Reframing American History in a New Book on North America

In this month’s guest blog post, Kevin Jon Fernlund discusses his new book out this month,  A Big History of North America: From Montezuma to Monroe. Fernlund is a Professor of History at the University of Missouri – St. Louis and is the author of Lyndon B. Johnson and Modern America (2009) and William Henry Holmes and the Rediscovery of the American West (2000). From 2001 to 2002, he was a Fulbright Scholar in Vietnam and between 2006 and 2012, he directed the Western History Association.

In a new book published this January by the University of Missouri Press called, A Big History of North America: From Montezuma to Monroe, I have tried to rewrite the American story by placing it in a continental as well as a transatlantic and transpacific context.  This is not another national narrative on the rise of the early US republic, of which there are many, but a new North American history, inclusive of Mexico, of which there a very few.

In fact, most histories of North America either explicitly divide the continent by geography and culture between British North America, that is, Canada and the United States—the continent’s Anglosphere—on the one hand, and Mexico or Mexico and Latin America—the continent’s Hispanosphere—on the other.  This history seeks to integrate the histories of these three countries into a single narrative, which sets it sharply apart from older Anglo and Hispanic historiographical traditions.

This is a story of revolving relationships and reversals of fortune, which reveal a rich as well as tragic North American history, one largely hidden from view by the separate national and conventional histories of Mexico, Canada, and the United States.

What this history is not is what is called “transnational history,” which downplays the nation state in history.  I actually emphasize the origins and evolution of the nation state in the history of North America, in particular in regard to the important issue of security and the building of borders, much as European historians have done in writing the history of Europe.     

This history is a “big history,” if a qualified one. The historian Stephen Pyne once said that the “sciences deal with figures, and the humanities, with figures of speech.”  Big history bridges the divide between the sciences and the humanities by seeking to unite natural and human history.  In my case, I specifically try to tie together the two fields of geography and history.

. . .

Read the entire blog post on Fernlund’s blog here.

To read a sample of the book, click here.

A Big History of North America: From Montezuma to Monroe

by Kevin Jon Fernlund

Cloth | $95.00 | 376 pp., 21 B&W illus.

Paperback | $30.00 | 376 pp., 21 B&W illus.

The Missouri Home Guard: Protecting the Home Front during the Great War

Our guest blogger this week, Petra DeWitt, author of The Missouri Home Guard: Protecting the Home Front during the Great War, discusses the need for a home defense organization or home guard in Missouri to replace the departing National Guard during the Great War and the purpose it served. DeWitt is Associate Professor of History and Political Science at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. She specializes in migration and ethnic history and has published several articles and encyclopedia submissions on those subjects.

The First World War was a time of great change for the United States, including the federalization of the National Guard with service obligations overseas. Americans in several states, including Missouri, were concerned about the protection of the home front should a natural disaster occur, workers go on strike, or the German enemy conduct acts of sabotage. The National Defense Act of 1916 gave states the authority to replace the departing National Guard with home defense organizations and twenty-seven states decided to raise state guards or home guards. Missouri’s governor Frederick Gardner perceived a real need for the establishment of a home guard because workers in the lead belt region of St. Francois County had gone on strike in spring of 1917 and he activated two National Guard companies from St. Louis to preserve law and order in the region. The induction of the National Guard into federal service in August 1917 left a vacuum and Gardner called for the establishment of the Missouri Home Guard to take over the guard’s tasks.

Any man between the ages of eighteen and fifty could serve in this entirely volunteer organization but anyone older who passed the physical exam would also be accepted. The structure and chain of command was similar to the National Guard with the exception that men elected their own officers. The Missouri adjutant general Harvey Clark eventually mustered into service five Home Guard infantry regiments, five separate infantry battalions, twenty-two separate infantry companies, and one troop of cavalry.  Several companies that were not mustered into service included a company in Potosi, a women’s Home Guard company in Webb City, and one “Negro Home Guard” company each in Kansas City, Columbia, and Joplin. Men joined because they genuinely believed they were providing an important service on the home front during the Great War. White collar workers also appreciated the opportunity to demonstrate their masculinity through physical exercise and the manly duty to protect family and home. German Americans, whether recently arrived or living for generations in Missouri, used service in the Home Guard to publicly demonstrate their loyalty to the United States but to also control the behavior of co-ethnics who appeared to be disloyal.

The primary task of the Home Guard was military training, including weekly drill practices, shooting exercises at rifle ranges, and week-long encampments. The adjutant general suggested that this training would result in men, who were drafted, receiving promotions to noncommissioned ranks. Additional tasks resembled the traditional duties of the National Guard, such as protecting bridges and food supply from potential German saboteurs, maintaining law and order during labor strikes in St. Louis and Kansas City, and providing services during funerals for men who had made the ultimate sacrifice for their country on the battle front. Governor Gardner also thought that the Home Guard should assist in preserving patriotism on the home front. For that purpose, uniformed Home Guardsmen marched in parades, knocked on doors to solicit contributions during Liberty Loan campaigns, and conducted inspiring send-off celebrations for departing draftees. Service in the Home Guard required considerable sacrifice in time and resources, contributed to a relatively peaceful home front during the Great War, and reminded Missourians of a war fought thousands of miles away. Members in the Home Guard were also instrumental in commemorating the sacrifices by Americans in the military services through the construction of the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City.

The Missouri Home Guard: Protecting the Home Front during the Great War

by Petra DeWitt

H: 9780826222664 | $40.00 | 242 pp., 11 illus.

Objects and Absence: Finding Meaning in the Alley

In this month’s guest blog, Benjamin Moore, author of The Names of John Gergen: Immigrant Identities in Early Twentieth-Century St. Louis discusses the importance and meaning of found objects. Moore is Professor Emeritus at Fontbonne University in St. Louis, Missouri. In 2006 he co-founded the Bosnia Memory Project, dedicated to preserving the memory of St. Louis’s Bosnians by recording oral histories and collecting personal letters and artifacts. In 2020, the Bosnia Memory Project became the Center for Bosnian Studies, where Ben now serves as Senior Researcher.

The best documentation of our lives is the detritus that we leave behind.

I’ve been collecting discarded objects for half a century and privately rearranging them for forty years. Thousands of them are now assembled in what I call the box room: a second-floor study with windows and high ceilings, where makeshift shelves and wooden boxes hold the remnants of other people’s lives. The older I grow, the more resonant the objects become, and the more they accumulate, the more commonality I feel with the countless people they represent.

When I wrote The Names of John Gergen, I was moved by the knowledge that young John never meant for me to read his World War-I era schoolwork, which I stumbled on in an alley in 2004. He never meant for me to discover his bilingualism, his perseverance, his learning disabilities, his family, his community, or his vexed and complicated life, which came to a tragic end at age 26 in 1935. Over the fifteen years that I researched John and his world, I came to realize that the schoolwork, fraught with errors, was much like John himself—“labored in the rendering, flawed in the result, and ultimately forgotten” (The Names of John Gergen, 158).

So it is with the other objects that I’ve pulled from dumpsters, alleys, and the shelves of second-hand shops. They speak to the ways that lives play out and break down, becoming anonymous and obsolete: wooden shipping crates, drawers from tossed furniture, rusted machine parts, galvanized steel wash basins, old bottles, worn shovels, wooden spindles, brass keys, ceramic doorknobs, a weathered plaster angel whose first purpose is now unknown.

Some of the items are researchable, like the antique liquor bottle found in the same dumpster as John’s schoolwork. “Ginger Cordial,” reads the faded label; “bottled and guaranteed by J. Simon and Sons, St. Louis, Mo.” Jacob Simon migrated from Germany in 1858. He lived first in Kentucky, where he fathered five children, but by 1900 he resided in St. Louis, working with his sons as a liquor distributor. Jacob died in 1910 at the age of sixty-seven, but his sons kept the business going, even during Prohibition.  By 1922, they had turned to selling “strictly pure altar wines, dry and sweet” (Catholic Fortnightly Review).  Meanwhile, 222 cases of the Simons’ wines, bitters, cordials, and brandies lay in storage in a warehouse in south St. Louis. On August 31, 1929, federal agents opened the warehouse and poured into the sewer “some of the choicest products of Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, and the Rhineland” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch).

Or take the whetstone that I bought at a yard sale near my house, carefully encased in a length of two-by-four that was sawn down the middle and chiseled out, a custom box that fits the stone snugly. On the top of the box is engraved the name “W Huxel.” William Walter Huxel was born in St. Louis in 1888 and died in southern Illinois in 1966. He was an electrician who took care of his tools. The whetstone, which still smells of machine oil, bears a gentle depression worn in over the years as Huxel honed his blades.

But most objects that I find are untethered from their past, mute remnants of lives whose outlines are long lost. They offer no clues about who held and relinquished them, silently suggesting that people are the true ephemera. Artifacts evoke absence. And many writings about the past—including The Names of John Gergen—seek to fill the void that is left when life and memory end.

We leave behind pieces of ourselves as we go along our way. Most of the pieces will be lost, but some will be recovered by others, and then history will do with us what it will. For most of us, that will mean oblivion, but we will never know for sure. As I write in the book, “John is therefore what all of us have the potential to be. None of us can be certain that we will be remembered—or, for that matter, that we will be forgotten” (282).

To take a guided tour of Ben’s Box Room, check out this video produced by Lyla Turner.

Courtesy of Lyla Turner,

Many thanks to Lyla Turner for allowing us to share this wonderful video and for supplying the pictures for the post.

The Names of John Gergen: Immigrant Identities in Early Twentieth-Century St. Louis by Benjamin Moore

H: 9780826222275 | $50.00 | 362 pp. | 40 illus.

Benjamin Moore is Professor Emeritus at Fontbonne University and is the founder and former director of the Center for Bosnian Studies.

Alex George, Midwest Independent Bookseller of the Year

Arguably, no one has done more to promote the love of reading in Columbia, Missouri than Alex George, winner of the 2022 Midwest Independent Booksellers Association’s Bookseller of the Year award.

Unbound Book Festival, Missouri Theatre

The author of A Good American (2012), Setting Free the Kites (2017), and The Paris Hours (2020), George founded the Unbound Book Festival here in Columbia in 2016. The festival’s mission, to bring together readers and writers to create diverse communities, expose participants to new ideas, and inspire a life-long love of books, has been wildly successful, in large part because of the nationally and internationally recognized authors that have been key note speakers – including Michael Ondaatje, Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith, George Saunders, and Viet Thanh Nguyen – but also because of the rich array of local, national, and international authors that have connected with the Columbia audience. A number of University of Missouri Press authors have enjoyed participating, including Gary Scharnhorst, Steve Paul, Henry Schvey, Bill Horner, James Endersby, William Least Heat-Moon, Gregory Fontenot, Lisa Knopp, Jo Ann Trogdon, and Steven Watts.

In 2018, along with business partner Carrie Koepke, George opened Skylark Bookshop in the heart of downtown. As Carrie Obry, Executive Director of the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, writes in her announcement of the MIBA award:

George Saunders in discussion with author Monica Ferrell

“While factions of society are limiting or outright banning freedom of expression, Skylark is proudly celebrating it. They’ve launched a Banned Books subscription service, circulating these important books to their customers with 10 percent of proceeds going to the Banned Books program run by EyeSeeMe African American Children’s Bookstore in St. Louis. Skylark also brought their popular Drag Story Hour roaring back to life after the pandemic to celebrate gender inclusivity.”

We don’t know how Alex manages to do all that he does, but we at the University of Missouri Press are very grateful that his devotion to books has nurtured Columbia’s reading community. 

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.


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.