Watch Peter Schuck discuss his new book WHY GOVERNMENT FAILS SO OFTEN on The Daily Show — Extended Interview Part 1
Ellen D. Wu is assistant professor of history at Indiana University where she conducts research on issues of race, immigration, citizenship, and nation through the lens of Asian American history. She is also author of The Color of Success:Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority, a recent book that tells of the astonishing transformation of Asians in the United States from the “yellow peril” to “model minorities”–peoples distinct from the white majority but lauded as well-assimilated, upwardly mobile, and exemplars of traditional family values–in the middle decades of the twentieth century.
Now, on to the questions!
What inspired you to get into your field?
As the daughter of Chinese immigrants, I was originally drawn to Asian American history as a way to understand my own place in the world. (I always felt a little bit freakish, growing up in Indiana.) But I soon learned that it is much more than that. The founders of Asian American Studies in the late 1960s and early 1970s emphasized the importance of research and education relevant to Asian American communities. They also believed that it was possible not only to fight oppression, but to end it completely.
The original, radical vision of Asian American Studies continues to invigorate me. I strive to tell new stories in such a way that is meaningful to Asian Americans from all walks of life. I aim to highlight the diversity of Asian America. And I am interested in the actions that ordinary people have taken in the face of racism and other dehumanizing challenges.
What is the biggest misunderstanding people have about what you do?
The reigning misconception of Asians in the United States is that we are “model minorities.”
People often think that history is just a string of dates and facts about “great” white men. (Is it a coincidence that many of those who believe this also tell me that they think history is boring?) I would also say that most non-historians have no idea how historians actually go about doing what they do (i.e. archival research)—probably because it’s pretty bizarre from an outsider’s perspective! A friend of mine explains it this way: we read other people’s mail. While that makes us sound like NSA employees, that description works for me.
What would you have been if not a historian?
I have fantasies about being/becoming a documentary filmmaker, a food writer, and an independently wealthy lady of leisure.
What are you reading right now?
This summer I plan to dig in to some of my favorite literary writers: Jhumpa Lahiri, Monique Troung, and Junot Diaz. I can’t wait to be inspired by their words, sentences, and storytelling. Meanwhile, I’m reading lots of things via my Twitter feed.
What was the most influential book you’ve read?
Ummmm… The Bible?
Why did you write The Color of Success?
It was a book that I wished had already existed.
What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing this book to life?
[Book] titles are so hard! They’re akin to naming one’s child.
Conceptually it was quite difficult for me to figure out how to move from dissertation to book. It’s the kind of thing (at least in my experience) that one doesn’t really know how to do until one has done it, if that makes sense. But now I can say the process has been demystified and hopefully all the pieces will fall into place much faster with the next book.
What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?
Today the reigning misconception of Asians in the United States is that we are “model minorities”—people of color who are naturally smart and hardworking, socio-economically mobile, etc. Observers often attribute the putative “success” of Asian Americans to “culture.” By excavating the origins of the “model minority” image (it’s a relatively recent creation, dating back only to the 1940s-60s), The Color of Success shows that it is an invented fiction rather than timeless truth. Certain Asian American spokespersons, government officials, social scientists, journalists, and others conjured up the “model minority” for various political purposes. For those invested in delegitimizing the African American freedom movement, the “model minority” stereotype served as handy “evidence” that the United States was indeed a land of opportunity for all, including racial minorities. People are often surprised to hear that the “model minority” stereotype, while ostensibly positive, is actually highly problematic and pernicious.
The value of tracing the relatively recent emergence of a stereotype that is prevalent today is that it drives home the point that race is a social process rather than a fact of nature. That gives me hope that racial stereotypes and categories can be “unmade” as well as “made.”
Who do you see as the audience for this book?
My goal with The Color of Success was to generate something empirically-rich and stimulating for professional scholars, but also significant and accessible in a broader way. I wanted to write for “lay” Asian Americans and others interested in historical and present-day conditions and consequences of race in the United States. Additionally, I tried to produce something that my friends and relatives might actually read. (A shout out to my cousin Denise in Logan, Utah for being my first family member to finish it!) I’m crossing my fingers that the book will speak to this these disparate audiences.
How did you come up with the title or jacket?
Titles are so hard! They’re akin to naming one’s child: it’s a heavy decision because it seems that it will seal the fate of the book forever. I definitely wanted something that conveyed the main themes of the book, but I didn’t want it to sound too boring or “academic-y” (hopefully I succeeded?). I went through about a million titles before my husband came up with The Color of Success at the eleventh hour.
On the other hand, the cover image (a photograph of the 1956 San Francisco Chinese basketball team, clad in “USA” jackets and holding “USA”-stamped balls), was something that I had kept in mind for years. I first spotted it in a 1956 issue of San Francisco’s bilingual Chinese World newspaper when I started my research. It was one of those ah-ha! moments. Like other notable American artists and athletes at the time, the team had been tapped by the US State Department to tour Asia as “goodwill” ambassadors—essentially Cold War cultural diplomats. It’s a great double-take image that plays with the tenacious notion that Asians remain “forever foreigners” in the United States, that Asian Americans have never truly been seen by others as “real” Americans. And like Linsanity, it also messes with assumptions that Asian Americans make good scientists or violinists or whatever, but not good basketball players.
Several years after I initially ran across the photo, I wrote to a senior Asian American historian to ask if she knew how I might get a hold of it for the book. She forwarded my message to her contacts in San Francisco Chinatown, and, voila!, I tracked down Percy Chu, the 80-something coach of the basketball team. Mr. Chu not only kindly sent me the photo, but now he’s also my penpal. Every Chinese holiday, he sends me little gifts in the mail—zongzi (Chinese tamales) for the Dragon Boat festival, mooncakes for the Mid-Autumn Festival, red envelopes for Lunar New Year. (Maybe he feels sorry for me for living in Bloomington, so far removed from the epicenters of Chinese America?) So that’s been unexpected and fun!
Ellen is the author of:
|The Color of Success:
Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority
Ellen D. Wu
Hardcover | $39.50 / £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691157825
376 pp. | 6 x 9 | 19 halftones.eBook | ISBN: 9781400848874
Endorsements | Table of Contents
Introduction “The Color of Success embodies exciting developments in Asian American history. Through the lens of racial liberalism and cultural diplomacy, Ellen Wu offers a historically grounded analysis of the Asian American model minority in the contexts of domestic race politics and geopolitics, and she unveils the complexities of wartime and postwar national inclusion.”–Eiichiro Azuma, University of Pennsylvania
Love it or hate it, liberalism is here to stay–and it has a long and fascinating history. Edmund Fawcett explains more about his forthcoming book Liberalism: The Life of an Idea in this wonderful video interview with Natalia Nash. How do we define liberalism? Edmund Fawcett explores the underlying ideas that guide the liberal story here:
Learn more about Edmund Fawcett and Liberalism at the Princeton University Press site.
Be among the first to browse and download our new history catalog!
Of particular interest is The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century by Jürgen Osterhammel. This is the highly anticipated English edition of the spectacularly successful and critically acclaimed German book, which is also being translated into Chinese, Polish, Russian, and French. Indispensable for any historian, The Transformation of the World sheds important new light on this momentous epoch, showing how the nineteenth century paved the way for the global catastrophes of the twentieth century, yet how it also gave rise to pacifism, liberalism, the trade union, and a host of other crucial developments.
Also be sure to note The Golden Age Shtetl: A New History of Jewish Life in East Europe by Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern. The shtetl was home to two-thirds of East Europe’s Jews in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, yet it has long been one of the most neglected and misunderstood chapters of the Jewish experience. This book provides the first grassroots social, economic, and cultural history of the shtetl. Challenging popular misconceptions of the shtetl as an isolated, ramshackle Jewish village stricken by poverty and pogroms, Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern argues that, in its heyday from the 1790s to the 1840s, the shtetl was a thriving Jewish community as vibrant as any in Europe.
And don’t miss out on Child Migration and Human Rights in a Global Age by Jacqueline Bhabha. Spanning several continents and drawing on the actual stories of young migrants, the book shows how difficult it is for children to reunite with parents who left them behind to seek work abroad. It looks at the often-insurmountable obstacles we place in the paths of adolescents fleeing war, exploitation, or destitution; the contradictory elements in our approach to international adoption; and the limited support we give to young people brutalized as child soldiers. Part history, part in-depth legal and political analysis, this powerful book challenges the prevailing wisdom that widespread protection failures are caused by our lack of awareness of the problems these children face, arguing instead that our societies have a deep-seated ambivalence to migrant children—one we need to address head-on.
Even more foremost titles in history can be found in the catalog. You may also sign up with ease to be notified of forthcoming titles at http://press.princeton.edu/subscribe/. Your e-mail address will remain confidential!
If you’re heading to the American Historical Association’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., January 2nd-5th, come visit us at booth 706-708 and follow #AHA2014 and @PrincetonUnivPress on Twitter for updates and information on our new and forthcoming titles throughout the meeting. See you there!
In 1969, Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill began looking outward to space colonies as the new frontier for humanity’s expansion. A decade later, Eric Drexler, an MIT-trained engineer, turned his attention to the molecular world as the place where society’s future needs could be met using self-replicating nanoscale machines. These modern utopians predicted that their technologies could transform society as humans mastered the ability to create new worlds, undertook atomic-scale engineering, and, if truly successful, overcame their own biological limits. The Visioneers tells the story of how these scientists and the communities they fostered imagined, designed, and popularized speculative technologies such as space colonies and nanotechnologies.
Patrick McCray traces how these visioneers blended countercultural ideals with hard science, entrepreneurship, libertarianism, and unbridled optimism about the future. He shows how they built networks that communicated their ideas to writers, politicians, and corporate leaders. But the visioneers were not immune to failure–or to the lures of profit, celebrity, and hype. O’Neill and Drexler faced difficulty funding their work and overcoming colleagues’ skepticism, and saw their ideas co-opted and transformed by Timothy Leary, the scriptwriters of Star Trek, and many others. Ultimately, both men struggled to overcome stigma and ostracism as they tried to unshackle their visioneering from pejorative labels like “fringe” and “pseudoscience.”
The Visioneers provides a balanced look at the successes and pitfalls they encountered. The book exposes the dangers of promotion–oversimplification, misuse, and misunderstanding–that can plague exploratory science. But above all, it highlights the importance of radical new ideas that inspire us to support cutting-edge research into tomorrow’s technologies.
W. Patrick McCray is professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of Keep Watching the Skies!: The Story of Operation Moonwatch and the Dawn of the Space Age (Princeton) and Giant Telescopes: Astronomical Ambition and the Promise of Technology.
Tobacco Capitalism tells the story of the people who live and work on U.S. tobacco farms at a time when the global tobacco industry is undergoing profound changes. Against the backdrop of the antitobacco movement, the globalization and industrialization of agriculture, and intense debates over immigration, Peter Benson draws on years of field research to examine the moral and financial struggles of growers, the difficult conditions that affect Mexican migrant workers, and the complex politics of citizenship and economic decline in communities dependent on this most harmful commodity.
Benson tracks the development of tobacco farming since the plantation slavery period and the formation of a powerful tobacco industry presence in North Carolina. In recent decades, tobacco companies that sent farms into crisis by aggressively switching to cheaper foreign leaf have coached growers to blame the state, public health, and aggrieved racial minorities for financial hardship and feelings of vilification. Economic globalization has exacerbated social and racial tensions in North Carolina, but the corporations that benefit have rarely been considered a key cause of harm and instability, and have now adopted social-responsibility platforms to elide liability for smoking disease. Parsing the nuances of history, power, and politics in rural America, Benson explores the cultural and ethical ambiguities of tobacco farming and offers concrete recommendations for the tobacco-control movement in the United States and worldwide.
Peter Benson is assistant professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the coauthor of Broccoli and Desire: Global Connections and Maya Struggles in Postwar Guatemala.
When turmoil strikes world monetary and financial markets, leaders invariably call for ‘a new Bretton Woods’ to prevent catastrophic economic disorder and defuse political conflict. The name of the remote New Hampshire town where representatives of forty-four nations gathered in July 1944, in the midst of the century’s second great war, has become shorthand for enlightened globalization. The actual story surrounding the historic Bretton Woods accords, however, is full of startling drama, intrigue, and rivalry, which are vividly brought to life in Benn Steil’s epic account.
A remarkably deft work of storytelling that reveals how the blueprint for the postwar economic order was actually drawn, The Battle of Bretton Woods is destined to become a classic of economic and political history.
Benn Steil is senior fellow and director of international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations. His previous book, Money, Markets, and Sovereignty, was awarded the 2010 Hayek Book Prize.
The Obscura Society seeks out secret histories, unusual access, and opportunities to explore strange and overlooked places hidden all around us. Having a description like that, it only makes sense that they asked someone like William Helmreich, author of The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City, to speak at the ACME Studio in New York City on December 2nd. His salon-style lecture will go from 8:00 PM to 9:30 PM and books will also be for sale at this event. To learn more, click here.
Over the course of four years Helmreich walked over 6,000 miles of city streets, thoroughly exploring all five boroughs and accumulating a wealth of stories about the people he met and places he found along the way. Helmreich will be joining the Obscura Society December 2 at Acme Studio to share a truly intimate portrait of the heart and soul of New York, from its most overlooked and hidden corners to the diversity and determination of the people who have made this city home.
William B. Helmreich is the author of the recently published book The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City. He is a professor of sociology at the City University Graduate Center (CUNY) and the City College of New York as well as a life-long New Yorker. He’s been an avid explorer of the hidden outskirts of the city since he was a young child, when his father invented a game called “Last Stop” in which the two would take a subway to the very end of the line and spend the day exploring the surrounding area on foot.
Want more Helmreich? Check out our Tumblr page where we post photos and quotes from Helmreich himself all about the Big Apple.
Or check out our Facebook page where we post about reviews and events involving The New York Nobody Knows.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The 35th President of the United States, he was one of four presidents who have ever been assassinated while in office (the other three being Lincoln, McKinley and Garfield). He was shot and killed in a presidential motorcade in Dallas, Texas on November 22nd, 1963 at 12:30 pm.
To honor JFK and all of our fearless leaders of the United States since George Washington was inaugurated in 1789, we’re posting a list of some of our best presidential titles to remind us all of the dedication these men put forth in their time leading our country.
Rest in Peace, Mr. President.
As recently as the early 1970s, the news media was one of the most respected institutions in the United States. Yet by the 1990s, this trust had all but evaporated. Why has confidence in the press declined so dramatically over the past 40 years? And has this change shaped the public’s political behavior? This book examines waning public trust in the institutional news media within the context of the American political system and looks at how this lack of confidence has altered the ways people acquire political information and form electoral preferences.
Jonathan Ladd argues that in the 1950s, ’60s, and early ’70s, competition in American party politics and the media industry reached historic lows. When competition later intensified in both of these realms, the public’s distrust of the institutional media grew, leading the public to resist the mainstream press’s information about policy outcomes and turn toward alternative partisan media outlets. As a result, public beliefs and voting behavior are now increasingly shaped by partisan predispositions. Ladd contends that it is not realistic or desirable to suppress party and media competition to the levels of the mid-twentieth century; rather, in the contemporary media environment, new ways to augment the public’s knowledgeability and responsiveness must be explored.
Drawing on historical evidence, experiments, and public opinion surveys, this book shows that in a world of endless news sources, citizens’ trust in institutional media is more important than ever before.
Jonathan M. Ladd is associate professor of government and public policy at Georgetown University. He received his PhD in politics from Princeton University.
It’s Veteran’s Day! In honor of those who have bravely fought to protect our country, the Press is taking a moment to thank those men and women who have risked their lives for this amazing country and its people. On such an occasion, it only makes sense to share some of our titles with you all that highlight the wars we’ve fought and the democracy we’ve worked so hard to build, neither of which would be possible without people to protect and defend us.
Thank you to all those who have served!