Andrew Granville and Jennifer Granville on Prime Suspects

What inspired you to write this book?

Andrew: I had written quite a few “popular” articles, that had been well received inside the academic community. However I realized, at some point, that the furthest outside this community that read my articles seemed to be very keen high school teachers who organized statewide math competitions. I want to reach a much wider audience.

Jennifer: Andrew’s original idea was to write a screenplay that would be another way of communicating his mathematical ideas.  I brought expertise in screenwriting, Andrew brought the math.  The screenplay was given a rehearsed reading, with some contemporary, illustrative performance elements,at the Wolfson Auditorium at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. In the audience was Vickie Kearn from PUP. Vickie was the one who had the vision to suggest we could turn the work into a graphic novel – so I guess you could say it was Vickie who inspired us to actually ‘write the book’!

Why did you choose to specifically focus on integers and permutations in this graphic novel?

Andrew: I had thought it would make a good subject for a popular article. The extraordinary similarities between their “anatomies” is intriguing and I have been trying to popularize this within the research community. Since we started this project – which was over ten years ago – this area has really taken off.

How did you develop Prime Suspects‘ story, and from where did you draw inspiration?

Jennifer:  Andrew suggested that Integer and Permutation could be personified into murder victims who, forensic mathematical examination would prove via DNA, were twins. This was enough for me to begin to develop a narrative using all the genres I love to read and watch – noir movies, Chandler novels, the TV police procedural.

Prime Suspects is filled with “cameos” from famous mathematicians, as well as pop culture figures like Kevin Smith’s Silent Bob. There are also a lot of interesting ‘props’ and backgrounds peppering the pages. What inspired you to include these fun appearances?

Andrew: A story has more color if there is an interesting background and context. To my mind, a Hitchcock or a Tarantino movie is as intriguing for what, and who, is in the background as for what is in the foreground. I love those extra details. All of the appearances were inspired by the story.

What do you think an average comic book reader will enjoy about Prime Suspects, even if they don’t regularly read trade math books?

Andrew This is an attempt to be very very different. It is the proof of a theorem, developed as a detective story, in which the detective story in prominent, and the mathematics is by metaphor. Any reader can enjoy the art and the story, and try to be comfortable with as much of the mathematics as works for them.

Jennifer:  I am far from being any kind of mathematician, none of the the artists involved – the illustrator, colourist, letterer – are mathematicians, but we are all comic book fans and have all thoroughly enjoyed the process of bringing the story to life without understanding any of the deeper math. One of our characters compares the math to poetry – you don’t have to understand every word, every beat, in order to appreciate the beauty or to feel a concept. As described above, there are masses of cameos and loads of references to movies, books and contemporary culture, so I hope that readers will find plenty to enjoy.

There are so many interactive elements to Prime Suspects, including an original score. What inspired you to include so many creative elements with the text?

Jennifer:  These happened organically. To give one example, very early on in the project’s life, when we were just about to do the reading at Princeton, Andrew was seated at at a conference dinner next to a math hobbyist, Robert Schneider. Andrew told him about the screenplay and Robert was fascinated and excited and explaining that he was indie rock musician, asked if he could compose music to be played live at the reading. As it happened there is a major clue in the story, that involves a piece of music, so Robert ended up composing a real piece of music – that reflects the Sieve of Eratosthenes. There is now a QR code on the relevant page of the graphic novel, that allows the reader to play that piece of music. As a post script to that story, Robert is now a rock musician and a Math professor at UGA.

What did you find most exciting about taking your love for mathematics and putting it into a graphic novel? What did you find most challenging?

Andrew:  I had experience at writing “popular” articles, and my writing in that area has been well received. However, when trying to create a fictional story around my ideas, I found that my writing skills did not translate to this new setting. I had no idea how to develop a story and characters. Although a mathematics article should have a narrative, this is very different from writing dramatic narrative.  Working with Jennifer proved to be exciting, as together we were able to apply dramatic narrative techniques, and I could see ideas I had been thinking about for a long time take shape on the page. A major challenge has been to keep the integrity of the math whilst ensuring the story makes sense.  Where to explain the math and where to allow that the audience will all have different levels of understanding and accept that not everyone will understand everything.  Thus our narrator says, early on, that we are in a world in which you do not need to understand everything to understand something.

Jennifer:  This whole project has been a challenge because I never did have ‘a love for mathematics’ but that is what has made it exciting.  I failed math at school and it has always been a completely mysterious world to me. I could only observe my brother’s world, his passion, from the outside. The opportunity to share that world, to see it from the inside, has been a massive privilege and education. I am a prime example (pun intended) of someone who doesn’t understand everything, but who, now, does understand something.

 

Andrew Granville is the Canada Research Chair in Number Theory at the University of Montreal and professor of mathematics at University College London. Jennifer Granville is an educator, award-winning film and theater producer, writer, and director.

Six Figure Deal for Economist Claudia Goldin, Jill Kneerim, Princeton University Press

In a significant six-figure deal, Joe Jackson, senior editor for economics and finance at Princeton University Press, has acquired world rights for all languages and audio to A LONG ROAD: THE QUEST FOR CAREER AND FAMILY by Harvard economist Claudia Goldin. Agents Jill Kneerim and Lucy V. Cleland at Kneerim & Williams handled the deal.

© Bryce Vickmark. All rights reserved. www.vickmark.com 617.448.6758

A LONG ROAD is a dynamic, comprehensive survey of a century of college women’s options, obstacles, and progress in work and family. Goldin delivers a fresh understanding of one of the most intractable problem in today’s economy—the gender earnings gap—by exploring five distinct groups of women of modern history, who collectively trace how we got here, and why. Filled with startling insights into the forces that have catalyzed real change in women’s choices and definitions of success, A LONG ROAD interweaves captivating stories with decades of deeply-sourced, original data to illuminate how the structure of work and other systemic issues are the primary causes of gender disparities. This multi-layered work debunks long-held presumptions and inadequate theories by accurately diagnosing why—despite exceptional, meaningful strides made throughout the 20th century—a large fraction of highly talented women still cannot achieve both an equitable family life and a successful career…but not for the reasons we’ve been led to believe. This urgent book will elevate the cultural conversation, allow the collective past to help make sense of our turbulent present, and point the way toward true gender equity, both in our homes and workplaces.

Professor Goldin is the Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University. From 1989 to 2017, she served as the director of the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Development of the American Economy program.

A LONG ROAD is slated for publication in 2021. 

 

Noah Webster’s civil war of words over American English

In the United States, the name Noah Webster (1758-1843) is synonymous with the word ‘dictionary’. But it is also synonymous with the idea of America, since his first unabridged American Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1828 when Webster was 70, blatantly stirred the young nation’s thirst for cultural independence from Britain.

Webster saw himself as a saviour of the American language who would rescue it from the corrupting influence of British English and prevent it from fragmenting into a multitude of dialects. But as a linguist and lexicographer, he quickly ran into trouble with critics, educators, the literati, legislators and much of the common reading public over the bizarre nature of his proposed language reforms. These spelling reforms – for example, wimmen for ‘women’, greeve for ‘grieve’, meen for ‘mean’ and bred for ‘bread’ – were all intended to simplify spelling by making it read the way that words were pronounced, yet they brought him the pain of ridicule for decades to come.

His definitions were regarded as his strong suit, but even they frequently rambled into essays, and many readers found them overly aligned with New England usage, to the point of distortion. Surfeited with a Christian reading of words, his religious or moral agenda also shaped many of his definitions into mini-sermons or moral lessons rather than serving as clarifications of meaning. A typical example is one of his expositions of purpose: ‘We believe the Supreme Being created intelligent beings for some benevolent and glorious purpose, and if so, how glorious and benevolent must be his purpose in the plan of redemption!’ Overall, his dictionary was prescriptive rather than descriptive, a violation, if you will, of a central tenet of lexicography that holds that dictionaries should record the way language is used, not the way the lexicographer thinks it should be used. 

Webster’s etymology, meanwhile, which he spent a decade dreaming up, was deeply flawed because of his ignorance of the exciting discoveries made by leading philologists in Europe about the evolution of Indo-European languages from roots such as Sanskrit. His etymologies conform entirely to the interpretation of words as presented in the Bible. He was convinced that ‘the primitive language of man’ spoken by the ‘descendants of Noah … must have been the original Chaldee’.

Webster fought his battles over language not within philology circles but within the larger context of an emerging American dialect (pejoratively dismissed by the British as provincialisms). He believed that increasing immigration, the multiplication of unique American words, the new meanings attaching to English words and the proliferation of slang – or, as the English saw it, vulgar and undisciplined language – made an American dictionary essential to American life.

New words came from several sources. Native Americans contributed wampum, moccasin, canoe, moose, toboggan and maize; from Mexico came hoosegow, stampede and cafeteria; from French, prairie and dime; meanwhile, cookie and landscape came from the Dutch. Existing words were combined to make new ones, for example rattlesnake, eggplant and bullfrog. Settlers of the West borrowed mesa and canyon from Spanish, and came up with robust words and expressions such as cahoots and kick the bucket. There were also entirely new words: gimmick, fudge, notify, currency, hindsight, graveyard, roundabout. Shakespearean and other Old World words returned: gotten (got), platter (plate), mad (angry). There were new spellings, too, a few of them of Webster’s own invention: some of those were preserved – specter (spectre) and  offense (offence) for example – but many more were mocked: wimmen (women), blud (blood), dawter (daughter). Idiomatic ‘tall talk’, as Daniel Boorstin called it in The Americans (1965)– the robust informality and ‘brash vitality’ often attacked by the British as vulgar Americanisms – thrived, especially out West: down-and-out, flat-footed, to affiliate, down-town, scrumptious and true-blue. Not surprisingly, the British worried that, one day, if this mushrooming of Americanisms continued, they would scarcely be able to understand Americans.

That didn’t happen. Because of high mobility and the blending of different cultures and backgrounds in the US, there were far fewer dialects or dramatically different pronunciations than in England, where isolation was more common in spite of the smallness of the country. 

The British thought that Samuel Johnson’s great Dictionary of the English Language (1755) would suffice for America as it did for Britain. Many Americans agreed, but many more wanted their own national dictionary to lend them a type of secular authority that was analogous to the spiritual authority of the Bible. But then there was the question of whose American dictionary would provide such an authority – which consideration instigated the ‘American dictionary wars’. Should Webster’s voice prevail, on behalf of the Americanising of English and the writing of dictionaries that would record such usage? Or would Webster’s great rival Joseph Emerson Worcester (1784-1865) with his more traditional, well-informed and solid scholarship triumph? Their conflict became America’s. What emerged in the country was an adversarial culture concerning language in which Americans fought each other in a civil war of words. It was also partly an ideological war, pitting various sectors of society – political, social, educational, religious – against each other over the direction that American English should take. 

Webster died before these wars were resolved, feeling that he had failed as a lexicographer (and a visionary), and disheartened by poor sales of his dictionaries. His legacy and eventual iconic standing was secured largely by his editors (chiefly Webster’s son-in-law Chauncey Allen Goodrich) and publishers (Charles and George Merriam) who began to remove most of his work from his dictionary while he was living, and continued the process over the 20 years following his death. The Merriams knew that Worcester was the superior lexicographer, but they recognised that Webster was more marketable because of his patriot credentials, so they dedicated themselves to cleaning up his dictionary and defeating Worcester in the marketplace.

Ultimately, the Merriams were the real winners in the American dictionary wars, having made a fortune from Webster’s name. Had Webster returned to see what had happened to his dictionary, he probably would have thought of himself as one of the big losers. Meanwhile, American English would pursue its own inevitable national development, with little help from him.Aeon counter – do not remove

Peter Martin is the author of numerous books, including the acclaimed biographies Samuel Johnson and A Life of James Boswell. He has taught English literature in the United States and England and divides his time between West Sussex, England, and Spain.

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

Princeton University Press Announces Participation in Art & Architecture ePortal

Princeton University Press (PUP) is delighted to announce our participation with the Art & Architecture ePortal, a dynamic online platform that offers individuals and institutions access to digital copies of backlist and out-of-print volumes from leading publishers and institutions. Ten PUP titles are now live on the site.

The portal was launched by Yale University Press in July 2018, with the aim of making a diversity of art historical books more widely available and easily discoverable, and is supported by funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

According to Michelle Komie, Art and Architecture Publisher at PUP, “We are so pleased to be partnering on this important scholarly initiative, which will greatly enhance access to critical scholarship in art and architectural history. This platform offers exceptional discoverability that has previously been unavailable for published work within these disciplines, especially highly illustrated works.”

In addition to PUP, participating publishers included The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Paul Mellon Centre; Harvard Art Museums; Harvard University Press; The MIT Press; Art Institute of Chicago; Yale University Art Gallery; and Yale University Press.

 

Justin Smith: If reason exists without deliberation, it cannot be uniquely human

Philosophers and cognitive scientists today generally comprehend the domain of reason as a certain power of making inferences, confined to the thoughts and actions of human beings alone. Like echolocation in bats or photosynthesis in plants, reason is an evolved power, but unlike these, the prevailing theory goes, it emerged exactly once in the history of evolution (porpoises and shrews also echolocate, cyanobacteria photosynthesise). Reason is exceedingly rare, a hapax legomenon of nature, and yet this rarity has led to a bind: when pushed to account for its origins, thinkers who champion reason’s human-exclusivity are forced to lean on supernaturalism, while those who contend that reason is a fundamentally natural property have then to concede that ‘lower’ lifeforms are capable of exercising it. The question is – how?  

Most philosophers and scientists who see reason as some sort of inferential ability involving abstract representations will allow that experiments with ‘higher’ animals can yield evidence of some low-level reason-like faculty: for example when apes hide stones in anticipation of future conflicts. But researchers almost always draw the lower limit for such ability in a way that excludes species whose behaviour is not observably similar to ours. The search for reason beyond the bounds of the human species always ends up as a search for beings that remind us of ourselves.

But what if reason is not so much an inferential ability, as simply the power to do the right thing in the right circumstances? Furthermore, what if this power flows automatically, from simply being the sort of creature one is? This is, more or less, the view of the 16th-century diplomat Girolamo Rorario, as captured in the title of his principal, posthumous treatise, That Brute Animals Make Better Use of Reason than Men (1654). Rorario is representative of a little-known but venerable tradition of thought, extending back to Plutarch, that not only holds that reason is natural, but insists that reason is very widespread in nature indeed.

Rorario’s core idea is that human deliberation – the period of hesitancy when we survey our various options and eventually select what appears to be the best of them – far from being an advantage over other beings, is in fact a mark of our inferiority. Animals and plants do not hesitate. They cut right to the chase and, to the extent that they do not examine alternative options in order to choose among them, they are in a sense incapable of being wrong.

This is not to say that they are never foiled, that gazelles always take a path in fleeing the lion that assures their escape, or that vines always creep in the direction that will give them the most sunlight. It is just that, when they are foiled, this cannot be because they failed in their deliberation, since they do not deliberate. And still they seem to be doing just fine for themselves, pursuing their species-specific ends.

Potentially, it’s not just living beings that fall under the scope of this alternative interpretation of reason as the power to move directly to action, rather than the power of making the correct inference. For everything in nature also just does what it does, simply and without deliberation, by virtue of the fact that everything in nature is bound by the same physical laws. Nature just keeps working smoothly. It never, ever breaks down.

Nature itself is a rational order, on this alternative view, both as a whole and in any of its subdomains. Reason is everywhere, with human reason being only an instantiation or reflection, within a very tiny subdomain, of the universal reason that informs the natural world. The regularities of the motions of the heavens (to speak with the ancients) or the laws governing the orbits of the planets (to speak with the moderns) are not there in place of reason. Rather, these regularities or laws are the reflection ‘out there’ in the world of what human thought is ‘in here’ inside our minds.

If such a view seems irretrievably prescientific, note that among the things we find out there in the world are not just natural systems such as galaxies and tidepools, but also artificial systems such as reckoning machines and smartphones. And unlike the attribution of rationality to animals, the idea that machines make better use of reason than men, first fashionable in the 17th century, is still taken very seriously now.

In the 1670s, the German polymath G W Leibniz expressed the sincere hope that machines might soon be able to take over the drudge work of calculation that we undertake when we do mathematics. He also anticipated that, some day soon, formalised natural language, perhaps processed by machines, might help two disputing parties, including diplomats representing warring states, to determine which side had the morally stronger position.

If we have been disappointed recently in our overreliance on algorithms to maintain social harmony, we are nonetheless prepared, for the most part, to see computer programs as, in some sense, ideally rational. And unless we are raving singularitarians, we do not concern ourselves so much with the question of whether the machines that run these programs are approaching self-awareness, the capacity to have qualia, or any of the other usual markers of subjecthood. For most of us, to say that a computer is rational is, as it was for Leibniz, simply to say that it is following down the right pathways for reasons that are predetermined in the program it is running.

But vines follow the right pathways when they move toward the sunlight too, and in the end computers, like plants, are made only of various combinations of minerals and chemical elements. So when we look at our reckoning machines and we detect an instance of reason, we might use this occasion to work our way back into that less familiar understanding of reason, according to which its instances are everywhere in nature.

In answering the where question of reason in this maximally broad way, we are able to preserve the naturalism that philosophy and cognitive science insist upon today, while dispensing with the human-exclusivity of reason. And all the better, since faith in the strange idea that reason appears exactly once in nature, in one particular species and nowhere else, seems, on reflection, to be itself a vestige of pre-scientific supernaturalism.

A basic insight of the scientific revolution had it that whatever is natural is unexceptional. As Leibniz expressed this idea, citing a line from his favourite comic opera: ‘Everywhere and always, it’s the same as it is here.’ We accepted this idea long ago as concerns physical laws. But terrestrial biology is now considered unexceptional too: most biologists today are inclined to believe that exoplanetary life is a statistical near-certainty. So perhaps it is also time to give up the idea of rationality as nature’s last remaining exception.

Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason (2019) by Justin E H Smith is published via Princeton University Press.Aeon counter – do not remove

Justin E H Smith  is professor of the history and philosophy of science at the University of Paris 7–Denis Diderot. His books include The Philosopher: A History in Six Types (Princeton). An editor at large of Cabinet Magazine, he also writes frequently for the New York TimesHarper’s Magazine, and other publications. Twitter @jehsmith

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

#WeAreUP: A Mark Saunders-inspired salute to sales reps

As I write, I am returning from four days in the incredible and inspiring company of the AUPresses community.  The spirit of our collective is working to rebuild itself around the chasm created by the loss of one of its finest craftsmen, Mark Saunders.  Mark knew how to create a compelling book, as a publisher, and as an author.  And he knew how to make those books impactful, from their content and form, to building the bridges they needed to travel to the book reader and buyer.  As the beloved and poignant #WeAreUP tributes this week have shared, Mark’s early craft was in bookselling, and he carried with him (along with catalogs and advance reading copies) a beautifully honed recognition of the importance of authentic and generous collaboration.

The art and science of bookselling at PUP is defined by such collaborations, and their energy and passions are fueled by consortial teams of sales representatives that we support with peer presses.  If you visit Seminary Coop Bookstore, and encounter a Princeton University Press title on its coveted front table, it’s because Lanora Haradon has visited the Chicago store to enjoy incredible conversations with Jeff Deutsch or Adam Sonderberg about the PUP list. And if you strolled past the Harvard Book Store recently, you might have delighted in the Princeton Publisher Focus window, thanks to Karen Corvello’s ingenuity.  Patricia Nelson’s passion for bookselling put her on the finalist list for sales representative of the year in 2019;  thanks to her, readers in Los Angeles can learn How to Win an Argument at Skylight Books.  In addition to the knowledge and joy these rep rapports generate for PUP, they also represent our peer presses @mitpress and @YaleBooks, comprising a consortial partnership (University Press Associates) managed deftly by our three @aupresses sales directors, including Timothy Wilkins at Princeton University Press. 

Just as these collaborations inspire and impact the Press and our books in North America, so too does a multi-press sales partnership in Europe, the University Press Group.  Jointly supported by @MITpress, @ColumbiaUP, @UCPress, and @PrincetonUPress, this UPG team, now managed by former Thames and Hudson and Ivy Publisher Simon Gwynn, is expanding the European reach of each of our presses, and expanding sales horizons for our books.  Working with our international sales director Andrew Brewer, Simon and a team of three full-time sales representatives have cultivated robust relationships with UK and European booksellers.  The Ancient Wisdom books greet those who seek classic “how to” advice books at Blackwell’s in Oxford thanks to Ben Mitchell’s bookselling wisdom.   In Barcelona, one can venture to La Central and find Lina Bo Bardi: Drawings, placed in that store by Dominique Bartshukoff, who travels from the Netherlands to Portugal in search of bookstores.  Near the Sorbonne, Peter Jacques has ensured that PUP titles like The House of Government  still resides in the specialist history bookstore Libraire des Belles Lettres, and in Belgium that The Lives of Bees created a buzz at ACCO booksellers. 

With each of these consortia, PUP books and their authors travel in minds, hearts, and suitcases of an incredible team of colleagues.  Their enthusiasm and expertise provide a bridge much like those that Mark Saunders crossed so ably, from creator to consumer, from passionate publisher to enthralled reader.  And, like Mark, they do so as beloved colleagues whose intelligence and expertise (and powers of persuasion) animate life and reading the world over.    

—Christie Henry, Director

 

Sales conference, Autumn 2019

Producing non-fiction audiobooks

Jennifer Howard is Director at Sound Understanding. She was previously Head of BBC Audio Production and also Director of Talking Issues.

Once upon a time, an audiobook was something your grandmother borrowed from the library. The shoebox-sized case contained hundreds of cassettes, and the cover generally featured a woman in a shawl looking tragic as she gazed wistfully out to sea…

Of course, audio publishers have always published more than romantic fiction, and listeners have always been made up of more than the elderly or partially sighted.

Yet, Audiobooks have finally come of age. Their popularity has been driven by technology; the device that we now carry around in our pocket can store hundreds of hours of audio. We can listen to whatever we want, wherever we are and whatever we’re doing.

Sound Understanding has recently been appointed audio partner to Princeton University Press; a publisher that has recognised the prolific growth of audiobooks and has been very forward thinking in becoming the first academic publisher to launch an audio list. Princeton’s authors are the thought leaders of our generation. From “On the Future” by Lord Martin Rees and read by Samuel West, to “Gods and Robots” written and read by Professor Adrienne Mayor; these authors offer historical context and in-depth analysis borne out of years of thorough research.

Producing academic or non-fiction books in audio is a challenge, albeit a rewarding one, and preparation is key. 

We begin with casting. Non-fiction is difficult to voice; possibly more difficult than fiction. As the style is generally 1st or 3rd person, there is rarely opportunity for the narrator to mix things up or vary their delivery.  They really need to be engaged with the material and understand what they’re reading; comprehension can’t be disguised with vocal tricks and the light and shade of characterisation.  Voicing non-fiction also requires a tremendous amount of concentration and perseverance to sustain these complex ideas. Coming out of a recording session can sometimes feel like one has just run a marathon!

Getting the right voice goes beyond the usual criteria of region, age, tone, gender. This is always done in partnership with the publisher and with full permission of the author. I personally very much favour author-own readings; no one knows their books better than the authors themselves and the passion they hold for their subject carries a unique authenticity in their voice.

Our narrators are fully supported in studio by a Producer who has sourced pronunciations and—in conjunction with publisher/author—made decisions about where to incorporate footnotes and how to handle graphs and diagrams. Behind our producers are our Editors and Proof Listeners; we aim to marry the subject matter with the education and broadcast experience of our production staff – be that Economics, Natural Science, Maths, History, Classics etc. 

Sometimes the author’s premise can spark controversy if, for example, the narrator disagrees with the author’s point of view. However, in academic publishing, we have found there is respect for these opinions because challenging convention is the lifeblood of learning.

Overall, it is a collegiate and very fulfilling area of audio production.

—Jennifer Howard

 

 

Artemis Leontis on Eva Palmer Sikelianos: A Life in Ruins

This is the first biography to tell the fascinating story of Eva Palmer Sikelianos (1874–1952), an American actor, director, composer, and weaver best known for reviving the Delphic Festivals. Yet, as Artemis Leontis reveals, Palmer’s most spectacular performance was her daily revival of ancient Greek life. For almost half a century, dressed in handmade Greek tunics and sandals, she sought to make modern life freer and more beautiful through a creative engagement with the ancients. Along the way, she crossed paths with other modern artists such as Natalie Clifford Barney, Renée Vivien, Isadora Duncan, Susan Glaspell, George Cram Cook, Richard Strauss, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Nikos Kazantzakis, George Seferis, Henry Miller, Paul Robeson, and Ted Shawn.

 Who is Eva Palmer Sikelianos? Please introduce her to us.

Creative, brilliant, and stunning with floor-length red hair, she was an American actor and director who loved women and ancient Greece and forged an artistic alliance with her Greek poet husband Angelos Sikelianos that shaped twentieth-century Greek culture.

The life of Eva Palmer Sikelianos (1874–1952) reads like a novel. She was born into a wealthy New York family. Her father, Courtlandt Palmer, a freethinker trained at Columbia Law School, was from the Palmers of Stonington, Connecticut and her mother, Catherine, a musician, from the Amory family of Boston. Home-schooled among artistic luminaries and business scions, she boarded at Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut after her father’s sudden death in 1888. She studied Greek and Latin at Bryn Mawr College.

Throughout her life, Eva was a non-conformist. She seduced Natalie Clifford Barney in Bar Harbor (by Barney’s recollection) and followed her to Paris in the early 1900s. They aimed to create a woman-centered utopia reviving the spirit of Sappho’s Lesbos. Willful anachronism was part of their artistic practice. Eva, immersed in theatricality and Greek sources, devised the hairstyles, dress, music, gestures, scenery, and props for Barney’s performances that played with gender ambiguity.

She pursued another Greek-inspired utopia in Greece when her tempestuous relationship with Barney became unbearable. Dressed in sandals and a tunic she wove for one of Barney’s plays, she traveled to Greece with Raymond Duncan (brother of dancer Isadora) and his wife Penelope in 1906. She met Penelope’s brother Angelos Sikelianos. They married and settled in Greece the next year, giving birth to a son, Glafkos, in 1909. For 25 years, she promoted endangered musical practices, weaving, and handicrafts as forms of resistance to economic domination by the West. With Sikelianos as the public face of the events, she produced and directed two festivals of drama and games in 1927 and 1930 in the archaeological site of Delphi, spending all her money. The Delphic Festivals—expressions of an international modernist Hellenism grounded in the Greek present— used modern Greek expressive means to signal their Greece’s transhistorical survival. They helped popularize the performance of Greek drama in ancient sites in Greece and across the Mediterranean. 

Now deeply in debt, Eva returned to the U.S. in 1933 to raise cash. She directed Greek plays and wove costumes to keep a roof over her head. The struggle to survive broke her health but not her spirit. By the mid-1940s, British and American interference in Greece’s internal affairs had radicalized her politically. She wrote over a thousand letters to politicians and newspaper in protest of American imperialism. The House Un-American Activities Committee listed her name four times on suspicion of campaigning to “disarm and defeat the United States.”

Though denied a visa to return to Greece in 1951, she did eventually return in the spring of 1952 to attend the third Delphic revival, a small festival of drama and part of the “Return to Greece” postwar tourist campaign supported by the American Marshall Plan. There she witnessed her vision for a Greek revival deployed by Greek and American officials to transform Greece into a tourist destination, something she strongly opposed. She suffered a stroke on site and lies buried in the village cemetery of Delphi.

Although best known for reviving the Delphic Festivals, her most spectacular performance was her personal unscripted daily revival of the ancient life. For almost half a century, she performed Greekness in handwoven tunics and sandals in defiance of fashion norms, working to make modern life freer, more authentic, and better.

Why did you write about Eva Palmer Sikelianos? How do you value her achievement today?

 She is an overlooked person of the 20th century, airbrushed from depictions of her era’s cultural attainments. I felt that it was time for someone actually to delve into the sources of her life to piece together her story.

Careful digging yielded enormous returns. I read the Greek translation of 163 of Eva’s previously unpublished letters to Barney published in 1995 and discovered over 600 more personal letters in a library in Athens, including 182 exchanged with Barney. Thus, I learned that her connections to Natalie Barney’s turn-of-the-century lesbian salon ran deeper than anyone anticipated. Studying her official archive, I saw that she was also a bigger player in the Delphic Festivals than previously acknowledged; Angelos Sikelianos deliberately covered over her seminal work. There were more, important unexplored episodes. Her search for alternative, tonalities linked her to Richard Strauss, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Konstantinos Psachos, an expert in Byzantine music, and Khorshed Naoroji, the classically trained pianist from Bombay who sought Eva’s help to recover Hindi music. Through Nairoji, her costuming for the Prometheus Bound became interwoven with Gandhi’s advocacy of khadi in India’s decolonization movement. She was also a missing figure in the genealogy of modern dance from Isadora Duncan to Ted Shawn and Martha Graham. Her legacy shaped Greece’s post-War tourist development.

What do we see when we connect these pieces? Her slight, endlessly determined figure, finding its place as a crucial link in a series of artistic and socio-political endeavors, helps clarify the relationships of tesserae in the mosaic of cultural modernism. With her in the picture, modernism’s mantra to “make it new” (Ezra Pound), which placed ultimate value on novelty, becomes “make it ancient”: a determined effort to renew the modern world by capturing the latent energy in ancient sources as creative ground for expression. This was something many modernists actually aspired to.

Moreover, her presence connects the early twentieth-century search for new artistic forms with a queer temporal sensibility in women’s classical learning. Through Eva Palmer’s performances of the Greeks, we see the anachronistic temporality of other modernist projects which moved not progressively forward toward fulfillment, but backward, into the holes of history, to recover a past that never was in order to suggest an as yet unimagined future.

Sometimes a book needs to be written because a person’s strange life suddenly makes sense. I’ve known about Eva Sikelianos for as long as I can remember. For many years, those Greek tunics and the Delphic Festival pressed unproductively against my brain. I did not have the right frame to process them. In the early 2000s, when I read the 163 letters to Barney, in which they imagine new gender and social roles by going back in time, the anachronism of her untimely aspects suddenly made sense.

The idea that new bodily exercises recycling older aspects, performed habitually with self-awareness, may alter the field of possibilities of a restrictive inherited world is quite current. Many people today believe that identities are not innate to individuals but performed through the vocabularies, gestures, and materials recognized by society. This counter-Enlightenment position was tested by a people in the aestheticist movement of Eva Palmer’s youth. Given a new spin in the late twentieth century by Michel Foucault and some of his interpreters, it became ascendant in the twenty-first. Millions of people today work at being themselves by becoming otherwise. They change their names; cross dress to challenge gender binaries; transition to live and present in alignment with another gender identity; tattoo their bodies; draw on ancient traditions and distant sources to transform their consciousness. They aspire, somewhere, somehow, to change the social order through their alteration of the field of possibilities defining themselves.

My hope is that a textured interpretation of the life of Eva Palmer Sikelianos, who, for the first half of the twentieth century, sustained a conscious practice of living differently while absorbing the shocks and heartbreaks of noncomformity, might serve as a meditation on our times.

You mention several artists with whom Eva Palmer Sikelianos’s crossed paths. Who are some of the other famous people in her story?

Her archival materials cover a lot of ground. We find in them the old upper-class families across the world: the Barneys, Beechers, Roosevelts, Vanderbilts, and Andrew Carnegie in the U.S.; Antonis Benakis and Eleftherios Venizelos in Greece; Rabidranath Tagore and the Naorojis in India. This is a sampling.

In the performing arts, I’ve mentioned Barney’s turn-of-the-century lesbian salon. Sara Bernhardt, Colette, Marguerite Moreno, and Isadora and Raymond Duncan are some of the people she worked with that first decade. Mrs. Patrick Campbell offered her acting work on the condition that she cut her ties with Barney, but she wouldn’t. George Cram Cook, Susan Glaspell, photographer Nelly Sougioutzoglou-Seraidare, filmmaker Dimitris Gaziadis, artist Yannis Tsarouchis, Koula Pratsika, an important figure in Greek dance history, and Aliki Diplarakou Lady Russell, who won the Miss Europe contest in 1930, were part of the Delphi scene. In the U.S., Eugene O’Neill supervised her work on the Federal Theater Project. Artist Katherine Dreier introduced her to Ted Shawn. She corresponded with Paul Robeson and W.E.B. DuBois on politics and asked Robeson to play Prometheus in a performance she never staged in Delphi. She was the teacher, friend, and possibly lover of Mary Hambidge, weaver and founder of the Hambidge Center craft community in Georgia, who gave her shelter in the 1930s and 1940s. Greek folklorist Angeliki Hatzimihali was also a dear friend.

She had many connections in the music world. Soprano Emma Calve and harpsichordist Wanda Landowska were possibly her lovers. Natalie Curtis Berlin, a pianist who collected Native American music, was a family friend. She collaborated with Psachos, Greece’s first professor of Byzantine music, and Greek musicologist Simon Karas. Dimitris Mitropoulos stayed in her house near Corinth in 1924 composing music for Angelos’s poetry, and Richard Strauss and his architect Michael Rosenhauer visited her in Delphi two years later while planning to build a music hall on Philopappos Hill in Athens.

Her literary connections begin with Oscar Wilde and continue with Barney, Lucie Delarue-Mardrus, Collette, and Renée Vivien. Playwright Constant Lounsbery and novelist Elsa Barker were longtime friends. In Greece she knew the most prominent writers of the twentieth century: Sikelianos, Kostis Palamas, Nikos Kazantzakis, Kostas Karyotakis, and George Seferis. She corresponded with translators Kimon Frier and Rae Dalven. With Henry Miller she nominated Sikelianos for the Nobel Prize.

She knew all the heads of archaeological schools and many classicists and archaeologists in addition to artists working in the margins of the discipline: Joan Jeffery Vanderopol, Georg von Pscehke, and Alison Frantz. Archaeologist Theodore Leslie Shear was her correspondent on Cold War political matters in the 1940s. Bryn Mawr College presidents, professors, and alumni were her acquaintances, lovers, or good friends, including president M. Carey Thomas, Lucy Donnelly, Virginia Yardley, and Edith Hamilton, popularizer of Greek literature and myths with whom she corresponded about Greek tragedy for over a decade.

So many people, so much material! How did you deal with this embarrassment of riches?

There really is a lot. I visited over 15 archives and libraries in 12 cities in 3 countries on 2 continents.

The archival abundance was especially challenging because much of it was underprocessed. No biographical account existed except the autobiographical episodes in Eva Palmer Sikelianos’s book, Upward Panic. There was not even a reliable timeline of her life to build on. Moreover, access and the organization and contents of archives kept shifting. In one archive, for example, I was given access, then denied it, then given it again to a collection of very personal letters that had been hidden for years. There I found the letters I mentioned earlier. I could not have written a book without those letters. Barney’s own literary executor François Chapon didn’t know they existed. Later I learned that there were 10 more boxes of uncatalogued materials from a later period in Eva’s life.

Every biographer should have such problems!

Besides the challenges of reading and intepreting source materials, selecting was the bigger challenge. There is more material than can possibly fit into a book. To deal with this overabundance, I wrote a detailed chronology to give order to people and events. This is where I map out the historical coordinates of Eva Palmer Sikelianos’s life from birth to death, her burial, and the handling of her remains. I also connect her to many of the people with whom she interacted.

The book I chose to write takes another direction. It brings focus to her life’s work—her body of work and her work shaping her life —as it shifts from one medium to another: from lesbian performances and weaving, patronage of Greek music, staging ancient drama to writing, translating, and political activism in the last phase of her life. I follow the continuities and discontinuities to link Eva Palmer, the stage manager and actor who made Sappho a model of emulation for twentieth-century lesbian identity, with Eva Sikelianos, the director of the Delphic revivals and unconventional dresser who made her life a Greek revival.

Did the source materials present other challenges?

The intimate sources of a person’s life always raise ethical questions in addition to the practical and legal ones of access and permission. On the legal side, who owns the rights and when, where, and how to track that person or entity down. What happens when they are not found? The ethical questions are more layered. We can ask the executors of a deceased person’s work for permission. But what about the wishes of people invested in the person’s legacy? I’m not talking just about people who are now dead. I believe the wishes of anyone living today who has a stake in Eva Palmer Sikelianos’s legacy actually matters. Yet the wishes are many and conflicting.

I struggled long and hard with the question of how to handle the intimate materials. It was not a problem of permission to reveal details of Eva Palmer/Sikelianos’s sexual life. Eleni Sikelianos, Eva’s great grand-daughter and an important American poet, who is her literary executor, wrote in 2005 about her “lesbian theater director great-grandmother.” People heard her grandfather Glafkos express his firm wish that Eva’s sexual orientation should be known and respected. She gave me permission to use every source and to write what I think ought to be said.

Initially, I intended to avoid writing about her intimate relations. I considered them irrelevant to her creative processes. I was trying to get at Eva’s ideas as they expressed themselves publicly in the media of her life and staged performances. As I dug deeper into the sources, I read the many letters exchanged between Eva and Barney and dozens of other women who corresponded intimately with Eva. Some love letters mixed creativity, passion, pain, and despair with deep cultural knowledge about Greek sources and efforts to recreate it. There were letters from Eva’s brother and mother too. Some were especially harsh, belittling her life choices. Her mother wished her to reveal herself yet would not accept her choices.

As I read the archival material, particularly the most personal letters, I sensed just how arbitrary and absurd yet resolutely stigmatizing the social rejection of same-sex orientation has been. At the same time, I observed that Eva’s encounter with the world as a lesbian was inextricably intertwined with her efforts to make herself free and anachronistically ancient. This was true when she cultivated a lesbian life in the company of Barney in the early 1900s and even more true when she “went Greek” after she married Angelos Sikelianos. I chose to disclose those points of intimacy that spoke to the creative process.

So the great loves of her life were…

Natalie Clifford Barney and Greece. Angelos Sikelianos is folded into Greece, and many other women are folded into both great loves. Eva’s correspondence from 1906 to 1907 suggests that she had trouble imagining herself close to Angelos when they first met. She was actually trying to find new footing away from Barney. Yet, in writing Upward Panic thirty years later, Eva made Angelos out to be the love of her life. She grew to love him, I think, but in an expansive way that embraced his dreams and artistic work under the big umbrella of Greece. In her words, she loved “his country, his people, his language, and most of all his dreams.”

She also loved his sister Penelope, and this love is a driving force in my narrative. I guess you will have to read the book to learn how.

You call her “Eva.” How much intimacy do you feel for her?

I use the first name, “Eva,” for a practical reason. Many people in her story share the last names Palmer and Sikelianos. I generally refer to her siblings also by their first names, Robert, May, and Courtlandt, and to Angelos Sikelianos and Penelope Sikelianos Duncan as Angelos and Penelope. The Duncans are Isadora and Raymond, whereas Natalie Clifford Barney is Barney. The reason is not familiarity but to keep my subjects clear, since many people share the last name. Additionally, this spares me the trouble of specifying the maiden, married, or maiden and married, unless there is a point in using these, as in this and the next paragraphs.

As a general principle, I wanted my feelings for Eva Palmer Sikelianos to be irrelevant to the project. This is not to say that I had none or that they did not interfere with the research. I spent many years digging deep into biographical sources. They moved me. There were times when they caught my breath. When I opened the inaccessible dossiers containing over 600 letters for the first time my jaw dropped. Each dossier contained several folders of letters spilling out in loosely bundled stacks, tied with purple, pink, baby blue, and flowered satin ribbons from the time of their receipt. I found traces of tears and mud. The letters absorbed me so utterly that I could do think about anything else. I barely cared about putting dinner on the table. Yet while I was researching and writing, I was also teaching, advising, socializing, and caring for people in my intimate circle. Sometimes I would actually forget “Eva” or be very frustrated that her life always occupied me.

Researching a human subject inspires a certain kind of identification, even attachment, that is different for me at least from other subjects. Eva expressed love, pain, desolation, despair, bias, weakness, doubts, and extreme certainty. I did not always sympathize with her ideas or find her work extraordinary. Since she was a historical subject, I didn’t control her story, as I would have if she were a fictional subject. I compensated by wanting to protect her when things got bad, or to cover for her when she was wrong or just insufferable.

These were some of the feelings I struggled with while writing the book. They may become confused with my using her given name. But my calling her “Eva” is not meant to signal familiarity. I am now as far from knowing “Eva” as I was when I began. But it does solve a practical problem.

What happened in the way you think as a result of writing this biography? Did it change you?

A lot. It changed my thinking about LGBQT culture, as I describe above. This was life changing.

It also changed my attitude to life writing. When I started writing a book about Eva Palmer Sikelianos, a surprising number of colleagues questioned my decision. “You’re not writing a biography,” one person I respect a great deal stated decisively. Several others took time to enumerate why they dislike biographies. Actually, I wasn’t intending to write a biography. Initially, this was going to be a book of essays about Eva Palmer Sikelianos’s work reviving Greek cultural heritage in five media.

But I could not avoid the life-historical research. Classical models offered precedents for personal constructions of dress, behavior, and identity in addition to cultural products. My interest in the former grew. While ideas of Greece take monumental forms in many of their neoclassical manifestations, they are quite liquid in their passage through life. I came to ask: What new shapes do Greek textual and material fragments take when they inhabit people’s daily life? What becomes of both the ancient ruins and the modern person? How did Eva incorporate them in her daily activities? How did they script her life? How did her intense investment in finding the latent life in ruins change over time to become increasingly an art of life?

I now consider the book’s biographical mode to be vital to its contribution. In working to recover the story of a woman whose rich and diverse work in Greece was fitted to the procrustean bed of patriarchal, nationalist, and heteronormative discourses, I honor several decades of biographical writing that studies the gaps in classical scholarship for clues of women invested personally in the study of Greece and other ancient worlds, who had nontraditional careers, lived their eccentric lives mainly in obscurity, and somewhere, somehow, tried to change the social order through their alteration of the field of possibilities defining not just knowledge but themselves.

Why did you feature “ruins” in your title? She was such a creative person!

She was indeed a creative person but also a broken one working in a country associated with ruins on multiple levels. The title plays on the multiple meanings of “ruins”: as an inspiration for creative work, a signifier of financial crisis and decay, and a central feature of Greece—both literal and metaphorical—in modern times.

Eva’s creativity had its source in ruins. She saw the latent grandeur of the Greeks everywhere, and, over the course of half a century, she embraced fragments of the past, giving them new life. This was her attitude before she came to Greece, when she and Barney were imagining an alternative social order for women reconstructed from the gaps in Sappho’s fragments. It became a worldview grounded in materials and practices after she moved to Greece. She saw fragments of the past everywhere: in archaeological sites, museum objects, folk practices, and the modern Greek language. She sought them out and became increasingly involved with them, conversing with people who excavated artifacts for a living or who collected folk survivals, using their discoveries to make new things. Ancient sites and things were a canvas for her creative interventions.

Concurrently, her life trajectory moved from abundance toward ruination. To produce the first Delphic Festival in 1927, she took out loans against the value of two houses. She never recovered the expenses. For the next six years, she experienced the humiliation of avoiding her creditors, whom she could not repay. She left Greece to escape them and also Angelos, who kept asking her for more money. For the next two decades, she depended on the generosity of friends in the U.S. to board her in exchange for her weaving.

With World War II and the Nazi devastation of Greece during the three-year occupation, Eva’s own fall into ruins and Greece’s intersected. From her humble living quarters in the U.U., she read about women and children who were tortured, forests denuded, and villages plundered or totally destroyed. People she loved disappeared. Reading about an economy in ruins and sensing the people’s hardships, she had to rethink the relations between ruins and her advocacy for Greece.

Ruins are a central metaphor for Greece in its modern history, denoting a rift with the past which the present must work endlessly to repair. During the decade when I was researching and writing this book, Greece experienced a huge government debt crisis leading to economic contraction and coinciding with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers and refugees, a true humanitarian crisis. Poverty spread, bringing hunger and illness. Neighborhoods were abandoned and fell into ruins, where homeless people now stay. Today’s Greece evokes the Greece of Eva. Meanwhile, imagery from classical ruins has appeared repeatedly in foreign media representations to symbolize the sorry state of the Greek economy. It works to flatten and ridicule current reality by identifying it with—what else—the rift with the glorious past of Greece.

I think that Eva Palmer Sikelianos: A Life in Ruins tells a good riches to rags story. It should also generate reflections on the representations and functions of ruins today.

Artemis Leontis is professor of modern Greek and chair of the Department of Classical Studies at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Topographies of Hellenism and the coeditor of “What These Ithakas Mean…”: Readings in Cavafy, among other books. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Princeton University Press Acquires Rights to The Obama Portraits

Photo courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

 

Photo courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

 

Princeton University Press is thrilled to announce plans to publish The Obama Portraits, in association with the National Portrait Gallery, Washington. Michelle Komie, Publisher of Art and Architecture at PUP, acquired world rights to the book, which is slated for publication in February of 2020, two years after the historic unveiling of the paintings President Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley and First Lady Michelle Obama by Amy Sherald.

The Obama Portraits will be the first examination of the inception, evolution, and impact of these remarkable paintings. The book will include a selection of powerful images, including behind-the-scenes photography by Pete Souza, the official photographer for the Obamas; and a transcript of remarks given by the Obamas and others at the historic unveiling. Essays by Kim Sajet, Director of the National Portrait Gallery; Portrait Gallery curators Taína Caragol and Dorothy Moss; and art historian Richard Powell will explore themes of power, empathy, democracy, pilgrimage, and race.

According to Sajet, “While the lead-up to the unveiling of the Obama portraits attracted unprecedented media attention, the public’s interest in them has far surpassed our expectations. Our long lines and record attendance numbers certainly hint at the impact they’ve had on audiences, but what we’ve come to call the Obama effect has been deeply profound. The National Portrait Gallery is delighted to be partnering with Princeton University Press on The Obama Portraits and looks forward to expanding the museum’s audience with this important book.”

Komie remarked, “These paintings have resonated like few other artworks in history. We are enormously grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with the National Portrait Gallery on a book that is so vibrant, so vital, and which carries such tremendous potential to engage readers within the arts and well beyond.”

The National Portrait Gallery is home to official portraits of every US president and, since the late twentieth century, of First Ladies as well. The museum has worked with Princeton University Press on several recent projects, including catalogues for the exhibitions Black Out and Votes for Women.

About the Authors

Taína Caragol is Curator of Painting and Sculpture and Curator of Latino Art and History at the National Portrait Gallery. She co-organized UnSeen: Our Past in a New Light, Ken Gonzales-Day and Titus Kaphar and The Face of Battle: Americans at War, 9/11 to Now.

Dorothy Moss is Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the National Portrait Gallery and Coordinating Curator for the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative. Her most recent publication, The Sweat of Their Face: Portraying American Workers, accompanied a major exhibition at the museum.

Richard J. Powell is the John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art and Art History at Duke University, where he teaches courses in American art and the arts of the African Diaspora. He is the author of Cutting a Figure: Fashioning Black Portraiture, Black Art: A Cultural History, and countless other publications.

Kim Sajet is the first woman to serve as the Director of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Born in Nigeria, raised in Australia, and a citizen of the Netherlands, she brings a global perspective to the position. Prior to her appointment at the Portrait Gallery in 2013, Sajet (pronounced Say-et) was President and CEO of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

 

About Princeton University Press

Founded in 1905, Princeton University Press is a leading independent publisher of trade and scholarly books. With close ties to Princeton University and with offices in the United States, the United Kingdom, and China, PUP strives to foster dialogues that engage the world.

 

About the National Portrait Gallery

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the multifaceted story of the United States through the individuals who have shaped American culture. Spanning the visual arts, performing arts, and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists, whose lives tell the American story.

 

 

 

Celebrating Europe Day and our European Office

“Europe Day is commemorated on May 9th by the European Union in recognition of the peace and prosperity it has brought to the region since its inception.

This offers a perfect opportunity to celebrate our European Office, opened just outside Oxford twenty years ago.  Starting with three people in an attic office above a dancewear shop, we quickly outgrew the space.  Since then we have gone from strength to strength and there are now eighteen in our current more spacious offices, though we are threatening to outgrow this too, very soon.  The team includes commissioning editors in the humanities, sciences and social sciences, publicity, marketing, international rights, and most recently the publisher for PUP Audio.

We are a key part of PUP’s global reach, offering the ability to achieve excellent publicity coverage throughout Europe, acquiring editors who can capitalise on our location to build up their European networks and a superb international translation rights team. On May 9th we wish the European office a happy twentieth birthday. Here’s to the next twenty years.”—Caroline Priday

 

Rachel McCleary and Robert Barro on The Wealth of Religions: The Political Economy of Believing and Belonging

mcclearyWhich countries grow faster economically—those with strong beliefs in heaven and hell or those with weak beliefs in them? Does religious participation matter? Why do some countries experience secularization while others are religiously vibrant? In The Wealth of Religions, Rachel McCleary and Robert Barro draw on their long record of pioneering research to examine these and many other aspects of the economics of religion. Places with firm beliefs in heaven and hell measured relative to the time spent in religious activities tend to be more productive and experience faster growth. Going further, there are two directions of causation: religiosity influences economic performance and economic development affects religiosity. Dimensions of economic development—such as urbanization, education, health, and fertility—matter too, interacting differently with religiosity. State regulation and subsidization of religion also play a role. Timely and incisive, The Wealth of Religions provides fresh insights into the vital interplay between religion, markets, and economic development.

How did you come to write the book?

Robert is an economist and Rachel is a moral philosopher. In thinking about religion, we took as our starting point the work of Adam Smith, the founder of economics, who believed that moral values and organized religion were key forces in political economy and society. Nevertheless, social scientists—particularly economists and political scientists—have tended to underestimate the importance of religion, particularly the role of beliefs and values. We think that Adam Smith was right. Beliefs and religiosity are central determinants of which societies prosper and which deteriorate.

What does your book bring to the conversation on the economics of religion that hasn’t been discussed before?

Another contribution to the study of religion is bringing together the ideas of Adam Smith with those of the German sociologist Max Weber. Religious beliefs and values motivate people to behave in certain ways. This view, as we discuss in our book, is integral to forms of Protestantism with its emphasis on unmediated, individual responsibility for one’s salvation. We bring a quantitative approach to the relationship between beliefs, values, and economic behavior. In so doing, we examine the role of religious beliefs across world religions and countries. Our research has an international perspective with a focus on believing and belonging in the major religions of the world.

We focus on the role of religious beliefs and belonging to organized religions in the economic, political, and social development of nations and individuals. We are filling an important gap in the literature on religion by providing an international perspective. Much of the work in the sociology of religion is focused on local or regional patterns of religiosity. The sociology of religion has a strong focus on the United States, centering research around assumptions about religious patterns and organizations in the United States. In our research, we apply economic analysis to world religions and across countries.

How does religion fit into the story of developing nations? Does religious fervor help or hinder efforts to increase economic development?

To better understand the relationship between religion and economic growth, we need to look at a two-way causation. Religiosity has a two-way interaction with political economy. With religion viewed as the dependent variable, a central question is how economic development and political institutions affect religious participation and beliefs. There is a clear overall pattern whereby economic development associates with decreasing religiosity. However, there is no evidence that greater education diminishes religious beliefs.

Looking at the other direction of causation with religion as the independent variable, we study the effects of religion on economic, social, and political behavior. A key issue is how religiousness affects individual traits such as diligence, honesty, thrift, and integrity, thereby influencing productivity and economic performance. Another channel involves religion’s effects on literacy and education (human capital) more broadly. For example, there is evidence that Protestantism is more favorable than Catholicism as an influence on education and work ethic.

We find that social capital and cultural aspects of religion—communal services, rituals, religious schools—are significant mainly to the extent that they influence beliefs and, hence, behavior. For given beliefs, more time spent on communal activities would tend to be an economic drag for the believer as well as the entire community. Moreover, the costs of formal religion include the time spent by adherents and religious officials on religious activities. In addition, time and money are expended on buildings, sacred objects, and so on. Our general view, based on empirical evidence, is that believing relative to belonging (attending) is the main channel through which religion matters for economic and other social outcomes.

Can religion help to explain why some nations develop faster than others?

We found evidence that economic growth was stimulated when religious beliefs were high compared to religious participation. This pattern applied, for example, to Japan and parts of Western Europe. An overall expansion of religiousness—greater beliefs accompanied by the typically associated attendance at formal religious services—was not strongly related to growth. Religiously sponsored laws and regulations hindered economic growth in some places, notably in Muslim countries, which typically did not have favorable institutions with respect to corporations, credit markets and insurance, and inheritance.

How did the conflict between Protestantism and the Catholic Church affect economic development in early modern Europe? Do we still see the impact of that today?

As Max Weber argued, the rise of Protestantism beginning with the Reformation in the 1500s enhanced work ethic and the accumulation of human capital and, thereby, contributed to the industrial revolution. We found evidence that this mechanism still operated in Western Europe in the modern era.

Competition increases the quality of services provided by different religions. The introduction of Protestantism into Western Europe challenged the monopolistic status of the Roman Catholic Church, pressuring that organization to respond in two ways. First, by lowering the nature and pricing of religious goods, the Catholic Church sought to retain believers. Second, the Catholic Church promoted those aspects of its theology that distinguished it from other religions.

We discuss in our book how the beatification of saints is a unique mechanism of the Catholic Church. With the rise of Evangelical faiths, religious competition became particularly strong in Latin America, vernacularly referred to as “The Catholic continent,” where Catholicism had enjoyed a monopoly since the region was colonized by Spain in the 1400s. Today, in regions of the world where competition with types of Protestantism is increasing, the beatification of local saints revives religious fervor and deters adherents from converting to types of Protestantism.

Is religious fervor impacted by fluctuations in the economy? If so, how?

There is evidence that adverse economic shocks and natural disasters tend to increase the demand for religion. This pattern has been observed, for example, for earthquakes in Italy, flood-related declines in agricultural harvests in Egypt, declines in incomes during the Asian Financial crisis, and adverse effects from a poorly designed land reform in Indonesia. In the other direction, increased economic development—particularly movements away from agriculture and toward urbanization—tend to lower the demand for religion. However, it is wrong to conclude that sustained economic growth causes religion to disappear.

What do you hope readers will take away from reading this book?

We hope our readers will appreciate the possibilities of interdisciplinary research on a variety of religion topics. The application of economic ideas to religion broadens our understanding of ways in which beliefs and practices influence individual and group behavior.

We find that social capital and cultural aspects of religion—communal services, rituals, religious schools—are significant mainly to the extent that they influence beliefs and, hence, behavior. For given beliefs, more time spent on communal activities tend to be an economic drag for the believer as well as the entire community. The costs of formal religion include the time spent by adherents and religious officials on religious activities and the time and money expended on buildings, sacred objects, and so on. Our general view, based on empirical evidence, is that believing relative to belonging (attending) is the main channel through which religion matters for economic and other social outcomes.

Rachel M. McCleary is lecturer in the Department of Economics at Harvard University. Her books include The Oxford Handbook of the Economics of ReligionRobert J. Barro is the Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics at Harvard. His books include Education Matters: Global Schooling Gains from the 19th to the 21st Century and Economic Growth. They both live in Massachusetts.

Daniel Kennefick on No Shadow of a Doubt

In 1919, British scientists led extraordinary expeditions to Brazil and Africa to test Albert Einstein’s revolutionary new theory of general relativity in what became the century’s most celebrated scientific experiment. The result ushered in a new era and made Einstein a global celebrity by confirming his dramatic prediction that the path of light rays would be bent by gravity. Today, Einstein’s theory is scientific fact. Yet the effort to “weigh light” by measuring the gravitational deflection of starlight during the May 29, 1919, solar eclipse has become clouded by myth and skepticism. In No Shadow of a Doubt, Daniel Kennefick provides definitive answers by offering the most comprehensive and authoritative account of how expedition scientists overcame war, bad weather, and equipment problems to make the experiment a triumphant success.

What compelled you to write this book?

The story of the 1919 eclipse is one of the most dramatic and significant in the history of science, and one that I’ve always found fascinating. What compelled me to research it closely was my puzzlement about the criticisms of Eddington which I heard repeated more and more, especially while working on volume 9 the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, which covered Einstein’s life during the year 1919. I found the complaints about Eddington’s supposed bias in favor of Einstein unconvincing, especially the claim that Eddington’s pacifism was responsible for his desire to prove Einstein right. I thought that it was time someone looked closely at the actual data analysis decisions, using original documents preserved in the archives. I decided to write the book because I found the complete story of the eclipse which I put together to be fascinating and the centenary seemed like a perfect occasion to tell that story. I also felt that there was a danger that important work on the 1919 eclipse was being overlooked. As part of my research I learned that a re-analysis of the photographic plates taken in 1919 was conducted in 1978 by English astronomers at the Royal Greenwich Observatory using modern plate-measuring equipment and computers. They completely vindicated the work of the original team, and yet their re-analysis had gone totally unrecognized and unread. It was even misrepresented in the one book which did allude to it, Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. So I felt it was important to restore some balance to the story of what happened in 1919.

You say that the 1919 solar eclipse is perhaps one of the most important eclipses in history, but there are critics who contend that Arthur Eddington placed too much emphasis on the eclipse proving Einstein’s theory of relativity. Why do you think that’s a weak counter-argument?

The problem here is that the modern critics distort the story by their focus on just one participant, the famous astrophysicist Eddington. Incidentally, he was known to his family by his middle name Stanley; he never went by Arthur. Since Eddington was only involved in this one test of general relativity, it is easy to make it seem that there has been too much emphasis on the 1919 eclipse test. But Eddington himself never regarded confirmation of the theory as depending upon this one test. It’s just that modern commentary rarely talks about anything beyond Eddington’s role, which doesn’t even tell the complete story of this one test. There were two expeditions in 1919, and Eddington was only involved in one of them. The other one, organized by the Royal Observatory, Greenwich to Sobral in Brazil, obtained the most important data.

Having said all that, there is a sense in which the 1919 test was of very special importance. There were only three tests of Einstein’s new theory of gravity that were possible to do a century ago. One of these—the explanation of the perihelion shift of Mercury—was impressive, but since Einstein knew the result his theory had to “predict” it didn’t count as a prediction in the usual sense. The other test was the solar redshift measurements, but this confirms only the principle of equivalence and is not strictly speaking a test of general relativity as such. The prediction that light is deflected when it passes through the gravitational field of the Sun was a test of the complete theory that Einstein could not know the answer to beforehand. The 1919 expeditions were the first time that this observation had ever been successfully made. The agreement achieved was very dramatic and the fact that the experiment could not be repeated until the next suitable eclipse, in 1922, added even more drama to the occasion. So the truth is that the 1919 expedition was a special occasion in the history of science.

Can you talk a bit about the circumstances surrounding the Principe and Brazil expeditions that made this experiment so significant?

There were three circumstances that made this eclipse extraordinary. The first is that the eclipse took place on a day, May 29th, when the Sun is in the star field of the Hyades cluster. This is the closest star cluster to the Earth and there is no other place on the ecliptic (the Sun’s path through the sky) with so many bright stars so close together. Thus, an eclipse taking place on that day is perfectly suited to performing this experiment. Such an eclipse will next occur in 2310, so the expedition planners realized that it was especially important to try the experiment in 1919. Unfortunately, as late as November 1918, it looked unlikely that ships could be found to carry the teams to their preferred stations on the island of Principe and in northeastern Brazil. The reason for the suspension of shipping was World War I which fortunately ended abruptly later that same month. Had the war lasted any longer, it is unlikely that the expeditions could have departed. Even as it was a civil war broke out in Portugal, a key stop on their route, before their departure, and Eddington had no idea which ship would take him to Principe when he left England in March 1919.

This second circumstance, that of a war torn world, very nearly scuppered the planning for the expeditions, but undoubtedly helped make the team so famous when they returned successfully. The triumph of science over the tribulations of history really caught the public imagination. Certainly an aspect of this public response was that the expedition was mounted from England in order to test, and confirm, the theory of a German scientist, Albert Einstein, so it had an additional aura of reconciliation about it, at a time when postwar feelings were very bitter.

A third favorable circumstance was the relevant expertise of the expeditions’ personnel, especially the director of the Greenwich Observatory, Frank Watson Dyson. Einstein’s prediction was that the presence of the Sun near stars would cause tiny shifts in their positions, because the Sun’s gravity would deflect the starlight on its way to the Earth. Dyson and Eddington, but especially Dyson, were experts in this kind of differential astrometry, the measurement of small shifts in star positions. They had spent years (decades, in Dyson’s case) measuring the proper motion and the parallax of stars, which depends on the measurement of similar small star shifts. Thus by good fortune this special opportunity to test Einstein’s opportunity was undertaken by the ideal team who were able to overcome all obstacles, including bad weather and difficulties with instrumentation.

Will we ever see a solar eclipse quite like this in our lifetime?

No, we won’t. Obviously an eclipse with this special star field won’t occur again for nearly two centuries. But in addition, the advance of technology means that there are few important scientific tasks which require an eclipse. Radio telescopes do not require a solar eclipse to test Einstein’s light deflection prediction. These instruments can do the test far more accurately than can be done with optical telescopes at an eclipse. But in another sense, replicating the drama of 1919 is open to anyone. Experiments at the recent 2017 eclipse have shown that a modern amateur astronomer can do the experiment alone to an accuracy better than what was achievable in 1919. Another total solar eclipse will cross America in 2024 and we can hope that other enthusiasts will study the eclipse then. If enough people do the experiment and are able to pool their data, they could achieve a result far more accurate than any ever achieved by professional astronomers at an eclipse. We are living at a moment in history in which the means to do this experiment are within the reach of many people.

What do you hope that readers will take away from this book?

What first made me skeptical of Eddington’s modern critics was their claim that the expedition’s work was influenced by Eddington’s bias in favor of General Relativity as well as his militant pacifism. I found these arguments unpersuasive because I knew that Eddington’s views were highly unusual. Other astronomers of the period were highly skeptical of, or even hostile towards, general relativity. War resisters like Eddington (and Einstein) were a despised minority during World War I. It didn’t make sense that this man could have single-handedly persuaded everyone involved to share his peculiar biases. Sure enough, careful reading of the documents in the archives, including letters and data analysis notes, made it clear that the decisions which were being criticized today weren’t even taken by Eddington but by others in the expedition, especially Dyson. Both Eddington and Dyson made it clear in their letters that Dyson was skeptical of Einstein’s theory to begin with. As I puzzled through Dyson’s notes, I began to unravel the reasoning behind his decision, and I found that it made a lot more sense than did the arguments of some of the modern critics. Furthermore, his reasoning is completely vindicated by the results of the 1978 re-analysis. But I also came to realize that Dyson’s decision depended heavily on input from his assistant, Charles Davidson, and that the success of the expedition was made possible by the multinational Astrographic project, which Dyson worked on and which two of the telescope lenses they used were constructed for. I realized I needed to learn about the man who made those lenses, a fellow Irishman called Howard Grubb, and about the institutional framework which was used to organize the expeditions at a very difficult time. The minutes of the meetings of that Joint Permanent Eclipse Committee and the letters written home to his mother and sister by Eddington made the expeditions come alive for me, and I wanted to share that with other readers. I hope they come away, as I did, with a conviction that the history of science cannot be told fully without understanding the role of all the scientists involved, rather than just one or two famous names. Part of the charm of the story is the different characters who contributed to doing something extraordinarily challenging under impossibly difficult circumstances.

Daniel Kennefick is associate professor of physics at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. He is the author of Traveling at the Speed of Thought: Einstein and the Quest for Gravitational Waves and a coauthor of An Einstein Encyclopedia (both Princeton).