Category Archives: American Studies

Living Hell in pictures

Guest post by Michael C. C. Adams

We asked Professor Michael C. C. Adams to select some archival images to represent each chapter of his latest book, Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil War. Professor Adams’ explanation of each picture and its significance follows.

Living Hell, Chapter One: Gone for a Soldier
Bucking and gagging or crucifixion on a spare artillery wheel appear to be harsh punishments, but were common for serious military offenses such as theft, drunkenness, or rank insubordination. Regular officers, in particular, used severe measures, including flogging and execution, to control ill-disciplined citizen soldiers. These sketches are by Charles Reed, a Civil War veteran; they appeared in Hard Tack and Coffee: The Unwritten Story of Army Life , an 1887 memoir written by John D. Billings of the 10th Massachusetts Volunteer Artillery. Although a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, Billings didn’ t flinch from confronting the dark side of soldiering. I talk more about punishments and adjustment to army life in the first chapter of Living Hell.
Adams1 Bucker Spare Wheel

Living Hell, Chapter Two: On the March
This sketch of soldiers wading through mud accompanied the text of the 1906 memoir The Young Soldier, which was written by Joseph E. Crowell of the 13th New Jersey Volunteers. Dust, mud, and lack of water to wash made soldiers miserable, then as now. Some vets said being filthy was worse than fighting. But mud was also a vector for diseases that entered the host body through cuts, sores, and abrasions. I look more at the health hazards faced by soldiers tenting in the field as part of Chapter Two of Living Hell.

Adams2 Soldiers Deep in Mud

Living Hell, Chapter Three: Close Order Combat
This soldier from Confederate General Richard S. Ewell’s Corps, killed in heavy Virginia Wilderness fighting in May 1864, had not been dead long enough to bloat when this photograph was taken by a Mathew Brady cameraman (the photograph is now in the Library of Congress collection). The victim was hit in the shoulder by a rifle round (lead “minnie” balls inflicted deep, gouging wounds). As he is soaked in blood to the waistline, we may conjecture that he bled to death before help could reach him. I examine Civil War weapons, tactics, and the lethal destruction they caused in Chapter Three of Living Hell.

Adams3 Soldier Killed

Living Hell, Chapter Four: Clearing the Battlefield

In this sketch, now in the Library of Congress, field artist Alfred R. Waud showed infantry trying to carry a wounded man to safety using a makeshift stretcher during the Virginia Wilderness fighting of May 1864. Burning to death was a terrible fate dreaded by men on both sides, including General William T. Sherman, who witnessed the horror at Shiloh in April 1862. Survivors said the cries of those roasting haunted their dreams for decades. Cartridge boxes exploding with the heat added to the agony of victims, I discuss the plight of the wounded, along with the problems of burying the thousands of corpses from major battles, in Chapter Four of Living Hell.
Adams4 Wounded Soldiers

Living Hell, Chapter Five: The Edge of Sanity

Field artist Alfred R. Waud drew this “straggler” from life, one of the many thousands who hung around the peripheries of the armies, often preying on civilians to stay alive. A Victorian would likely see here a coward who had “lost his character.” With the benefit of later scientific insights, we might diagnose over-exposure to the elements and to combat, producing emotional demoralization and probable degeneration of the immune system. I examine all aspects of psychological wounds, including shell shock or traumatic brain damage, combat exhaustion, dissociation, and post traumatic stress disorder, in Chapter Five of Living Hell.

Adams5 Homeless

Living Hell, Chapter Six: Deprivations and Dislocations

Civilians suffered drastic physical deprivations through economic shortages, loss of homes, and the absence of breadwinners. They also bore grievous personal losses in the deaths and injuries of loved ones, along with chronic dislocation to their lives, especially if trapped in a war zone. In this sketch by artist Francis H. Schell for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, farmers who had evacuated Sharpsburg, Maryland, return to their lands on September 19, 1862, after the bloody battle of Antietam. They stare in horrified fascination at the grotesque corpses, some of the many not yet buried. I describe civilian struggles to cope with wartime traumas in Chapter Six of Living Hell.

Adams6 Farmers Return

Living Hell, Chapter Seven: Invasions and Violations

It is conventional to label the sectional conflict a “brothers’ war,” which in some ways it was, dividing families, communities, and states. But, viewed from a different perspective, this was a “strangers’ war.” Most people on either side knew very little about their enemy and filled this knowledge gap with negative caricatures that demonized the “alien other” as cruel and fiendish. Dark stereotypes helped to make the latter stages of the fighting cruel and merciless, as the conflict descended into total war. Regional stereotypes were common even before the firing began. This editorial cartoon in Harper’s Weekly (New York, 1860) depicts a Southern militiaman: scruffy, out at the knee, bristling with weapons (including the murderous bowie knife and tomahawk), he clutches a lynching rope. I discuss mutual hatreds and the savagery generated by war psychosis in Chapter Seven of Living Hell.

Adams7 1860 Wood Engraving

Living Hell, Chapter 8: State of the Union

Devastation to Richmond, Virginia, as captured in this spring 1865 photograph (now in the Library of Congress), suggests the ruin inflicted on the war’s losers. Sections of the South had not recovered a century later. Not all on the winning side prospered either. African Americans saw their fragile hold on full citizenship eroded by legal chicanery and physical intimidation. Women, who thought their contributions to the war effort would net them full civic equality, had to wait until 1920 for the right to vote in federal elections. Union workers, who had seen this as a people’s war, were also disappointed as big business, in league with government, became the most powerful voice in national affairs. I discuss the lasting legacies of the war in chapter eight of Living Hell.

Adams8 Ruins of Richmond

Living Hell: General Lee and the Gray Ladies
The soldier pictured on the cover of Living Hell (from the Library of Congress collection), lying shot through the forehead in a Petersburg, Virginia, trench, early 1865, reminds us of the war’s pathos. Young and handsome, he had his hair cropped recently to deter lice, fleas, and ticks, the unwelcome companions of field life. In an act that must still provoke unease in the viewer, the photographer has posed the body and attendant props (muskets) to create a romantically Gothic effect. The boy is one of the numberless, nameless thousands who died anonymous deaths on fields far from home. I try to capture the lasting emotional emptiness of civilians left to grieve the missing in the Closing to Living Hell.

adamshell-contrastMichael C. C. Adams, Regents Professor of History Emeritus, University of Northern Kentucky, is the author of Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil War and The Best War Ever: America and World War II, both published by Johns Hopkins. To hear Michael Adams talk about Living Hell with Abraham Lincoln Book Shop during a Virtual Book Signing™ click here.

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Filed under American History, American Studies, Book talks, Civil War, For Everyone, Gettysburg, Illustration, Military

March events feature Shakespeare, Lindsay, Einstein, and more

March roars in with a variety of events suitable for lionizing, and JHU Press authors, editors, and staff will keep busy all month. Stephen H. Grant loved the idea that the official publication date for Collecting Shakespeare would be the Ides of March, and several events around that date welcome his book. At Hunter College, Joseph P. Viteritti and a group of very distinguished panelists will discuss the legacy of New York Mayor John Lindsay to launch the publication of Summer in the City: John Lindsay, New York, and the American Dream. And Michael C. C. Adams will discuss and sign Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil War in the latest Virtual Book Signing™  hosted by Chicago’s Abraham Lincoln Book Shop. A Virtual Book Signing™ is a live and online book talk and signing event webcast from the bookstore and streamed round the world. Customers both in the store and online can listen to the presentation, ask questions, and then buy books and see them signed by the author. Please spread the word about JHUP’s March line-up!

weaver-zercher rev comp.indd6 March 2014, 11:30 a.m.

Book Talk & Signing
- Valerie Weaver-Zercher
Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure
of Amish Romance Novels

Common Hour, Mayser Gymnasium
Franklin & Marshall College
Admission: Free and open to the public; information here.

 grant.collecting11 March 2014, 12:30 p.m.
Hopkins Club Lunch & Lecture – Stephen H. Grant
Collecting Shakespeare:
The Story of Henry and Emily Folger

JHU’s Homewood Campus
Baltimore, MD
Admission: $20; members call the Club to make reservations; non-members contact Jack Holmes at 410-516-6928 to attend as a guest of the Press.

mace512 March 2014, 7:30–9:00 pm
Book Talk & Signing - Peter V. Rabins, M.D., M.P.H.
The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementias, and Memory Loss
The Kaleidoscope Program
Roland Park Country School
Baltimore, MD
The author’s JHUP’s best-selling book discusses “The Ethical Issues of Alzheimer Disease and Memory Loss” in the popular RPCS speaker series.

Admission: $30; call 410-323-5500 to register.

gimbel13 March 2014, 6:30–8:30 pm
Book Talk & Signing - Steven Gimbel
Einstein’s Jewish Science
The Johns Hopkins Odyssey Program
JHU’s Homewood Campus
Baltimore, MD
Admission: $28; call 410 -516 -8516 or register online here.

14 March 2014, 7:00 p.m.
Book Talk & Signing
- Stephen H. Grant
Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger
One More Page Books
2200 N. Westmoreland St.
Arlington, VA
Admission: Free; call 703-300-9746 or visit

adams.hell15 March 2014, 12:00–1:30 p.m.
Virtual Book Signing™
- Michael C. C. Adams
Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil War
The Abraham Lincoln Book Shop
Chicago, IL
Admission: Free and open to the public; participate at the book shop or online; more information here.

osteen19 March 2014, 6:00–8:00 p.m.
Book Talk & Signing
- Mark Osteen
Nightmare Alley: Film Noir and the American Dream
Loyola University Maryland, Knott Hall
Baltimore, MD
This program is sponsored by the Phi Beta Kappa Alumni Association of Greater Baltimore.
Admission: Free with RSVP to

kelly20 March 2014, 6:30–8:30 pm
Book Talk & Signing - Cindy Kelly
Outdoor Sculpture in Baltimore: A Historical Guide to Public Art in the Monumental City
The Johns Hopkins Odyssey Program
JHU’s Homewood Campus
Baltimore, MD JHU Press author Cindy Kelly will present “A Close Look at Baltimore’s Battle Monument.”
Admission: $28; call 410-516 -8516 or register online here.

vitteriti20 March 2014, 5:00 p.m.
Book Talk & Signing
- Joseph P. Viteritti
Summer in the City:
John Lindsay, New York, and the American Dream

Hunter College, The Kaye Playhouse
New York, NY
Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College hosts a launch event for Summer in the City featuring Joseph P. Viteritti, Sam Roberts, Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, Vincent Cannato, Lizabeth Cohen, and Richard Ravitch.
Admission: Free, reservation required; call 212-396-7931.

20 March 2014, 6:00–8:00 p.m.
Book Talk & Signing
- Stephen H. Grant
Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger
Drama Book Shop
250 W. 40th St.
New York, NY
Admission: Free; call 212-944-0595 or email

kilcup26 March 2014, 7:00 p.m.
Book Talk & Signing
- Angela Sorby
Over the River and Through the Wood:
An Anthology of Nineteenth-Century
American Children’s Poetry

Boswell Book Company
Milwaukee, WI
Admission: Free; 414-332-1181 or visit online.

28 March 2014, 6:30 p.m.
Book Talk & Signing
- Stephen H. Grant
Collecting Shakespeare:
The Story of Henry and Emily Folger

Folger Shakespeare Library
Washington, D.C.
Admission: Members only; for information, call 202-675-0302.

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Filed under American History, American Studies, Amish, Baltimore, Biography, Book talks, Dementia and Memory Loss, General Science, Geriatrics and Gerontology, Kids, Literature, Mental Health, Physics, Poetry, Politics, Urban Studies

February news and new books

Enter code HDPD at checkout to receive a 30% discount on all books featured in this blog post or mention this code when calling in your order at 1-800-537-5487.

News and Notes/Praise and Reviews

Dr. Gil Yosipovitch, coauthor of Living with Itch: A Patient’s Guide, was featured in The New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Health Check, a BBC World Service program, interviewed contributors to Amy Boesky’s The Story Within in a special episode on living with genetic disorders.

Library Journal says of The 36-Hour Day, audio edition: “Rabins’s well-paced, friendly, and authoritative reading capably addresses uncomfortable or potentially embarrassing topics.”

Click here for more information or to hear podcast excerpts of The 36-Hour Day, audio edition. The complete book is available on eleven CDs, in a print edition, or as a download from

In The Lumière Reader, Terry Castle wrote, “One of the most elegant new critical books I’ve encountered recently is Janine Barchas’s Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity—a very original and well-researched, sometimes mind-blowing study of the numerous real-world people who stand ‘behind’ individual Austen characters. Barchas is stunning, for example, on Northanger Abbey, one of Austen’s more elusive fictions.”

Hot off the Press

Bipolar Disorder: A Guide for Patients and Families, 3rd ed. The vital resource for people with bipolar disorder and their loved ones, completely updated.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Fiction: “An Almost Theatrical Innocence”  In his personal tribute to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels and short stories, John T. Irwin offers an intricate vision of one of the most important writers in the American canon.

Essential Readings in Evolutionary Biology  This collection of classic publications offers a chronological history of evolutionary biology from Darwin to Watson and Crick to the present.

Mental Health Issues and the University Student  Case-based intervention strategies for mental health professionals working with college and university students.

Forging China’s Military Might: A New Framework for Assessing Innovation  Experts examine how innovation and technology are transforming China’s defense industry.

The Boy Problem: Educating Boys in Urban America, 1870–1970  A historical perspective on the factors affecting boys’ relationships with school and the criminal justice system.

Enter code HDPD at checkout to receive a 30% discount on all books featured in this blog post or mention this code when calling in your order at 1-800-537-5487.

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January news and new books

If you’re on the hunt for literary bargains, take a sneak peak at our Online Sale!

News and Notes/Praise and Reviews

The Huffington Post names Benedetta Berti’s Armed Political Organizations: From Conflict to Integration  one of the best political science books of 2013.

A recent Baltimore City Paper review  of Michael Olesker’s Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age says: “In-depth interviews and decades of cultural observance breathe colorful life into each of these essays . . . a great historical record of some of our city’s most fascinating characters.”

Listen to NPR’s The State of Things  interview, “Is Facebook Good For Your Health?”, with Brian G. Southwell, author of Social Networks and Popular Understanding of Science and Health: Sharing Disparities .

Hot off the Press

Native Memoirs from the War of 1812: Black Hawk and William Apess  Rare firsthand accounts from Native Americans who fought in the War of 1812.

Medicine and Religion: A Historical Introduction  Explores the interplay of medicine and religion in Western societies.

Women’s Lacrosse: A Guide for Advanced Players and Coaches, updated edition  This classic book on women’s lacrosse has been updated with recent rule changes and the state of the game today.

My Silver Planet: A Secret History of Poetry and Kitsch  Reveals the hidden relationship between kitsch and poetry from the eighteenth century to the present.

The Lyric Theory Reader: A Critical Anthology  Collects major essays on the modern idea of lyric, made available here for the first time in one place.

North Korean Nuclear Operationality: Regional Security and Nonproliferation  Gregory J. Moore asks leading experts in Asian and security studies to consider the international consequences of a North Korea with operational nuclear weapons.

Contested Frontiers in the Syria-Lebanon-Israel Region: Cartography, Sovereignty, and Conflict Studies one of the flash points of the Middle East—a tiny region of roughly 100 square kilometers where Syria, Lebanon, and Israel come together but where the borders have never been clearly marked.

Enter code HDPD at checkout to receive a 30% discount on all books featured in this blog post or mention this code when calling in your order at 1-800-537-5487.

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Thoughts on a Museum Anniversary

Guest post by Robert C. Post

As of January 22, 2014, fifty years will have elapsed since the opening of the National Museum of American History (NMAH), the Smithsonian museum at the west end of the Mall. Designed “to illustrate with authentic original relics the elements of our technology and culture,” it was originally called the Museum of History and Technology, or MHT. During the initial push for authorization, in 1954, Senator Clinton Anderson declared that “Travel through space is almost at hand; Mars and Venus will soon be on our visiting list. The split atom and the rays of the sun may propel our vehicles through the constellations of stars. We will need this museum.” Smithsonian Secretary Leonard Carmichael added that the MHT was needed not only to exhibit “material evidence of our historic national growth and achievement,” but also to “serve other urgent national interests.”


Urgent national interests weighed heavily on the mind of George Dondero, the Michigan congressman who sponsored the bill authorizing the new museum. For curators, this bill promised an escape from the old Arts and Industries building, untidy and forever dusty, like an attic. But for Dondero there was a  more compelling need.  A militant Cold Warrior, he believed that the absence of a preeminent technological museum in Washington provided comfort, if not aid, to our mortal enemies in the Kremlin.

By 1955, Dondero, Anderson, and Carmichael had two powerful allies. Speaking to the convention of the American Association of Museums, Vice President Nixon expressed approval and also conveyed the approval of President Eisenhower. Ike signed the authorization in June and the $33.7 million appropriation a year later. The architectural commission went to the venerable firm of McKim, Mead, and White, and ground was broken in 1958. On this site would rise a five-story building with 175,000 square feet of exhibit space on the first floor alone, nearly all of it slated for technological displays on topics ranging from antique automobiles to atomic energy.

Eisenhower had expected to christen the new museum, but it was not finished during his term and he would not get the honor. Nor would John F. Kennedy. Rather, it was Lyndon Johnson, two months after JFK’s death. Johnson expressed hope that “every doubter who hesitates before the onrush of tomorrow will, some day, spend some time in this great Museum.” But geopolitics had changed so much in ten years. A weapon in the Cold War? The exhibits seemed largely irrelevant, not when  the “onrush of tomorrow” looked like a “shooting war” in Vietnam.

In the 1970s, the tenor of exhibits began to change, with a new generation of curators attuned more to countercultural sensibilities than to “original relics.” Exhibit texts veered toward “revisionism,” even sowing doubt about technological progress being linked to social progress, a link rarely in question previously. With almost no discussion, the word “technology” was dropped from the museum’s name.

Then, in the heat of the culture wars of the 1990s, there was a flare-up involving an exhibit that featured Three Mile Island and Silent Spring. An even angrier flare-up occurred at the National Air and Space Museum, the NMAH’s stepchild across the Mall. An exhibit spotlighting the warplane sent to destroy Hiroshima with an atomic bomb, the Enola Gay, was also going to include evidence of  the destruction it wrought. Educational, yes, but politically unrealistic. Said Newt Gingrich, “Americans are sick and tired of being told that they ought to be ashamed of their country.” The exhibit was cancelled, and, ever since, the Smithsonian has avoided technology’s dark side. The emphasis has been on “imagination, resourcefulness, and daring.”

These happened to be the words of Vice President Cheney in 2004, but they also represented the ideal when the MHT was being planned. Today, the museum routinely celebrates technological progress. A gleaming locomotive ushers the way in to the most extravagant exhibit, America on the Move, and at the museum’s center stage stands a Conestoga wagon, the conveyance that “enabled settlement to spread from the Atlantic to the Pacific.” One wonders if the museum should continue to showcase icons of our “historic growth and achievement,” or, better, if it should define and pursue “urgent national interests,” as it did with its Cold War narrative—or, more to the point, when telling of Three Mile Island and Silent Spring. Celebration or education? That is the question at the NMAH as it moves into its second half-century.

postRobert C. Post, now curator emeritus, was employed by the Smithsonian for twenty-three years, beginning in 1973. He was responsible for several technological collections and story-driven exhibits. His latest book, Who Owns America’s Past? The Smithsonian and the Problem of History, published by Johns Hopkins University Press, combines information from hitherto-untapped archival sources, extensive interviews, a thorough review of the secondary literature, and considerable personal experience. The Society for the History of Technology awarded Post the Leonardo da Vinci Medal, its highest honor.

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Our MLA 2014 virtual exhibit is open

Attention humanities scholars and lovers of literature: We’re pleased to open the “doors” to our virtual exhibit in support of the 2014 annual meeting of the Modern Language Association. Simply click the banner below to enter and browse over 100 new, recent, and forthcoming books and our entire selection of academic journals. The books are 30% off and journals are 20% off.


Questions? E-mail Brendan Coyne or tweet him at @JHUPSales.

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Our AHA 2014 virtual exhibit is open

Attention historians: We’re pleased to throw open the doors to our virtual exhibit running in conjunction with the American Historical Association’s 128th annual meeting. Simply click the banner below to enter and browse our latest publications. All books are 30% off using code HEJY.


Questions? E-mail Brendan Coyne or tweet him at @JHUPSales.

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Filed under American History, American Studies, Amish, Anabaptist & Pietist Studies, Ancient, Baltimore, Biography, Business History, Civil War, Civil War, Cultural Studies, Education, Evolution, Higher Education, History, History of Medicine, History of science, History of technology, Journals, The War of 1812, Women's History

December news and new books

christmasbanner13firtreeHappy Holidays from JHUP!

We’d like to extend our 30% discount to you on all books featured in this email. Enter code HDPD at checkout to receive a 30% discount on all books featured in this blog post or mention this code when calling in your order at 1-800-537-5487.

News and Notes / Praise and Reviews

Amish Quilts: Crafting an American Icon by Janneken Smucker was featured in The New York Times 2013 Holiday Gift Guide.

A Man’s Guide to Healthy Aging: Stay Smart, Strong, and Active by Edward H. Thompson, Jr., and Lenard W. Kaye was featured in The Wall Street Journal’s 2013 top guides to life after 50.

Remaking College: Innovation and the Liberal Arts  edited by Rebecca Chopp, Susan Frost, and Daniel H. Weiss was featured in an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer  and the editors were interviewed on WHYY’s Radio Times.

Hot off the Press

Over the River and Through the Wood: An Anthology of Nineteenth-Century American Children’s Poetry Rediscover nineteenth-century American children’s poetry with stunning period illustrations.

Living Safely, Aging Well: A Guide to Preventing Injuries at Home Nationally recognized safety expert Dorothy A. Drago spells out how to prevent injury while cooking, gardening, sleeping, driving—and just walking around the house.

The Other Four Plays of Sophocles: Ajax, Women of Trachis, Electra, and Philoctetes Famed translator David Slavitt lends his distinctly contemporary voice to four lesser-known plays of Sophocles.

From Little London to Little Bengal: Religion, Print, and Modernity in Early British India, 1793–1835 How literary and religious traffic between Bengal and Britain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries impelled a complex and contested cosmopolitan imperial culture.

The Myth of the Democratic Peacekeeper: Civil-Military Relations and the United Nations Arturo C. Sotomayor investigates how United Nations peacekeeping missions affect military organizations and civil-military relations as countries transition to a more democratic system.

New in Paperback!

Nightmare Alley: Film Noir and the American Dream “Only a few of the many books on film noir are essential. This is one of them… A smart, clearly written book.”—Choice

The Soul in the Brain: The Cerebral Basis of Language, Art, and Belief “This book exists… to explain matters of the heart using our knowledge of the mind… A host of professional students, clinicians, educators, and other well-read individuals will find this worthy of a close and careful read.”-Mark H. Fleisher, JAMA

The Sustainable University: Green Goals and New Challenges for Higher Education Leaders James Martin and James E. Samels have worked closely with college and university presidents, provosts, and trustees to devise best practices that establish sustainable policies and programs in the major areas of institutional operations.

The Overflowing of Friendship: Love between Men and the Creation of the American Republic “A sophisticated analysis of sources that have long confused historians. Offering a thoughtful window onto the world of early American men, it demonstrates that sympathy and affection were important qualities for the founding fathers.”—John Gilbert McCurdy, New England Quarterly

Remember, enter code HDPD at checkout to receive a 30% discount on all books featured in this blog post.

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Filed under American History, American Studies, Amish, Anabaptist & Pietist Studies, Ancient, Conservation, Consumer Health, Current Affairs, Education, Film / Documentary, For Everyone, Foreign Policy, Gender Studies, Health and Medicine, Higher Education, History, Kids, Literature, Politics, Religion, Reviews, Sale, Social media

Our 2013 History of Science Society virtual exhibit is open

Couldn’t make it to Boston for the 2013 History of Science Society annual meeting? At the meeting but simply too busy to give our books and journals a proper look? Prefer to plan your purchases from the comfort of your hotel room before hitting the book exhibit? We have you covered for just about every instance with our 2013 HSS virtual exhibit. Simply click on the banner below to enter; you’ll be able to peruse our publications—click a cover and it’ll bring you to either the Google search-inside page or to our website book description—and download our order form and seasonal and subject catalogs. All the books are 30% off (use code HEYI at checkout).


Have a question? E-mail Brendan Coyne or tweet him @JHUPSales.

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The Kennedy assassination—the day the Fifties ended

Guest post by Michael Olesker

Sometimes you try to tell the kids about the killing of John F. Kennedy, and what it did to America, and they look at you as if you’re talking about Ferdinand Magellan. Fifty years ago? Come on, Pop, try to live in the present tense, will you?

But, precisely half a century later, November 22, 1963, lingers in the mind the way that an older generation still recalls Pearl Harbor, or a younger one remembers September 11, 2001. For a lot of us, we were hearing the worst news of our lives.

I was a freshman at the University of Maryland’s College Park campus. When I got to my one o’clock class that Friday I overheard snatches of a couple of  conversations. Something about a shooting. Something about Kennedy. And the two somehow, unimaginably, attached.

“You didn’t hear?” one classmate asked. “The president was shot in Dallas, Texas. They don’t know how bad yet.”

Then the instructor walked into the room. He was a squat fellow with a flat-top haircut whose name was Fluke, and he spoke to us in tones of overt sneers.

“Everybody just sit there,” he ordered. “I’ve got a lecture to deliver. And when I’m done, then you can find out whether or not the president’s dead.”

So we sat there. Of course we did. We were a generation raised in the 1950s, and conditioned to respect authority figures, and this was the era’s unofficial closing hour. And so we sat there and listened when we should have stormed out the door.

When I did the reporting that led to my new book, Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age, I started with the premise that Kennedy’s assassination was the day the 1950s ended, no matter what the calendar claimed. The ‘50s was hula hoops and children in Davy Crockett coonskin hats. It was college kids on panty raids, which were the closest thing to actual sex back then. When the ‘60s arrived, those same college kids were out in the streets chanting, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

Of the dozens of people I interviewed for my latest book, everybody recalled the awful specifics of Nov. 22, 1963—and that entire weekend. It was not only the killing of a president, but the coming of age of television news. America spent that weekend watching Jack Ruby emerge from the shadows, watching a little boy in short pants salute his father’s casket, watching a bugler play Taps at haunted Arlington National Cemetery.

Those awful days have stayed with us for half a century, and if we live for half a century more, the shock of that time will linger.

olesker_front_stoopsMichael Olesker wrote a column for the Baltimore Sun for twenty-five years. He is the author of five previous books, including Michael Olesker’s Baltimore: If You Live Here, You’re Home, Journeys to the Heart of Baltimore, and The Colts’ Baltimore: A City and Its Love Affair in the 1950s.

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