Conversation between Judith Yaross Lee and John Bird, Part 1

The following is part one of a conversation between Judith Yaross Lee and John Bird, co-editors of the new University of Missouri Press book, Seeing Mad: Essays on Mad Magazine’s Humor and Legacy, available now. In this three-part interview, Judith and John talk about their youthful reading of Mad, then discuss the process of editing the most comprehensive academic analysis of the magazine to date, as well as reflect on the historical and cultural importance of the magazine that announced in July 2020 that future issues would prioritize reprints over new content.

John: How and when did you start reading Mad?

Judith: I started reading Mad soon after my family moved from Chicago to suburban Evanston when I was 9, in the summer of 1958, because I couldn’t get enough reading material now that we needed a car or bus to get to the library and the bookmobile limited checkouts to two books, which I could devour in a day when it was too hot to do anything (who had air conditioning? not us). But I could walk or ride my bike by myself to what we called a milk store—a bodega or convenience mart today—that didn’t require crossing any busy streets, and that store had a magazine rack filled with comics and Mad, which at 25¢ (cheap!) fit my weekly allowance, leaving me with enough funds for a comic book and popsicle or two till the next issue came out.

John: What appealed to you about the magazine?

Judith: Mad captured my imagination through its artwork and irreverence. I loved the frozen frenzy of Don Martin’s drawings, but the tv and movie satires and other graphic narratives with dialogue really stole my heart. They were filled with Yiddishisms, Americanized usage of the language that my parents and grandparents spoke when they didn’t want us kids to understand, and which I heard so often that I recall seeing the word nudge and wondering whether it was the Yiddish noodge (nag). The stories’ sarcasm and cynicism felt equally familiar in a way that set Mad apart from the rest of my media environment: the anodyne WASP humor of TV sitcoms and Doris Day movies, the uncomfortable racism of Our Gang Comedy, the violent slapstick of The Three Stooges, and moralistic contents of My Weekly Reader and Highlights for Children. So even though Mad’s writers and artists were my parents’ generation rather than mine, the Jewish sensibility that Jaffee and Abrams and I discuss in the book was a major factor in its appeal, because in those days American Jews in the hinterlands beyond New York were cautious about outing themselves and being confronted with or arousing anti-Semitism.  

John: What are some issues you remember, and what effect did Mad have on you overall?

Judith: When I look back at the Mad of those days–#47 from June 1959 is a good example—all the elements I recall are there even though Al Feldstein was still reshapingthe magazineafter Harvey Kurtzman’s departure (#28, July 1956, was his last issue). There’s a hilarious Don Martin page about an act of mercy on a city bus—and as a city kid I’d ridden lots of buses and subways—in which a guy is choking on his necktie but unwinding him from it turns him into a whizzing top whose force propels him through the roof. There’s a four-page graphic narrative drawn by Wally Wood in which Sid Caesar (whose manic performances I knew from TV) plays a perpetually hungry, dialect-speaking astrophysicist named Professor Ludwig Von Orbitmacher. There are versions of the nursery rhyme “Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill” as if published in Seventeen, Modern Romance, and other magazines. And there is a set of short TV parodies, with caricatures by Mort Drucker, each blending two program formulas: “Sea Hunt with a Dragnet,” “Arthur Murray’s Meet the Press Party,” and so on. Mad’s references to Eleanor Roosevelt and other contemporary figures, as in the Arthur Murray and “I’ve Got a Secret News Report” strips, helped me understand the political conversations always going on at our dinner table.

Judith: Okay, so I’ll ask you now. How and when did you start reading Mad?

John: I was at my cousin Sally’s house when I was about ten years old, so that would have been 1964. Her husband John had copies of Mad lying around, and my brother Jimmy and I started reading them. There was a little thing about a waitress falling into the ice cream at Howard Johnson’s and thus creating the 29th flavor. This struck me as incredibly funny; I couldn’t stop laughing! It doesn’t seem that funny to me now, but it really hit ten-year-old me. I told my parents about it on the way home, and they said that was awful, and that Mad was something Jimmy and I should not read. So of course we pooled our allowance and bought the next issue (25¢ cheap!). Then we got a subscription, even though it cost about the same as the newsstand price, and we were avid readers for years, eventually sharing our copies with our younger sister and brother as they got old enough to read it. So the young Bird household was infected with Madness!

Judith: What did you like about the magazine, and what are some things that you remember?

John: A lot of things were over my head, but I know that Mad educated me as I kept reading and as I got older. Don Martin was always a favorite, mainly because of the zany drawings with characters whose feet were hinged funny and the sound effects. I liked “Spy vs. Spy” for its visual appeal and the surprise. The same with the fold-in. “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” was another favorite, and Jimmy and I used to try to write in the extra one that they left space for. Looking back, I realize that the communal aspect of reading it, sharing it with my siblings and later with friends was an important part of the experience.

I always liked the movie and TV parodies, especially for shows I had seen, like “The $ound of Money” and “Loused Up in Space.” I didn’t know much about drawing, but I knew that Mort Drucker was great. The way Mad would skew something I had taken straight made me look at it again and see the absurdities, like in the Lost in Space parody when Will Boobinson tells his father he has to go to the bathroom. His father says something like, “the nearest gas station is forty million miles away,” and Will says, “Gee, I don’t think I can hold it that long.” That was in Mad #104, July 1966, so I was twelve. Incredibly funny!

As I got older, I began to like Dave Berg and the more “adult” features, and I know my appreciation of satire grew. Another thing Mad introduced me to was Jewishness. I was a Southern Protestant, very white bred (and bread). The Yiddishisms and the Jewish sense of humor were foreign to me but a revelation. I think Mad enlarged a lot of people’s insular worlds. I know it did mine.

Judith: How did the magazine relate to your sense of what was going on in the world at the time, and how did it change the way you experienced it?

John: I was becoming more aware of politics and world events and culture; I was 14 in 1968 when Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, when there were race riots in the cities, when the Chicago Democratic Convention erupted into protest and violence, and as the Vietnam War was escalating. I knew that I was only a few years away from possibly having to go fight. Reading Mad helped me make sense of what I saw as adult hypocrisy and bungling and made me question authority. So what had begun as simple childish laughter had become something quite serious.

Even so, the humor was always the big draw, as well as the communal aspect of having something I could share with my brother and my friends. I’ll talk more about the singing when we discuss the genesis of the book, but I’ll skip forward to high school and the way my good friend Robert Sadler and I shared our love for the magazine. We had different aspects of the magazine that we knew and liked, so it was fun to turn each other on to those. We used to sit in class and draw the Mad dirigible; I remember us drawing the “Mad Poiuyt,” that impossible optical illusion, on various blackboards around high school. Robert had a lot of the reprint books and turned me on to earlier things I had missed. He also helped me appreciate what I now know is the “chicken fat,” the little background drawings and messages that adorned so much of Mad.

Judith: I had stopped reading Mad by the mid-’60s. When did you stop reading Mad, and why?

John: I’m not sure. I know I read it all the way through high school, so 1972 or so, but I guess I just stopped reading it when I went to college. Maybe it’s because I was separated from my brother Jimmy and my friend Robert. I would buy a copy now and then, but it became something that was more or less a part of the past for me. I guess it had done its work on me. I think that has happened to many readers over the years: you read it intensely for a certain period in your youth, then you move on. I don’t think it’s really a sense of outgrowing it, but I suppose it is in a way. In any case, Mad had a profound effect on my sense of humor, my recognition of satire, my worldview, and my skepticism. Not bad for something that was “25¢ cheap” when I started reading it!

Stay tuned for the second part of the interview, coming next week!

Rippling Biceps, Sculpted Abs, and Cinematic Illusion

Guest bloggers John D. Fair and David L. Chapman discuss the writing of their newly published book, Muscles in the Movies: Perfecting the Art of Illusion. John D. Fair is Professor Emeritus of History at Auburn University and Adjunct Professor of Kinesiology at University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of seven books including Mr. America: The Tragic History of a Bodybuilding Icon. David L. Chapman is an independent scholar and author of more than a dozen books including Sandow the Magnificent: Eugen Sandow and the Beginnings of Bodybuilding.

Muscles in the Movies is a book about the way films have used well-built and athletic bodies to create a web of cinematic illusion.  It also explores the reasons why audiences were perfectly willing to surrender to that deception.  Movies and the techniques of building musculature developed at roughly the same time, and they both influenced the way we see the human body.  Coincidence?  Not Likely.  As we discovered, a focus on muscularity (both male and female) appeared across the years and in the films of a great many countries.  Italy, Germany, pre-revolutionary China, and many others have all made significant contributions to the genre.  Despite the surprising frequency of rippling biceps and sculpted abs, many cinema fans seem to think that musclemen first appeared on the screen in the 1980s with the Terminator or Rambo.  But no.  We found that muscular bodies and daring athletic stunts have been present in world cinema from Edison’s earliest films in the 1890s all the way up to the present.  Along the way, we discovered a genre populated with demigods, athletes, ape men, daredevils, dancers, superheroes and superheroines that have been enthralling audiences for well over a century. 

It was fun discussing the obvious figures in this history:  Douglas Fairbanks, Annette Kellerman, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but it was equally exciting to discover some of the lesser-known musclemen and athletic women (like Maciste, Astrea, and Eddie Polo) as we traced the line of brawny physiques from the 19th to the 21st century.  We also examined a few of the techniques that allowed these men and women to acquire their muscles and their abilities. These included such sports as swimming (Johnny Weissmuller), martial arts (Bruce Lee), skating (Sonja Henie), and acrobatics (Burt Lancaster).

The history of cinematic muscles would be a daunting topic for one person to take on, so we decided to share the work.  For the first time in our writing careers we chose to co-write a book; we figured that collaboration would be a good way to divvy up the duties and tap into our personal preferences as both historians and movie fans.  John is a university professor, an athlete, and a family man, and David is a retired public-school teacher who has written books on a variety of subjects from Italian jazz to strongwomen to gay physique photography.  Chapman has an interest in the earlier movies as well as those made internationally; Fair focuses on American and more contemporary manifestations of muscularity and the various ways these beefy stars built their physiques. 

Although we had both previously published several books, this was the first time that either of us had written an entire work with a co-author.  All in all, we two authors found that ours was a pretty pleasant and harmonious collaboration, and there are several reasons for our success.  First of all, we have known one another for many years, so there were few personality surprises.  We also have respect for each other’s areas of expertise, writing skill and opinions. We both bring a variety of different life experiences to the writing process.  Our interests may be diverse, but we are united in a love of these movies and the well-built people who starred in them. 

“We Have Drank from the Same Canteen”

Veteran Company A, the Civil War, and Reconciliation in Kansas City

By Amy Laurel Fluker

Amy Laurel Fluker is Assistant Professor of U.S. history at Youngstown State University in Ohio. This blog provides further insight into her recently published book, Commonwealth of Compromise: Civil War Commemoration in Missouri. As Missouri’s Civil War generation constructed and competed to control Civil War memory, they undertook a series of collaborative efforts that paved the way for reconciliation to a degree unmatched by other states.

More than twenty years after the conclusion of the Civil War, many Americans still struggled to put the conflict behind them. In Kansas City, this posed a significant problem. As the turn of the century approached, Kansas City was on the verge of tremendous demographic and economic development.[1] Wartime divisions, however, remained pronounced. Recognizing that those divisions threatened the growth of their city, white veterans looked for ways to encourage reconciliation. This was a particular priority for the men of Kansas City’s Veteran Company A, Third Regiment, Missouri National Guard.

Formed in 1881, Veteran Company A held the unique distinction of being the only National Guard unit in the country formed entirely of Civil War veterans—honorably discharged Union veterans, to be specific. Between 1881 and 1899, Company A enrolled a total of 249 men.[2] In 1895, they reported 90 members with an average age of 53.[3] In addition to their regularly enrolled members, they also extended honorary memberships to several Confederate veterans—including local Confederate hero Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby.[4]

“All animosity and unfriendly feelings that may have hitherto existed between the soldiers of the northern and southern armies is rapidly vanishing into mist so far as Kansas City is concerned.”

Veteran Company A fraternized with former Confederates in other ways as well. They invited the local chapter of the United Confederate Veterans to share their headquarters and regularly held joint Memorial Day observances with their one-time enemies.[5] These efforts, according to The Kansas City Times, had done more to speed the eradication of wartime hostilities than anything else. It said: “All animosity and unfriendly feelings that may have hitherto existed between the soldiers of the northern and southern armies is rapidly vanishing into mist so far as Kansas City is concerned.”[6]

Despite having served in opposing armies, the men of Veteran Company A related to ex-Confederates because of their shared experiences as combat veterans. Whatever resentments they may have harbored, they identified as fellow survivors of a terrible war. In the headquarters of Company A, Union and Confederate veterans expressed their camaraderie by drinking together from an unusual ceremonial canteen. This canteen had dual spouts, so two men could drink from it at the same time. Its design was inspired by a popular wartime poem by Private Miles O’Reilly entitled “We’ve Drank from the Same Canteen.” “There are bonds of all sorts in this world of ours, . . .” O’Reilly wrote, “But there’s never a bond, old friend, like this—/We have drank from the same canteen.” The poem continued:

We have shared our blankets and tents together,

And have marched and fought in all kinds of weather,

And hungry and full we have been;

Had days of battle and days of rest;

But this memory I cling to, and love the best—

We have drank from the same canteen. [7]

“That canteen . . . holds mighty nigh a gallon of whisky, and Captain Taylor . . . and I have drank out of it together very nicely.”

Whenever Veteran Company A entertained ex-Confederates, drinking from the ceremonial canteen served both as a reminder of past hardships and as a symbol of their new-found friendship. It must be said, however, that the contents of the canteen also played a role in facilitating reconciliation. After sharing a swig with Company A’s commanding officer, Henry J. Taylor, Confederate veteran Stephen C. Ragan observed: “That canteen . . . holds mighty nigh a gallon of whisky, and Captain Taylor . . . and I have drank out of it together very nicely.”[8]

The goodwill Veteran Company A cultivated between Union and Confederate veterans in Kansas City provides a small glimpse into how Missourians attempted to reconcile with one another in the aftermath of the Civil War. The friendships these men struck up were not always easy and bitterness certainly remained. At the same time, however, whenever Union and Confederate veterans drank from the same canteen, they fostered economic and political alliances which served to unify and strengthen their city at a critical moment in its development.

[1] James R. Shortridge, Kanas City and How It Grew, 1822-2011 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2012), 29-60; Lawrence O. Christensen and R. Gary Kremer, A History of Missouri, vol. 4, 1875-1919 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997), 89-90.

[2] Kansas City Journal, August 13, 1899.

[3] Kansas City Daily Journal, June 28, 1895; Kansas City Daily Journal, September 10, 1895.

[4] Kansas City Daily Journal, January 13, 1895; Kansas City Journal, February 14, 1897; Kansas City Journal, August 13, 1899.

[5] Kansas City Journal, August 13, 1899.

[6] The Kansas City Times, March 22, 1891.

[7] John D. Billings, Hard Tack and Coffee (Boston: George M. Smith & Co., 1887), 223-224.

[8] Kansas City Journal, January 30, 1899. See also The Kansas City Times, November 2, 1895.


Composite photograph, Veteran Company A, 3rd Infantry, National Guard (1895), Charles C. Bell Photograph Collection, 1863-1927 (P0657), The State Historical Society of Missouri.

The image of the canteen is from the Kansas City Journal, January 30, 1899, p. 3.

Forthcoming Event

Amy Fluker will be giving the Fall Lecture at 1:30 p.m. on November 7 at the State Historical Society of Missouri virtual annual membership meeting. Her talk will detail the efforts of Missouri’s women, both Union and Confederate, to commemorate the Civil War, with a particular focus on the Department of Missouri’s Woman’s Relief Corps and the Missouri Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Fluker’s presentation is based on her new book, Commonwealth of Compromise: Civil War Commemoration in Missouri. The program is free but registration is required:

Playing with Story Structure

Nancy McCabe, author of Can This Marriage Be Saved? A Memoir, coming out in September, gives the 30-year backstory on the creative process of writing of her newest book in the Spalding University School of Writing blog. Below is an excerpt and link to the full blog.

Fig_10 leaving the wedding

My forthcoming book, Can This Marriage Be Saved? A Memoir, took me thirty years to write. I’m not kidding. It’s not like I was working on it every day for thirty years; I put it aside for long periods. But it didn’t fully take off for me until I embraced approaches I had long resisted, playing with extended metaphors and borrowed forms as shaping devices.

The writing process really started way back when, at the age of nineteen and engaged, I wrote a short story about a young woman’s marital ambivalence. My own fiancé was a sweet persistent guy who’d pressured me to date him, then got it in his head that he wanted to marry me, and though I had none of the requisite romantic feelings, I agreed. Marriage seemed like a chance to reinvent my life, to find safety in a dangerous world, to find certainty in an uncertain one.

It turns out that you can leave a marriage you’ve entered into foolishly at a young age, but the questions that take hold of you as a result of it may never let go. I was twenty-five when my husband and I split up. By then I was writing in earnest about that part of my life, both trying to make sense of it and resisting the notion that such a formative experience should be written off as a shameful mistake, best forgotten. I finished my MFA and started writing a novel about a youthful marriage.

Fig_15 styrophoam noses

My early writing mentors had been traditionalists who raised their eyebrows at experimental work, pounding into me the importance of keeping the story, not tricks or gimmicks or cleverness or pretty language, at the forefront—and no more than three metaphors to a page, roared one professor. Most of that grounding has been valuable to me throughout my writing career. It ignited my own passion for storytelling and taught me about the power of the narrative arc. But it also made me wary about the fine line between structural experimentation and sloppiness for the sake of novelty. And as a reader, I’m still often drawn to straightforward, chronological structures, appreciating their ability to emotionally engage me and take me along on their journey.

The marriage novel I wrote never quite gelled. And eventually, lessons about the power of storytelling to move and engage readers led me to creative nonfiction; I discovered that the most straightforward and powerful way to tell some stories was to acknowledge that they’d really happened. Some stories didn’t need embellishment. By then, the marriage material was feeling like someone else’s life. I felt increasingly detached from it. But I thought that parts of it were funny, and parts had some wisdom, and I liked some of the sentences, and I thought some of the decisions I’d made were worth examining, and so, after I had shifted to writing creative nonfiction, the novel evolved into a memoir.

Continue reading about Nancy McCabe’s writing development and process at The Spalding School of Creative and Professional Writing blog.

Black History Month Celebration

It’s Black History Month! To celebrate, we’re offering specials on a selection of African American studies titles. Take a look below! Use code BHM20 through February and March.

Endersby & Horner - Lloyd Gaines

James W. Endersby, William T. Horner

Hardcover • $36.95 • $25.00





Kremer - George Washington Carvr 2E

In His Own Words, Second Edition
Gary R. Kremer

Hardcover • $29.95 • $20.00





Christopher Robert Reed

Paperback • $45.00 • $30.00




05 Hakutani - East West Literary Imagination

Cultural Exchanges from Yeats to Morrison
Yoshinobu Hakutani

Paperback • $24.95 • $15.00





Steinbeck, Wright, Hemingway, and the Left in the Late 1930s
Milton A. Cohen

Hardcover • $50.00 • $35.00

Spring & Summer 2020 Catalog

Our Spring & Summer 2020 catalog has just arrived! It features new titles in historical fiction, environmental science, military and American history, and literary criticism. The catalog also includes our newest paperback titles and some of the best from our backlist. Have a look for yourself!

S20 Catalog cover

November and December Events

The University of Missouri Press has many book discussion, lectures, and meet-the-author events scheduled during the final months of 2019. Please join us and our wonderful UMP authors as they discuss their latest books from the Spring 2019 and Fall 2019 season.

Nov 4, 2019, 6:30 PM–7:45 PM

Dr. Gary Scharnhorst (author of The Life of Mark Twain) talks Twain

Hannibal Free Public Library
200 South 5th Street
Hannibal, Missouri 63401

Dr. Gary Scharnhorst is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at the University of New Mexico. He is the author or editor of fifty books. His trilogy, The Life of Mark Twain, is the first multi-volume biography of Samuel Clemens and has already been hailed as the definitive Twain biography. Over three volumes, Scharnhorst elucidates the life of arguably the greatest American writer and reveals the alchemy of his gifted imagination.

Nov 6, 2019, 11:30 AM–1:00 PM

Disestablishment & Religious Dissent
with authors Carl H. Esbeck and Jonathan J. Den Hartog
Sponsored by Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy

Saint Louis Club
7701 Forsyth Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63105

Esbeck and Den Hartog Cover

Amid today’s tensions over a proper understanding of separation of church and state, University of Missouri law professor Carl H. Esbeck and Samford University history professor Jonathan Den Hartog examine the origins of that doctrine. The federal government never had an established church, so it is to the several states where scholars must look to find accounts of what it meant to dismantle a state religion.

Drawing from a new collection of essays, Disestablishment and Religious Dissent: Church-State Relations in the New American States, 1776 to 1833, Esbeck and Den Hartog detail how the American colonies broke from the British Crown and declared themselves sovereign states. In adopting new constitutions, they were forced to address – in many cases reconsider – church-state relations. The elimination of religious taxes and similar preferential treatments was a radical, and some thought risky, departure from the state churches of England and all Western Europe.

Lunch is provided! Get your tickets here.

Nov 7, 2019, 6:30 PM

Religious Liberty: Separating Church and State
with authors Carl H. Esbeck and Jonathan J. Den Hartog

Kansas City Public Library, Plaza Branch
4801 Main St.
Kansas City, MO 64112

For more information, visit the Kansas City Public Library website.

Nov 8, 2019, 3:30PM–5:00 PM

Book Talk w/ Profs. Carl Esbeck and Jonathan Den Hartog at the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy

410 Jesse Hall
University of Missouri-Columbia
Columbia, MO 65201

As part of a Midwestern book tour for their new edited volume, Disestablishment and Religious Dissent: Church-State Relations in the New American States, 1776-1833, Samford University Professor and Chair of History Jonathan Den Hartog and Carl Esbeck, R.B. Price Professor Emeritus/Isabelle Wade & Paul C. Lyda Professor Emertius at the MU Law School, will present their recent research in a November 8 talk at the Kinder Institute. The event will be held at 3:30pm in Jesse 410 and is free and open to the public. Co-sponsored by MU School of Law.

Additional information can be found here.

Nov 8, 2019, 7:00PM–8:30 PM

Religious Freedom in Pluralist Perspective for our Polarized Time
with authors Carl H. Esbeck and Jonathan J. Den Hartog
Sponsored by kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy

Center for Missouri Studies
605 Elm Street
Columbia, MO 65201

For the second November 8 event celebrating the launch of Profs. Carl Esbeck and Jonathan Den Hartog’s new co-edited volume, Disestablishment & Religious Dissent: Church-State Relations in the New American States, 1776-1833, the Kinder Institute, University of Missouri Press, and MU Law School will be co-hosting Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance Senior Director Stanley Carlson-Thies in Columbia for an evening lecture on “Religious Freedom in Pluralist Perspective for our Polarized Time” (see abstract below). The event is free and open to the public, and will be held at 7pm at the Center for Missouri Studies. For planning purposes, RSVPs are requested, and you can use the link below to register.

More information and a link to RSVP can be found here.

Nov 16, 2019, 10:30 AM–12:00 PM

Meet the Author, Carli Conklin (author of The Pursuit of Happiness in the Founding Era)

Boone County History & Culture Center
3801 Ponderosa St.
Columbia, MO 65201

Conklin - The Pursuit of Happiness - Cover

Carli N. Conklin is an Associate Professor at the University of Missouri School of Law. In The Pursuit of Happiness in the Founding Era: An Intellectual History, Conklin considers the pursuit of happiness across a variety of intellectual traditions and explores its usage in two key legal texts of the Founding Era, William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England and the Declaration of Independence. In so doing, she makes several important contributions to the fields of early American intellectual and legal history.

Additional information can be found on the Boone County History & Culture Center website.

Nov 21, 2019, 7:00 PM–9:00 PM

Gregory Fontenot discusses his book, Loss and Redemption at St. Vith

First Division Museum at Cantigny
1s151 Winfield Rd
Wheaton, IL 60189

Fontenot Cover

Loss and Redemption at St. Vith: The 7th Armored Division in the Battle of the Bulge closes a gap in the record of the Battle of the Bulge by recounting the exploits of the 7th Armored Division in a way that no other study has. Most accounts of the Battle of the Bulge give short-shrift to the interval during which the German forward progress stopped and the American counterattack began. This narrative centers on the 7th Armored Division for the entire length of the campaign, in so doing reconsidering the story of the whole battle through the lens of a single division and accounting for the reconstitution of the Division while in combat.

Gregory Fontenot is a retired Colonel of the U.S. Army a consultant on threat emulation for Army experimentation and a working historian. He is the lead author of On Point: The US Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom and author of The 1st Infantry Division and the US Army Transformed: Road to Victory in Desert Storm, 1970-1991 (University of Missouri Press, winner of the 2017 Army Historical Foundation award for Unit History).

For more information, visit the Cantigny Park website.

Dec 4, 2019, 6:00 PM

Gregory Fontenot discusses his book, Loss and Redemption at St. Vith

Pritzker Military Museum & Library
104 S. Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60603

Tickets can be purchased through the Pritzker Military Museum & History website. (Free for members.)

Dec 10, 2019, 7:00 PM

Gregory Fontenot discusses his book, Loss and Redemption at St. Vith
The Dr. Harold C. Deutsch World War II History Round Table talk

Minnesota Historical Society History Center
345 W Kellogg Blvd
St. Paul, MN 55102

In honor of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, Gregory Fontenot, author of  Loss and Redemption at St. Vith: The 7th Armored Division in the Battle of the Bulge, and veterans of the battle will discuss the defense and disputed aspects of intelligence and final victory.

Visit the Minnesota Historical Society History Center website for additional information.

Summer Reading for Summer Travel: Aristocracy in America

Aristocracy in America: Francis Grund’s Critique of European Travel Accounts in the Early Republic

By Armin Mattes

MattesArmin Mattes is assistant research professor and assistant editor of the Papers of James Madison at the University of Virginia. He is the author of Citizens of a Common Intellectual Homeland: The Transatlantic Origins of American Democracy and Nationhood and the editor of Francis J. Grund’s Aristocracy in America: From the Sketch-Book of a German Nobleman.

Top image: Samuel Beals Thomas, with His Wife, Sarah Kellogg Thomas, and Their Two Daughters, Abigail and Pauline by Edward Dalton Marchant

By the 1830s, America as the “New World” had long held a special place in the imagination of Europeans. Initially, this fascination concentrated more on America’s natural wonders and economic potential, but increasingly shifted to social and political phenomena after the American Revolution and the establishment of a republican regime. With the French Revolutionary Wars finally over in 1815, travel to America became easier and safer, and accordingly in the 1820s and 1830s the number of travel accounts on American society proliferated. The most famous of these was Alexis de Tocqueville’s two volume (1835, 1840) Democracy in America, but there were many more such as Michel Chevalier’s (1836) Lettres sur L’Amérique du Nord, Basil Hall’s (1829) Travels in North America, in the Years 1827 and 1828, Thomas Hamilton’s (1833) Men and Manners in America, Harriet Martineau’s (1837) Society in America, and Frances Trollope’s (1832) Domestic Manners of the Americans, to mention just the most important of them.

The style and quality of these travel accounts varied considerably, but all of them in one form or another were fascinated by one aspect in particular: the lack of a nobility in America. Nowadays, this does not seem like a big deal, but it is worth remembering that in the 1830s the republican United States was the oddity and all these visitors came from countries with a titled nobility and a more or less hierarchical social and political order. However, the trend especially in Great Britain and France was towards a greater liberalization. Hence these European writers were curious to see if and how a country without a politically defined upper class could work and what democracy in practice would mean for an upper class, a topic the more pertinent to these writers, all of whom belonged to the upper classes of European nations.

Unsurprisingly, the opinions of European visitors on American society and its elite differed. For example, Hall, Hamilton, and Trollope were clearly not impressed with what they saw and published highly critical accounts of the state of American society, describing American manners and social norms as rough and almost denying that something like an American (social) aristocracy that would deserve that name existed. Others such as Martineau differentiated more and while criticizing the manners of the masses, sympathized with and praised members of the American elites. All of them, however, agreed that the United States were thoroughly democratic and that the elites were virtually powerless. For instance, Alexis de Tocqueville noted that since upper class Americans were “unable to assume a position in public life comparable to that which they occupy in private life,” they retreated from politics altogether. As a result, they formed “a society apart, with its own distinctive tastes and pleasures,” but without political power; and since they were without power, the elite also posed no danger to American democracy. Even though, as Tocqueville realized, “the rich feel a deep disgust with their country’s democratic institutions.”

Interestingly, these European writers’ observations were in contradiction with Americans’ own perception of both the existence and dangers of an “aristocracy” in America. Jacksonian Democrats routinely conjured up the specter of “aristocracy,” and the trappings of European aristocratic culture held considerable allure for many members of the American elite. Francis Grund’s Aristocracy in America, published in 1839 in an English (London) and German edition aimed to bridge this transatlantic divergence of perceptions.

Few persons were better suited to this task than Francis Grund. Born in 1805 in Bohemia, he attended university in Vienna and was thus familiar with the nature of European aristocracy. Unlike most other European travel writers, however, Grund did not just tour the United States for a couple of months but immigrated to the nation in the mid-1820s and became a U.S. citizen, an influential journalist, and an active politician, thus gaining a deeper understanding of American society. Being a strong supporter of Jackson and Van Buren’s Democratic Party in the 1830s, Grund was also much more familiar with, and sympathetic to, the Jacksonians’ preoccupation with “aristocracy” than the other mostly conservative, upper-class European writers.

In short, Grund’s Aristocracy in America provides an ideal source to explore the aspirations, power, and danger that parts of the early republican elite posed to American democracy, which generally eluded European travelers. In contrast to most other European observers of American society, Grund painted a picture of America in which the danger to the republic did not come from below but from the pseudo-aristocratic pretensions of certain subsets of the American elite. Illustrating vividly, in a sarcastic and often highly entertaining way, the elite’s incessant hunger for exclusiveness, he revealed significant counter-democratic tendencies in the Jacksonian period. By thus bringing a class conflict fueled from above to the fore, Aristocracy in America can help one to better understand the ubiquitous rhetoric of a struggle between “aristocracy” and “democracy” in the Early Republic.

Next blog post: an excerpt from Aristocracy in America

Mattes coverAristocracy in America
From the Sketch-Book of a German Nobleman
By Francis J. Grund
Edited and with an Introduction by Armin Mattes
452 pages • Hardcover • ISBN: 9780826221568 • $40.00
Part of the Studies in Constitutional Democracy series

Fall & Winter 2019 Catalog

Our Fall & Winter 2019 catalog has just arrived! It features new titles on subjects that range from journalism to the history of the Early Republic. It also includes our newest paperbacks and backlist highlights. Have a look for yourself!

F19 Catalog cover image