Journalistic Autonomy – Wall or Membrane?

In this month’s guest blog, Henrik Örnebring and Michael Karlsson, authors of Journalistic Autonomy: The Genealogy of a Concept, discuss one of the informal rules that journalism follows known as “the wall,” or the idea that the editorial and advertising departments of a news organization should be independent from each other.

Both Örnebring and Karlsson are Professors in the Department of Geography, Media, and Communication at Karlstad University, Sweden. Dr. Örnebring’s most recent book is Newsworkers: Comparing Journalists in Six European Countries. Dr. Karlsson is co-editor of Rethinking Research Methods in an Age of Digital Journalism.


One of the most central normative principles of contemporary journalism is that journalism should be independent: no-one but journalists themselves should be able to dictate or control what journalists report on or how they report it. Looking at how journalists are treated in authoritarian political systems (i.e. as enemies of the regime unless they act as cheerleaders), this seems to be not only a reasonable but in fact fundamental principle. Yet independence – or autonomy – is fraught with philosophical and practical difficulties. Journalists often define independence in a unidirectional, negative fashion where the institutions seen as potentially threatening journalistic independence should be kept away from any kind of influence of journalistic decision-making, hermetically sealing the newsroom from outside, autonomy-reducing influences. At the same time, journalists have to deal with all these potential threatening influences – government, market forces, sources, to take just a few of the many possible examples – every day. No newsroom is hermetically sealed. Government should obviously have no say over journalism, but journalists are still dependent on government collating and organizing information on their behalf (e.g. official statistics, agendas for public meetings, background information on political decisions). Journalists should make news decisions unburdened by the commercial considerations of the news organizations that actually pay their salaries. Journalists could not make news without sources, who often want to push their own agenda.

To navigate this interplay between dependence and independence, journalism has evolved a number of practices, routines and informal rules. One of them is what journalists know as “the wall”, or the division between “church and state”, i.e. the idea that the editorial and advertising departments of a news organization should be independent from each other (in practice, the emphasis has been on editorial being independent from advertising rather than the other way around) and that journalists, as noted, should make news decisions independent of advertisers’ needs and desires. The paradigmatic example of journalistic independence in this area is of course journalists writing a critical exposé of a major advertiser – reporting without fear or favor. Yet in an increasingly competitive media environment, where online advertising eats away at the revenue streams of legacy news organizations, this “wall” is becoming increasingly porous. Today, an important source of income for most legacy news organizations is so-called native advertising, where advertising is made to look like news items and may be produced by the same journalists who are also expected to critically cover local business. Many media organization managers even see “the wall” as a relic of the past and an impediment to sound business practice.

Yet it is wrong to see the rise of native advertising as a straightforward decline of journalistic principles, for as we show in our book, there are numerous historical examples of the wall being ignored when convenient to the commercial interests of news organizations. “Native advertising” in fact has a history going back to the 19th century. It is rather the case that the independence of journalism is constantly negotiable – some things are seen as serious threats to journalistic autonomy, whereas other, very similar things come to be defined as acceptable. An advertiser trying to pressure a journalist to cover their client favorably is unacceptable, but an advertiser paying a news organization to have journalists write a native advertising puff piece is acceptable. Going beyond the specific case of advertiser and commercial influences we can find more examples: journalists becoming the active mouthpieces of government is unacceptable, but journalists becoming implicit mouthpieces of government by publishing press releases verbatim (common when reporting on policing issues, for example) is acceptable. Having the algorithms of tech companies to take over journalists’ news decisions is unacceptable, but news organizations using AI technologies to automate news production is acceptable. And so on. Thus in reality, the interface between journalism and all the different other institutions potentially threatening journalism’s autonomy is more like a membrane than a wall. A membrane stops some things but lets other things pass through. And one of the central themes of our book is that journalism’s membrane historically has been very unequal – it has stopped or hindered for example women, Black people and Indigenous people from reporting honestly and independently on issues affecting them, whereas it has let cavalier or even distorted treatments of societal inequality pass through.


Journalistic Autonomy

The Genealogy of a Concept

Henrik Örnebring and Michael Karlsson

$40 | Hardcover | 370 pp.

Our Switch to Seaweed Paper

seaweedIn response to paper supply issues caused by the pandemic, budget concerns throughout Missouri, and in alignment with our goal to reduce our impact on the environment, the University of Missouri Press has decided to switch from industry-standard paper to seaweed and algae-based paper in our book production.

Seaweed absorbs far larger quantities of carbon dioxide than land plants, and the process str2_waseaweed_li_5by which pulp is produced is more environmentally friendly than the process of making wood pulp. This paper not only cuts down on the use of new wood fibers, it uses algae taken from the Lake of the Ozarks as part of an environmental cleanup and protection program.

F619F1803CD441B5914B0833FD398030The seaweed paper’s colors range from a speckled light gray to subtle sea shades of purple, the texture and coloring varying, depending on the season and the location where the algae is gathered. It does have a faint fishy smell, but this will be an advantage for certain books, such as Lisle Rose’s Power at Sea series: descriptions of the Navy crossing the Atlantic during WWI will be particularly vivid.

Another advantage to seaweed paper, when used with soy ink, is that it is edible, although some books will be more easily digested than others.

paper

Soccer in American Culture

Our guest blogger this month, G. Edward White, discusses how he came to write his new book, Soccer in American Culture: The Beautiful Game’s Struggle for Status. White is David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Virginia Law School. His 1996 book, Creating the National Pastime: Baseball Transforms Itself, 1903–1953, reflects his life-long participation and interest in athletics.


After completing a three-volume series entitled Law in American History, whose coverage stretched from the colonial years through the twentieth century, I decided that my next book would be on soccer in America. I made that choice for two reasons. First, the book’s subject matter represented a radical shift from what had occupied me for the last decade (and for most of my scholarly career). I thought that shift might be invigorating. One of the issues I have tried to combat as a scholar has been what I call “senioritis,” the tendency of authors to address a subject early in their careers and then repeat that emphasis (and possibly their interpretive approach) as they go along. I think doing such promotes interpretive flatness, maybe even out-datedness, and doesn’t generate the sort of freshness with which new topics ought to be addressed. I have tried to change the time frame of my projects and my methodological approaches as I have begun new books, in part to fend off senioritis.

The other reason I chose to write a book on soccer was that I have played and coached the sport for many years and am of the view that one should “write about what they know.”  In my case writing about what I “know” has increasingly become something of a publishing liability, since I am a white male, born in the 1940s, and the subjects I “know” best are legal and constitutional history, torts, music, and sports. There isn’t a huge demand for work on those subjects from the perspective I necessarily bring to them, and there isn’t much of demand, in my profession, for work on sports at all. I wasn’t planning on including a lot of legal material in my soccer book, and I haven’t.

I have done something like this once before in my scholarly career. In 1993 I finished the second of two long, quite academic books on the Marshall Court and Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. I decided that my next book was going to be on the history of baseball in America. As in the case of soccer, I have played a lot of baseball and softball over the years and feel I “know” something about the sport. And I thought writing about baseball would amount to a comparably radical break with my previous work. That turned out to be so, although there was a fair amount of law in that book, Creating the National Pastime.

When I decided to write on the history of soccer in America I was intrigued by two features of that history. The first was that when “Association football,” so-called because it was a sport founded by a group of men who organized themselves as the Football Association in England (“soccer” is a contraction of “Association football”), grew and began to spread to other nations across the globe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it did not take substantial root in the United States. As late as the opening of the 1960s very few American colleges or high schools played men’s soccer, there was almost no women’s soccer at all, and no professional soccer league had ever successfully established itself in the U.S. Not only were very few Americans watching or following soccer, very few were playing it. Soccer received almost no coverage in the American sporting press despite being the rest of the world’s leading spectator and participant sport. I wondered why the United States, with its substantial population of immigrants from the British Isles and western Europe, had not taken to soccer.

The other feature of the history of soccer in America was a comparatively recent but dramatic phenomenon: the substantial growth of the sport as a spectator and participant activity after the 1970s for both men and women. Soccer is now the fourth largest participatory sport in the U.S. There is a men’s professional soccer league, Major League Soccer, which has been in existence since 1996, has expanded, and whose clubs are beginning to attract visible players from overseas. The current version of a women’s professional league, the National Women’s Soccer League, has become increasingly successful since its inception in 2012. The U.S. women’s World Cup soccer team has won four championships in the eight tournaments in that competition since 1991.

The U.S. Women’s National Team celebrates after winning the World Cup in 2015

An even more noticeable feature of the renaissance of soccer in America since the late twentieth century has been the growth of the sport in public high schools, colleges, and universities. After a long interval in which soccer was rarely offered for men in those institutions, and never for women, it has become common among athletic offerings for both men and women from high school on. Virtually all of the players on the U.S. national women’s soccer team, and many on the U.S. national team, began playing the sport in American high schools and continued in American colleges. In addition, soccer has become a very popular youth sport, with many communities sponsoring youth soccer teams and leagues and numerous fathers and mothers finding themselves coaches of youth teams. In contrast to the years before 1970, when most American audiences were unfamiliar with soccer, there is now a sufficient audience of knowledgeable soccer fans in the U.S. that American networks have regularly televised matches from top-level soccer leagues in England and western Europe.

I wondered why those features of the history of soccer in America had occurred. Why did Americans not embrace soccer—an inexpensive game to play, affording more continuous exercise than baseball, and far safer, for men as well as women, than gridiron football—at the time other nations did? And why, after over a century in which soccer had been a distinctly marginal sport in the United States, has it suddenly emerged to the point where it is approximating “mainstream” status?

Soccer in American Culture is about both of those seemingly puzzling features of American soccer history. I won’t attempt to unravel the puzzles in this post. I encourage persons interested in learning more to sample the book.

To read a sample of the introduction and first chapter, click here.


Soccer in American Culture

The Beautiful Game’s Struggle for Status

G. Edward White

$45.00 | hardcover | 314 pp. | 10 b&w illus.

“Homer G. Phillips was the ladder for me—and I am not sorry that I started climbing.”

Candace O’Connor, author of Climbing the Ladder, Chasing the Dream: The History of Homer G. Phillips Hospital, is a freelance journalist and the author of 14 books, including histories of Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the Central West End. She lives in St. Louis with her husband.


The cornerstone for the new Homer G. Phillips Hospital was laid on December 10, 1933.

Through many years of writing about St. Louis history, I had often heard of Homer G. Phillips Hospital (1937-1979) and its deep importance to the Black community.  People spoke of it in reverential terms.  They told stories about its hectic Emergency Department—the best in the city for gunshot or stab wounds; they praised the Surgery staff that had trained leading Black surgeons in the area, even the nation. A screaming ambulance might drop off a desperately injured patient, trailing blood from the stretcher. But days later, these adults and children walked out of the hospital, whole and healthy. No one was ever turned away.

In 1984, Nesby Moore, Jr., commissioned artist Vernon Smith to paint this portrait of attorney Homer Garland Phillips (1878–1931).

So, when the Homer G. Phillips Nurses Alumni Assn. contacted me several years ago and asked whether I would undertake a book-length history of the hospital, I never hesitated. Then and there, I said yes, looking forward to stories of hope and healing, heroism and happy endings. It would be a strong and exciting story to tell.

But as I began interviewing these nurses and physicians, I realized that the story was even richer and more complex than I had imagined. Of course, I heard many moving patient stories—especially from the nurses, who cared for their charges, shift after weary shift.  They packed the burns of suffering children with silver nitrate dressings, hovered over the tiniest babies, and washed the dirty feet of shivering homeless men and women, who needed a warm haven on icy winter days.

Group photo of Homer G. nurses

They also had their first encounters with death. One nursing student was taking care of a shooting victim in his 20s when he died unexpectedly, leaving her bereft.  How could this happen to someone so young?  She ran sobbing to her dorm room and began packing to go home.  Just then, the nursing director stopped in to console her, advising her wisely that “you do not give life nor take life, you can only preserve it.”  Suddenly, the young nurse understood, and she returned to her patients.

Georgia Rhone Anderson, 1955.
1980 protest of the closure of Homer G. Phillips Hospital.

How did these nurses and trainees find Homer G. in the first place?  When I asked, they began to reveal their personal stories—often of childhoods in the rural South, where family members had little education and spent their lives on hardscrabble farms. Miraculously, they heard of a majestic hospital far away—not shabby, not second rate—and they decided to carve out different lives for themselves. Scraping together the tuition, they boarded buses or trains for the long ride north to St. Louis.  “Failure is not an option,” they told themselves — and three years later, after a rigorous training program, they were nurses. But they were more than that: They were also solid members of the middle class, instantly employable in hospitals across the country. Today, their own children are lawyers and physicians. So, this marvelous hospital was not just a place where patients got well; it was also a powerful engine for social change. The critical importance of this role came as a surprise to me, and I made it another focus of the narrative, as well as part of the book’s title.  As nurse Georgia Anderson told me, “You can’t climb up if there’s not a ladder or some way to move yourself up. In the areas where we came from, there were no opportunities. So, Homer G. Phillips was the ladder for me—and I am not sorry that I started climbing.”


Climbing the Ladder, Chasing the Dream

The History of Homer G. Phillips Hospital

Candace O’Connor

$40.00 l hardcover l 330 pp. l 82 photos

If you'd like to read more about Homer G. Phillips Hospital, check back next week to read an excerpt from the book on our blog... 

How to Train Students to Become Better Informed Citizens

Stuart N. Brotman, author of the forthcoming The First Amendment Lives On: Conversations Commemorating Hugh M. Hefner’s Legacy of Enduring Free Speech and Free Press Values is the inaugural Howard Distinguished Endowed Professor of Media Management and Law and Beaman Professor of Journalism and Electronic Media at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He has served in four presidential administrations on a bipartisan basis and is a frequent analyst for leading newspapers and magazines.

In this opinion piece for Inside Sources, Brotman argues for the importance of teaching media literacy in public schools.

Regardless of political affiliation, and whether leaning left or leaning right, we have an obligation as parents and taxpayers to support public education. We all want to make sure our children, as students, gain enough knowledge and perspective–especially in the critical high school years–to enable them to become responsible workers, and perhaps parents themselves one day.

Unfortunately, we are not providing much, if any, actual instruction regarding how students can learn to be better-informed citizens.

Yet we also have a higher obligation in the United States to have our public education system help prepare students to be informed citizens and voters. The very nature of our democratic system of government is rooted in core values of free speech and free press that are embodied in the First Amendment. There should be no disagreement on that, even in these highly polarized times.

Unfortunately, we are not providing much, if any, actual instruction regarding how students can learn to be better-informed citizens. Students, along with their parents, are bombarded throughout the political spectrum with slogans such as “fake news,” “misinformation,” and “disinformation,” with the usual result being a nasty Twitter battle between those hurling the accusations and those trying to disprove or at least defend them.

Read the entire Inside Sources piece here.


The First Amendment Lives On: Conversations Commemorating Hugh M. Hefner’s Legacy of Enduring Free Speech and Free Press Values

By Stuart N. Brotman

256 pages • Hardcover • ISBN: 9780826222558 • $85.00

Paperback • ISBN: 9780826222602 • $25.00

Forthcoming April 2022

Making the American Newsroom

Will Mari is Assistant Professor of Media Law & History at the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University. His new book, The American Newsroom: A History, 1920-1960 was published this past July.


Guild Reporter, Oct. 1, 1942, 12. In this cartoon, the American Newspaper Guild (ANG) is portrayed as a positive force for quality-of-life benefits, even in the midst of World War Two.

When turning a dissertation into a book, any (fairly!) young scholar has to make some hard choices. That was certainly the case with this project.

My research had taken so long (starting in 2012) and had been so—at least initially—over-ambitious, that I had to learn to stop at a certain point. That process has thus been an important part of this book and its journey to publication.  

As I’ve discussed elsewhere, I had originally hoped to write the entire history of the American newsroom, from the mid-nineteenth century through the present. I had been inspired in my initial work on journalism textbooks, and before that, on British journalism in the eighteenth century, during a brief year away at the University of Cambridge, to think big and bold. Maybe too bold, looking back on it all.

Editor & Publisher, April 21, 1934. In this cartoon by Denys Wortman, of the New York World-Telegram, an ambitious reporter is kvetching to a fellow about their editor.

My dissertation advisor, the gracious and brilliant Richard Kielbowicz, had encouraged me to limit my scope, to finish, perhaps, in the mid- or at most the latter-third of the century, with my newsroom history. Richard’s wise advice was to write on a more banded time period, basically lead up to the initial computerization, and later, the internetization, of the newsroom space, focusing on its work culture and its internal life. Instead of telling all the stories of where the newsroom had come from, I would tell the main story of how it had formed during the era of “industrial journalism” in the midcentury, following the research of such smart scholars such as Aurora Wallace and Michael Stamm.

At first, I confess, my prideful, young, grad-student mind wanted to push Richard’s wise admonition to its limit, and when I starting reading journalism trade publications such as Editor & Publisher and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Quill, along with the American Newspaper Guild’s Reporter, I really thought I could still write “at least” a history of news workers and their workplace experiences (i.e. in and out of the newsroom) from the First World War through the end of the 1970s, when such newsroom ethnographers as Herbert Gans (with his Deciding What’s News) and Gaye Tuchman (with her Making News) changed journalism studies (and thus ultimately media history) in positive ways, with their focus on the sociology of news and daily work practices. Michael Schudson’s now-classicDiscovering the News, published in 1978, along with the work of Bonnie Brennen, Linda Steiner and ‪Ted Curtis Smythe, also influenced my dissertation, and later, my book’s, scope. I have long loved how they can all tell good stories, and do good scholarship. That’s something I’m still working on, for sure, as I learn to accept some of my limitations.

Louis A. Paige, “The other fellow’s job,” Editor & Publisher, April 18, 1936.

But back to the story of this book. Quickly, my lofty aspirations hit the tall, rocky wall of reality, when I got my first academic posting at a teaching-focused university. There, while trying to balance (many!) courses and service obligations, I realized, rather late, that a more-limited project would still, I hope, have its merits. And thus my book’s focus moved to the 1920s through the 1950s, from the interwar period through the early Cold War. I began to love the value of focused research. That helped the project in two ways. First, it made me think hard about how news workers had evolved, perhaps due to their proximity to one another in large, industrialized newsrooms, from blue collar to more self-consciously white-collar workers. The impact of unionization and college education on journalists became more important to my research. Second, I had to confront the impact of technology tools on news workers and newsrooms more explicitly, in the transition from analog to digital technologies, and the paths-not-taken between them. Basically, I had to think about how news workers felt and then responded to the use of devices such as the telephone, radio car, and later, the first use of computers in the newsroom, more than if I had taken that “grand” view of newsroom history.

“Grin and bear it,” Guild Reporter, Sept. 26, 1952.

A Connell Timeline: Tracing Key Moments in the Life and Work of Evan S. Connell

Today we mark the birthday of Evan S. Connell, born on this day in 1924, with a timeline of brief milestones in his life and work compiled in a blog post by Steve Paul, author of the forthcoming biography of Evan S. Connell, Literary Alchemist: The Writing Life of Evan S. Connell, which we highlight below, with Paul's permission. Connell, a writer who didn’t much want to be known, produced a remarkable range of literature in his six decades of publishing. His towering and best-known achievements are Mrs. Bridge, a minimalist gem of a novel that instantly draws readers into the all-too-familiar world of a prosperous Midwestern family defined by suppressed emotions, and Son of the Morning Star, a lyrical, sweeping and indelible account of the nation’s war with Native Americans and the demise of Gen. George Armstrong Custer and his troops in the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Connell was a product of the Midwest who led a relatively quiet life driven mostly by the need to write and by his passions for women and art.

Connell Timeline

Brief milestones in the life and work of a writer. For the details see my book, Literary Alchemist: The Writing Life of Evan S. Connell (University of Missouri Press, December 2021)

Aug. 17, 1924: Evan Shelby Connell Jr. is born to Dr. Evan Shelby Connell and (Ruth) Elton Williamson Connell in Kansas City, Missouri. The family lives at 210 W. 66th Street in a Brookside district neighborhood developed by J.C. Nichols.

After the navy, Connell finished his undergraduate degree at the University of Kansas,1946-47. Courtesy of the Literary Estate of Evan Shelby Connell Jr.

May 1937: Graduates from Border Star Elementary School, which promoted an intensive reading program.

1939: The Connell family moves to 1515 Drury Lane (later renumbered 2215 Drury, after incorporation of Mission Hills, Kansas).

1941: Graduates from Southwest High School and leaves Kansas City for Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Transcripts reveal him as no more than an average student.

Summer 1942: After flunking chemistry at Dartmouth, takes makeup chemistry courses at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, north of Kansas City.

December 1942: Registers for the military draft: 6-foot-2, 155 pounds.

September 1, 1943: Inducted into the U.S. Naval Air Corps in Mt. Vernon, Iowa.

1943-1945: Naval flight training in Albuquerque, Memphis, Pensacola, Florida, and elsewhere, followed by instructor training in New Orleans. Promoted to Ensign in May 1945. Concludes service August 20, 1945 to November 24, 1945, as flight instructor at the Naval Air Station in Glenview, Illinois.

February 1946: Enrolls for spring semester at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, where he studies English, writing, and art and cements his decision not to follow in his father’s medical footsteps. Among his professors is Ray B. West, editor of the Western Review literary journal.

Continue to Steve Paul’s blog to read more...

Happy Missouri Statehood Day

To mark Missouri Statehood Day, we present an excerpt from “My Missouri,” the prologue of Gary Kremer’s forthcoming This Place of Promise: A Historian’s Perspective on 200 Years of Missouri History, due out this November, and available now for pre-order. Gary Kremer is the Executive Director, Secretary, and Librarian of the State Historical Society of Missouri. He is the author, coauthor, or coeditor of 12 books.


“All that goes to make the me in me began in a Missouri
village. . . .”–Mark Twain, Following the Equator (1897)


As I began to think about writing this book commemorating the two hundredth anniversary of Missouri statehood, I began, also, to think about my own Missouri history, and the countless ways in which this state has shaped me. I am who I am because of where I was born, and when and where I grew up. The way I experienced the world over the past seven decades and more was largely determined by the timing of my birth, my gender, my race, my religion, and my parents’ ethnicity and socioeconomic standing. My personal story is a Missouri story, tied intrinsically to this state’s history. Without it, I would not be me. The same is true for all Missourians.

Missouri is a place that I have always called home, as have four generations of Kremers who preceded me, and two (and counting) generations who succeed me. Like so many Missourians past and present, I am descended from immigrants. My great-great grandfather, P. Gustav Kremer,came to Osage County, Missouri, from Krefeld, Germany, during the early 1840s, shortly after the county was established in 1841. As a young man in his early twenties, he came to Missouri in search of greater opportunities, a chance for a better life. He settled on a 103-acre farm, purchased from the federal government, near the village of Loose Creek, about 15 miles east of Missouri’s capital, Jefferson City. Soon thereafter (1844) he married a fellow German immigrant by the name of Agnes Dahler. The couple started a family the next year, with the birth of my great-grandfather, Joseph, in 1845.

Like too many men on my father’s side of the family, Gustav died young, not yet fifty years of age, in May 1865, soon after the end of the American Civil War. Four years later, his eldest child and only son, Joseph, married Anna Koenigsfeld, who lived several miles north of her husband’s birthplace, a farm along Cedar Creek, a Loose Creek tributary only a few miles from the Missouri River. Within a year of the marriage, Joseph and Anna purchased that farm and began their own family.

Between 1870 and 1885, Anna Koenigsfeld Kremer bore six children and was pregnant with a seventh when forty-year-old Joseph died of double pneumonia. Fifteen-year-old Henry, my grandfather, became the man of the house upon his father’s death, and with the help of his younger siblings continued to try to make a living on his parents’ farm. Over time, as he reached adulthood, he was able to purchase a farm adjacent to the one owned by his widowed mother.

Like so many Missourians during the mid-to-late nineteenth century, these three generations of Kremer men were farmers whose crops and livestock were largely consumed by their families. The 1880 federal agricultural census indicates that Joseph owned twenty acres of tilled land, two acres of “Permanent Meadows,” and eighty acres of “Unimproved” land—woodland and forest. The value of his farm, including land, fences, and buildings totaled $1,500. His farming implements and machinery were worth $80 and his livestock was valued at $250. The livestock consisted of two horses and two mules, four “Milch” cows, whose milk allowed the family to produce twenty-five pounds of butter. He also had four “other” cows. Three calves were “dropped” during the preceding year. Joseph sold five head of cattle during the previous year and slaughtered one for his family’s food. He also had sixteen head of swine, and his poultry flock numbered 100. The latter produced 100 dozen eggs over the course of the year. Presumably, the few cattle that were sold provided cash that allowed the family to acquire basic commodities that they could not or chose not to produce: salt, sugar, coffee, tobacco, and some limited clothing, including shoes. It is likely that butter and eggs were bartered for some of these commodities as well.

Continue reading here.


This Place of Promise

A Historian’s Perspective on 200 Years of Missouri History

Gary R. Kremer

$40.00 . hardcover . 302 pp. . 45 b&w photos

Tennessee Williams’ St. Louis Blues

Theater critic Judy Newmark wrote a piece in the St. Louis Jewish Light on Henry Schvey's new book, Blue Song: St. Louis in the Life and Work of Tennessee Williams, a version of which she features on her blog, Judy, Act II, which we highlight below.

Seventeen years ago, browsing in a New Orleans bookstore, Henry I. Schvey made a once-in-a-lifetime discovery: An unpublished, entirely unknown poem by Tennessee Williams.

Smoke pollution over St. Louis at mid-day on Black Tuesday, 11 November 1939. Photograph, 1939. Missouri History Museum Photographs and Prints collections. St. Louis Views. n14587.

Today, the title of that poem is the title of Schvey’s new book, “Blue Song: St. Louis in the Life and Work of Tennessee Williams” (University of Missouri Press, $40).

“I didn’t know it then,” said Schvey, professor of drama and comparative literature at Washington University. “But that poem (“Blue Song”) brought Tennessee Williams in St. Louis to life for me.

“In some way, I identified.”

Washington U. made the first, and most obvious, connection. Schvey has served on its faculty for 34 years; Williams wrote the poem, by hand, in the “blue book” in which he took his final exam in Greek.

The Greek class was not a highlight of his brief career on the Hilltop Campus. In his journal the night before the test, Williams sounds despondent. “I will undoubtedly flunk,” he predicts. He was right. 

But the sad, lovely poem, evidently unnoticed by the Greek professor, instantly struck Schvey as “poignant and powerful.”

There are more connections, too, including a coincidence that Schvey discovered while researching his book: He and the playwright once shared a Manhattan address, 15 West 72nd Street.

A teenager at the time, Schvey lived with his family on the twenty-fifth floor. Williams lived on the thirty-third. They didn’t know each other. Still, Schvey loves the idea that they may have shared a smile or a “hello” on the elevator.

The biggest coincidence, though, is that both of them embraced a New York-St. Louis trajectory – though in opposite directions.

For Williams, St. Louis was a heartless trap that would sooner or later destroy him, just as it destroyed his beloved sister, Rose. (She was subjected to a prefrontal lobotomy.) Yet it was here that he became a poet and a playwright, developing themes and imagery that he would continue to explore throughout his life.  

 

Continue reading here.

Banat Swabians, Bosnians, and the Lessons of a Forgotten Immigrant

Guest blogger Benjamin Moore writes about how he got started on what would later become his book, The Names of John Gergen: Immigrant Identities in Early Twentieth-Century St. Louis. Benjamin Moore is Associate Professor of English and Director of the Bosnia Memory Project at Fontbonne University in St. Louis, Missouri.


In 2004, I stumbled upon the World War I-era schoolwork that would lead to writing The Names of John Gergen. The book focuses on the author of the schoolwork, an immigrant orphan who lived in the working-class neighborhoods of south St. Louis and who died young in 1935. Coincidentally, shortly after I found the schoolwork, I began work on the Bosnia Memory Project, which is dedicated to documenting St. Louis’ Bosnian community, the largest outside of Bosnia. Over the past fifteen years, my colleagues and I have recoded hundreds of oral histories of Bosnian refugees in an effort to preserve their memories and perceptions. (The Bosnia Memory Project was recently renamed the Center for Bosnian Studies.)

I’ve reflected repeatedly on the relationship between these two projects, which unfolded simultaneously but separately. To this day, few of my Bosnian friends know about The Names of John Gergen, and Bosnians are never mentioned in the book. But looking back, I can see that the two projects were deeply intertwined and yielded similar insights. Together, John Gergen and my Bosnian friends have taught me much about immigrant and refugee identities and their complicated relationship to displacement.

Specifically, I have learned that transnational migration requires the development of new identities that respond to changing cultures and circumstances. In the best case, multiple identities enable immigrants and refugees to navigate the varied cultural spaces they traverse—between Sarajevo and St. Louis, for example, or (more commonly) between home and work. But multiple identities can also lead to a painful fracturing of experience. In his twenty-six years, John Gergen acquired seven names that responded to critical changes in his life, including migration, abandonment, and naturalization. Together, the names speak to the difficulty of attaining agency when the terms of one’s identity are constantly changing. Similarly, multiple identities among St. Louis’s Bosnians often cause a feeling of alienation that I have come to call cultural homelessness. “In Bosnia I’m American,” said one younger Bosnian, “and In America I’m Bosnian. There is really no place that I can call my own.”

Granted, there are fundamental differences between John Gergen and St. Louis’s Bosnians. John was a Banat Swabian—a German-speaking Catholic from an agrarian area of southern Hungary known as the Banat.  In the early 1900s, thousands of Banat Swabians migrated to St. Louis as laborers. However difficult their lot, they came willingly, and many willingly returned home to southern Hungary. St. Louis’s Bosnians, on the other hand, fled the ethnic cleansing the early 1990s, which was directed mainly at Muslims. While their connection to Bosnia remains strong, most have remained in St. Louis because they have no home to go back to.

Still, the parallels between the two groups are compelling. In the early 1900s, Banat Swabians in St. Louis numbered in the several thousands. Settling in the industrial neighborhood of Soulard, they formed a tightly-knit community that perpetuated for decades their ways of speaking, eating, and forming families. But they were also subject to the power of local and national institutions, many of which sought to Americanize immigrants and erase the identities of the homeland. John himself was reshaped by a library, a bathhouse, two schools, the courts, and the medical establishment. With no regard for his ethnicity, these institutions positioned him as an alien, a citizen, a “retardate,” a laborer, and a tubercular. Only a German socialist organization, which John joined a few years before he died, accorded him the agency to oppose the institutions that devalued him. Otherwise, John was regarded as inferior and expendable. And after his death, he was forgotten—by his family, by his community, and by history.

A century later, in St. Louis, Bosnians’ economic survival has also come at a heavy price. Upon arrival in the 1990s, regardless of their education, Bosnians typically worked long hours in low-paying jobs. As a result, they often sacrificed close relationships with their children, who learned English in the schools and who just wanted to fit in. The pain of the elders’ wartime memories has only deepened the intergenerational rift. Silence about the past pervades many Bosnian families. Younger Bosnian-Americans are therefore deeply affected by a war and genocide that they neither remember nor understand. The history of Banat Swabians in St. Louis tells us that it takes but one generation to forget. For Bosnians, intergenerational forgetting would be especially tragic, because it is exactly what the people who drove them out of Bosnia wanted. Personhood, I have learned, is complicated, especially for the displaced. If immigrants and refugees are to flourish in their host culture, then they must be allowed to live out the full range of their transnational identities, in all of their contradictory complexity. To require anyone—but especially an immigrant or refugee—to assume a singular identity is not only inhumane; it is also foolish, at odds with lived experience. It is my fervent hope that St. Louis’s Bosnians will escape the tragic limits on identity that American institutions of the past placed on John Gergen and others like him.


Join Benjamin Moore for a virtual talk about his book on Tuesday April 20th at 7p.m., hosted by Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri. Visit this website for more information.