffer the sadness and loss of a brilliant man who brought others great pleasure in his work and life.


noonanSusan J. Noonan, M.D., M.P.H., is a board certified physician who currently works as a consultant to Massachusetts General Hospital and CliGnosis, Inc. Managing Your Depression: What You Can Do to Feel Better is available from JHU Press.



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Open Tennis and Open Minds: What Arthur Ashe Can Teach Us All

Guest post by Eric Allen Hall

As the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, make clear, the fight for civil and human rights is far from over. The shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, by a white police officer provides a window into contemporary race relations. The predominately African American protesters in Ferguson argue that whites don’t know what it’s like to be black in America, where people of color come under suspicion for criminal activity more frequently than whites. The same phenomenon plays out in the world of sports. One need look no further than the public and media reaction to Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman’s televised comments following the NFC Championship to see how some black athletes are branded. In the minutes, hours, and days after his “tirade,” Sherman was labeled a “thug” and “ghetto,” despite graduating with honors from Stanford and not having a police record. Tim Wise, the author of White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son, suggests that blacks and whites fail to understand one another, and many, if not most, don’t even try. If honest and open dialogue is the key to breaking down racial barriers, as Wise and others contend, Arthur Ashe was decades ahead of his time.

The tennis great lost his battle with AIDS over twenty years ago, but his spirit and legend are very much alive as the U.S. Open gets underway on August 25. The stadium in Flushing bears his name, the gift shop sells prints of his victory over Tom Okker at the inaugural 1968 Open, and former and current players, old friends, and fans will soon gather and reminisce about his powerful serve and his commitment to sportsmanship. Ashe and the Open share a unique history, a past filled with milestones and controversy. Ashe made his first appearance at the U.S. Nationals, the precursor to the Open, in 1959 when he took on the “Rocket” Rod Laver. Ashe wasn’t even supposed to be there. He was black, the son of a working-class father, and from the Jim Crow South. Black youths in those days served drinks to wealthy white spectators. They did not face off against the world’s number one-ranked player.

Nine years later, much had changed. Forest Hills opened its doors for the first time to amateurs and professionals alike. Ashe had also grown up since losing to Laver. He had traveled the world, led UCLA to a national championship, dominated the Australian circuit, joined the Army, and starred for the U.S. Davis Cup team. Yet the “burden of being black” was ever present. Ashe’s trophies and accolades did not erase the fact that black men and women across America were fighting and dying for civil rights. Attending segregated schools in Richmond, being denied entry into tennis tournaments because of his race, and watching television newsreels of black demonstrators being beaten in Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma made Ashe keenly aware of his race and his responsibilities to the civil rights movement.

The 1968 U.S. Open, as it turned out, would mark Ashe’s first Grand Slam title and the moment when he added his voice to the black cause. His defeat of Okker, a professional, in five sets was the first Grand Slam event won by an African-American man. The image of Ashe embracing his father at center court and acknowledging the white fans who cheered him from the grandstands resonated throughout America. Jackie Robinson wrote, “Proud of your greatness as a tennis player[,] prouder of your greatness as a man. Your stand should bridge the gap between races and inspire black people the world over and also affect the decency of all Americans.”

Robinson would be right. For the remaining twenty-five years of his life, Ashe made it his mission to bring together people of all races, ethnicities, and social classes. During his groundbreaking trip to South Africa in 1973, Ashe met with and debated black journalists, a prominent white cabinet member, and a pro-apartheid professor at an elite university. At the U.S. Open a year after his win over Okker, he spoke at length with a group of antiapartheid activists who insisted that he boycott the event in protest of the Open’s decision to hire a white South African director. Ashe talked and listened to all, especially those with whom he disagreed and even if the topic was controversial. Perhaps that’s Ashe’s greatest lesson to us all.

hallEric Allen Hall is an assistant professor in the history department at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro.  He is the author of Arthur Ashe: Tennis and Justice in the Civil Rights Era.



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Filed under African American Studies, American Studies, Current Affairs, For Everyone, Sports

A Trip to Great Kids Farm

By Hilary S. Jacqmin

Earlier this year, more than a dozen employees of Johns Hopkins University Press traveled to Great Kids Farm in Catonsville, Maryland, to participate in a day of service. Working together with other volunteers from JHU’s Sheridan Libraries as part of a joint effort cosponsored by the diversity committees of both entities, Press participants weeded garlic beds, repotted and composted herbs, tented a greenhouse with a shade tarp, pruned fig trees, planted marigolds, helped schoolchildren construct seed bombs, shredded beets, fed goats, and supervised kids as they bravely tasted a variety of unfamiliar herbs and leafy greens, including sorrel.

Weeding garlic

Weeding garlic

Great Kids Farm, which is owned by Baltimore City Schools, is unique: it’s the only working farm in America that is run by a public school district. Since 2008, the farm has focused on sustainability and nutritional efforts while striving, as its website puts it, to provide “opportunities for Baltimore City Public School students to understand and participate in every aspect of food preparation—from seed to fork.”

Busy in the greenhouse

Busy in the greenhouse

The farm takes a work-based learning approach. Younger children are introduced to the basics of plant growth, farm life, and healthy cooking and eating by completing hands-on tasks. High schoolers are eligible to apply for more intensive long-term internships. Interns are typically responsible for growing, for example, microgreens, which are then used in dishes served by local restaurants. The money earned from selling produce goes back into funding the farm and the internship program, while produce that is supplied directly to half of the public schools in Baltimore helps feed growing kids.

Placing the shade tarp

Placing the shade tarp

The day at Great Kids Farm was very special to all of the Hopkins participants. It helped us feel more connected to nature and to the soil. It gave us the opportunity to meet and collaborate with our library colleagues, friendly and interesting counterparts with a love for books that mirrors our own. It also made us realize that we are all part of Baltimore’s urban ecosystem. Not only did some of us directly reach out by helping to teach children about farming, but, by preparing food and helping edible plants thrive, we all contributed to the daily nourishment of Baltimore’s kids, some of whom lack regular at-home access to fresh vegetables because they live in food deserts.

Feeding the goats

Feeding the goats

Surprisingly, we also discovered that shredded, uncooked beets are actually one of the most popular vegetables that Great Kids Farm provides to Baltimore schools. Kids just love the sweet, earthy taste and the crisp bite of the beets. By supplying schools with vegetables and herbs that aren’t automatically considered “kid-friendly,” including Swiss chard, kale, and cilantro, the farm is helping to broaden and enliven children’s palates. Overall, our day at the farm helped us uphold the Diversity Committee’s mission to promote “inclusiveness, mutual respect, and the appreciation of multiple perspectives.” Our day amounted to 138 hours of volunteer service, equivalent to an in-kind contribution of $3,055.32.

Shredding and packing beets

Shredding and packing beets

Hoeing vegetables

Hoeing vegetables

How can you help out? Great Kids Farms is looking for volunteers throughout the year. To sign up, go to, or donate to the farm at

Hilary S. Jacqmin is a manuscript editor at Johns Hopkins University Press and a graduate of JHU’s Writing Seminars MA program.  Among her many duties, she is the intrepid copyeditor of the JHU Press Blog.

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The Ghost of Prisons Future: Mass Incarceration in Historical Context

Guest post by Joseph F. Spillane

Historians have, finally, seized upon the phenomenon of mass incarceration as a subject worthy of serious consideration. The astonishing and unprecedented rise of imprisonment rates between the early 1970s and the 2000s is undoubtedly one of the most significant developments in modern social policy. Indeed, mass incarceration is now understood as perhaps the defining phenomenon of the American racial, social, and political order, much as slavery or Jim Crow in their day. Ironically, however, our focus on mass incarceration may actually serve to distract us from its deeper historical origins.

One source of the confusion about mass incarceration is that the phenomenon—almost by definition—is understood to be one of scale. And, if one is examining this primarily as a scale phenomenon, it appears fairly clear that imprisonment rates were relatively flat prior to the 1970s, and it was only in that decade that rates began their remarkable four-decade climb. As a consequence, scholars tend to see mass incarceration as an immediate by-product of rising crime rates in the Sixties, or perhaps to the race riots and urban crises of that same decade, or to highly publicized prisoner uprisings like the one at New York State’s Attica Prison in 1971. In this version of events, mass incarceration is just one more conservative reaction to the excesses of the Sixties or to the failures of liberalism. I believe, however, that we need to look further back in time.

To understand why, it is helpful to understand that the era of mass incarceration is not simply about scale, it is also about the nature and quality of imprisonment, the turn toward frankly punitive language to describe our motives for punishment, increased racial disparity, and the corresponding decline of the idea that prisoners are or should be reintegrated back into society as productive citizens. In examining just the history of just one New Deal-era reform prison in New York State, it seems clear to me that the progressive or liberal impulse in corrections was scarcely well established behind bars. And, where it was, events of the immediate postwar years rocked reform structures and gave rise to what looks suspiciously like the contemporary warehouse prisons that so many have condemned.

So what happened? Reformers established the liberal prison regime upon the premise that inmates should be provided the resources they needed to realize their potential and to accept the offer of full citizenship that would await them upon release. In doing so, the prison gate could become, as one reformer put it, a “gate of reentry” into the community. It was a simple vision, but one that seems attractive and compelling even today. But, almost from the beginning, prison officials (and even some reformers) drew boundaries around the idea of citizenship, marking some young men as unredeemable. The numbers of such young men surged in the immediate postwar years, as gang violence, racial conflict, and drug addiction appeared to pose an intractable challenge to the prewar reform vision. As early as 1953, New York opened a warehouse prison designed specially for the young men deemed uneducable and ungovernable—in other words, formally abandoning the idea that every young man was a worthy subject for rehabilitation.

Many of the inmates who seized Attica Prison’s D-Yard in 1971 were veterans of the prison system, and their education often began in the reformatories of the Fifties, where they first began to link imprisonment with systems of racial oppression. The conditions under which mass incarceration could flourish were products of these postwar conflicts. It is a useful reminder today, as the debates over mass incarceration heat up, that the politics of law and order were not simply conjured up by politicians at one moment, but were and are deeply embedded in the American politics of punishment.



Joseph F. Spillane is an associate professor of history at the University of Florida. He is the author of several books, including Coxsackie: The Life and Death of Prison Reform, and Cocaine: From Medical Marvel to Modern Menace in the United States, 1884–1920, both published by Johns Hopkins Press.

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