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Interviews with Historians about their New Books

3642 Episodes
Stanislav Kulchytsky’s The Famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine: An Anatomy of the Holodomor (CIUS Press, 2018) presents a meticulous research that unveils the mechanism of the Holodomor as a man-made famine, which was launched in Ukraine by the Soviets as a punitive and controlling measure undertaken to discipline and suppress those, peasants in the first place, who might have rebelled against the Soviet programs such as collectivization. With this book, Kulchytsky offers a complex approach to understanding the Holodomor: from the origins of the Soviet Union to the development of sophisticated programs that were designed to secure the stability and unequivocal dominance of the totalitarian regime, masked, however, as a “universal virtue” for all Soviets. As with the Soviet Union, the famine of 1932-1933 asks to consider multiple components that led to one of the most tragic and traumatic episodes in the history of Ukraine in the 20th century: the methodological frame that Kulchytsky provides takes into account these multiple components and helps convincingly track the crimes that were performed by the Soviet officials. Moreover, the work can also be read as a confession of the scholar who lived through all stages of ideological indoctrination whose task was to raise scholars who would devotedly serve the regime. Kulchytsky opens his book with his personal story of how he started investigating the Holodomor under the Soviet Union: required by the Communist Party officials, the research went into a completely different direction and yielded the results that the Party could not foresee. The book is the evidence of scholarly integrity and of the resilience towards the Party’s demands of obedience and cooperation. In spite of a number of works written about the USSR, it still remains to some extent terra incognita: particularly those areas that could shed some light on how the Soviet Union, that was built at the expense of millions of lives, lasted for decades; and why today there are attempts in Russia, which considered itself the main heir of the USSR, to revive the “glory” of its leaders—Stalin in the first place—and of life under the Soviet Union. The Famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine: An Anatomy of the Holodomor provides detailed research of the traumatic episode in the history of Ukraine; it shows the mechanism of the totalitarian regime; and it takes us one step closer to the understanding of how the USSR emerged and developed. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Earlier this year the world marked the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. An occasion for mourning and reflection also offered a chance to reflect on the state of research about the genocide. Among the many books that were published in the past year, Joyce E. Leader's new book From Hope to Horror: Diplomacy and the Making of the Rwanda Genocide (Potomac Books, 2020) stands out. Leader was the Deputy Chief of Mission in Rwanda from 1991 through April 1994. As such, she was ideally positioned to witness Rwanda's slide into catastrophe. The book is an unusual combination of memoir, reflection and lessons learned. Leader offers a nuanced interpretation of the causes of the violence, one that supplements other secondary research. She also reflects on how we can apply the lessons of Rwanda to future conflicts. But most interesting are her own reflections on her experiences. Leader paints vivid pictures of what it was like to live in Rwanda before and at the very beginning of the genocide. And she is unusually honest and self-reflective about ways in which foreign diplomats could have acted differently. It's an important and valuable book. Kelly McFall is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Newman University. He’s the author of four modules in the Reacting to the Past series, including The Needs of Others: Human Rights, International Organizations and Intervention in Rwanda, 1994, published by W. W. Norton Press. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
To what degree did each of The Beatles exhibit emotional intelligence in the band’s final year? You'll find out in the discussion I had with Kenneth Womack about his new book Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and The End of The Beatles (Cornell University Press, 2019). Womack is the author of a two-volume biography of the life and work of Beatles producer George Martin. His forthcoming book, John Lennon, 1980: The Last Days in the Life, will be available in October 2020. Topics covered in this episode include: --Womack explains what Solid State refers to and where Abbey Road might rank in the band’s legacy. (Fortunately, the Magical Mystery Tour album wasn’t a top-three choice of his!) --Using the Big 5 model for personality traits, what might be the dominant traits of The Beatles given the options of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. --Why the band had reached a point where, like a bad marriage, it couldn’t survive any longer. Dan Hill, PhD, is the author of eight books and leads Sensory Logic, Inc. To check out his “Faces of the Week” blog, visit Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
We are schooled to believe that states formed more or less synchronously with settlement and agriculture. In Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States (Yale University Press, 2017), James C. Scott asks us to question this belief. The evidence, he says, is simply not on the side of states. Stratified, taxing, walled towns did not inevitably appear in the wake of crop domestication and sedentary settlement. Only around 3100 BCE, some four millennia after the earliest farming and settling down, did they begin making their presence felt. What happened in these four millennia is the subject of this book: a deep history by “a card-carrying political scientist and an anthropologist and environmentalist by courtesy”, which aims to put the earliest states in their place. James Scott joins us for the fourth episode of New Books in Interpretive Political and Social Science to talk about state fragility and state persistence from Mesopotamia to Southeast Asia, the politics of cereal crops, domestication and reproduction, why it was once good to be a barbarian, the art of provocation, the views of critics, and, human and animal species relations and zoonoses in our epidemiological past and pandemic present. To download or stream episodes in this series please subscribe to our host channel: New Books in Political Science. Nick Cheesman is a fellow in the Department of Political and Social Change, Australian National University, and a committee member of the Interpretive Methodologies and Methods group. He co-hosts the New Books in Southeast Asian Studies channel. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
In Collecting Food, Collecting People: Subsistence and Society in Central Africa (Yale University Press, 2016), Kathryn M. De Luna documents the evolving meanings borne in the collection of wild foods for an agricultural people in south central Africa around the turn of the first millennium. It is a history of everyday life that bears great insight into how people adapt meaning from different aspects of life to create new forms of social organization. Specifically, her study helps explain how expertise in hunting and gathering became a basis for social status in a decentralized society. In doing so, her study upends long-standing Enlightenment notions about the evolutionary role of agricultural surplus as a driver of social complexity. De Luna is the Provost’s Distinguished Associate Professor at Georgetown University. Paul Bjerk is an associate professor of African History at Texas Tech University, and the author of Building a Peaceful Nation: Julius Nyerere and the Establishment of Sovereignty in Tanzania, 1960-1964 (Rochester University Press, 2015) Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
While the concept of "type" has been present in architectural discourse since its formal introduction at the end of the eighteenth century, its role in the development of architectural projects has not been comprehensively analyzed. This book proposes a reassessment of architectural type throughout history and its impact on the development of architectural theory and practice. Beginning with Laugier's 1753 Essay on Architecture, Pablo Meninato's Unexpected Affinities: The History of Type from Laugier to Duchamp (Routledge, 2018) traces type through nineteenth- and twentiethth-century architectural movements and thoeries, culminating in a discussion of the affinities between architectural type and Duchamp's concept of the readymade. Includes over sixty black and white images. Pablo Meninato, PhD is an architect, architectural critic, and educator whose research focuses on the conception and development of the architectural project. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Tanya Harmer’s new biography, Beatriz Allende: A Revolutionary Life in Cold War Latin America (University of North Carolina Press, 2020), explores how a young Chilean woman pursued her political commitments and navigated patriarchal strictures as a militant leftist. The daughter of Salvador Allende, Beatriz Allende was born in 1942 and came of age in a tumultuous period of Chilean history. As a young woman, she participated in youth and party politics in Chile but was also deeply connected to continental revolutionary struggles, particularly in Cuba. Though her politics diverged from her father’s, she was also a key adviser for Allende. After going into exile following the 1973 coup that brought down Allende’s government, Beatriz Allende built solidarity networks from Cuba, where she also was raising two children. Beatriz Allende took her own life in 1977. Harmer’s book traces how Beatriz’s political consciousness changed over time, paying particular attention to the ways in which gendered expectations of her shaped the nature of her militancy. In this conversation, Harmer also discusses the key, exclusive sources she used to write this biography. Beatriz Allende’s life reveals underexplored dimensions of Latin American political movements, especially those on the left, connecting that history to the themes of youth culture, gender, and everyday life in Cold War Latin America. Rachel Grace Newman is Lecturer in the History of the Global South at Smith College. She has a Ph.D. in History from Columbia University, and she writes about youth, higher education, transnationalism, and social class in twentieth-century Mexico. She is also the author of a book on a binational program for Mexican migrant children. She is on Twitter (@rachelgnew). Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
The Weimar Republic is well-known for its gay rights movement and recent scholarship has demonstrated some of its contradictory elements. In his recent book entitled The Seduction of Youth: Print Culture and Homosexual Rights in the Weimar Republic (University of Toronto Press, 2020), Javier Semper Vendrell writes the first study to focus on the League for Human Rights and its leader, Friedrich Radszuweit. It uses his position at the center of the Weimar-era gay rights movement to tease out the diverging political strategies and contradictory tactics that distinguished the movement. By examining news articles and opinion pieces, as well as literary texts and photographs in the League’s numerous pulp magazines for homosexuals, Vendrell reconstructs forgotten aspects of the history of same-sex desire and subjectivity. While recognizing the possibilities of liberal rights for sexual freedom during the Weimar Republic, the League’s "respectability politics" failed in part because Radszuweit’s own publications contributed to the idea that homosexual men were considered a threat to youth, doing little to change the views of the many people who believed in homosexual seduction – a homophobic trope that endured well into the twentieth century. Michael E. O’Sullivan is Professor of History at Marist College where he teaches courses about Modern Europe. He published Disruptive Power: Catholic Women, Miracles, and Politics in Modern Germany, 1918-1965 with University of Toronto Press in 2018. It was recently awarded the Waterloo Centre for German Studies Book Prize for 2018. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
What is the connection between the movement for death penalty abolition and the anti-slavery movement? In Slavery and the Death Penalty: A Study in Abolition (Routledge, 2018), Bharat Malkani, Senior Lecturer in Law at Cardiff University, explores this question. Beginning with an acknowledgment that the death penalty in the United States of America has long been shaped by the country’s history of slavery and racial violence, Malkani considers the relationships between the two abolitionist movements. He explains how historical and conceptual links between slavery and capital punishment have both helped and hindered efforts to end capital punishment. Using the history of slavery and abolition, Malkani argues that anti-death penalty efforts should be premised on the ideologies of the radical slavery abolitionists, offering lessons for how death penalty abolitionism should proceed in future. Antonia Layard is a professor in Law at the University of Bristol Law School Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Burn It Down: Feminist Manifestos for the Revolution (Verso, 2020), Breanne Fahs has curated a comprehensive collection of feminist manifestos from the nineteenth century to today. Fahs collected over seventy-five manifestos from around the world, calling on feminists to act, be defiant and show their rage. This thought-provoking and timely collection includes not only popular manifestos often taught in women and gender studies courses, but also introduces readers to works from feminist activists who are often placed on the margins. The eight sections of the book cover manifestos from a wide range of feminist activist spectrums: queer/trans, anticapitalist/anarchist, angry/violent, indigenous/women of color, sex/body, hacker/cyborg, trashy/punk, and witchy/bitchy. Fahs has put together a collection that has something for everyone and that is a must-need on every feminist bookshelf. Rebekah Buchanan is an Associate Professor of English at Western Illinois University. She researches zines, zine writers and the influence of music subcultures and fandom on writers and narratives. She is the author of Writing a Riot: Riot Grrrl Zines and Feminist Rhetorics (Peter Lang, 2018). You can find more about her on her website, follow her on Twitter @rj_buchanan or email her at Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Most books about American music ask how it sounded, who wrote it, or who performed it. In his new book, Everybody’s Doin’ It: Sex, Music, and Dance in New York, 1840-1917 (Norton, 2019), Dale Cockrell asks a different question: where is American music? His answer is in the brothels, dance halls, concert saloons, and cabarets of nineteenth-century New York City. Cockrell tells a story of popular music created and enjoyed within a sexualized and commercial environment that featured robust and constant exchange between black and white people during slavery times and the deepening segregation of Reconstruction-era America. Weaving together material from police reports and governmental investigations, Cockrell has found a rich source of information about the life of working-class people in urban America, and in the process has uncovered a network of musicians and spaces that nurtured American popular culture. These places of unbridled behavior were sometimes sites of degradation including for the prostitutes forced by circumstance (or worse) into sex work, but also sometimes places of joy as the working class escaping from a life of hard labor and little pay, and places of safety for gay people whose lives were criminalized outside the dives where they could gather together. The book is geared for a general audience, but rests on a bed of solid scholarship and innovative research. Dale Cockrell is Professor Emeritus of Musicology at Vanderbilt University. A scholar of American popular culture, he is known for his work on minstrelsy and The Pa’s Fiddle Project, an education outreach program centered around the music found in the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In 2016, Cockrell received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of American Music. Kristen M. Turner, Ph.D. is a lecturer at North Carolina State University in the music department. Her work centers on American musical culture at the turn of the twentieth century and has been published in several journals and essay collections. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
“What is Africa to me?”, African-American writer Countee Cullen asked in Color, his 1925 collection of poems. African Americans and Africa: A New History (Yale University Press, 2019) lays out the long history of African American engagement with the continent. Nemata Blyden’s sweeping narrative weaves together iterations of Cullen’s question that have kept re-emerging from the 1600s through the 2010s, and various answers that Black people in the United States have come up with. Early on, enslaved Africans preserved and transmitted aspects of their culture. In the 19th century, some Black Americans chose to settle on the continent as missionaries, often readily adopting a civilizational discourse that mirrored Western portrayals of Africa as backwards. Others, including members of the Negro Convention movements, fiercely rejected the idea of emigration. Arguments on either ends of this spectrum, as Blyden shows, were both steeped in quests to achieve freedom and justice. In the 1920s and beyond, Pan-Africanism blossomed, followed decades later by the Civil Rights and decolonization movements. Black Americans and Africans alike, people such as Eslanda Goode Robeson or Asadata Dafora, circulated across the Atlantic, crafting and spreading their own ideas about the continent’s place in Black liberation. In this episode, Blyden also gives us a fascinating glimpse of her own family’s history, connecting the West Indies, West Africa, and North America in the 19th and 20th centuries. Madina Thiam is a PhD candidate in African History at UCLA. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Eric Lee's new book The Night of the Bayonets: The Texel Uprising and Hitler's Revenge, April–May 1945 (Greenhill Books, 2020) tells the story of the events leading up to the little-known revolt of Georgian Wehrmacht recruits against the Germans on the island of Texel, which was part of the Atlantic Wall fortifications off the Dutch coast. These Georgians had been captured as POWs and recruited into or “volunteered” for the Georgian Legion, a Wehrmacht unit made up of former Soviet Georgian troops, often given the choice to join or die. They served unreliably on the Eastern Front before being transferred to the West. There they plotted revolt against the Germans from 1944 in conjunction with Dutch Communist resistance fighters. The revolt was sparked in 1945, as Hitler was hiding in his Fuhrerbunker and the Red Army advancing on Berlin, by news the Georgians were going to be sent to the mainland in what would likely have been a deadly stand against the Allies. Unwilling to die for the Germans, the Georgian Wehrmacht soldiers launched a surprise revolt, slitting the throats of over 400 Germans on the island of Texel in a night. The revolt devolved into all out warfare as the Germans turned the sea batteries on the island and the Georgians took no prisoners while Dutch civilians were caught in the crossfire. The revolt ended when both Georgians and Germans surrendered to Canadian troops. Most of the Georgians were repatriated without reprisal to the USSR where they lived quiet lives. Eric Lee walks us through these events and discusses the legacy of the Texel revolt in the USSR and modern Georgia. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jewish New York: The Remarkable Story of a City and a People (NYU Press, 2017) reveals the multifaceted world of one of the city’s most important ethnic and religious groups. Jewish immigrants changed New York. They built its clothing industry and constructed huge swaths of apartment buildings. New York Jews helped to make the city the center of the nation’s publishing industry and shaped popular culture in music, theater, and the arts. With a strong sense of social justice, a dedication to civil rights and civil liberties, and a belief in the duty of government to provide social welfare for all its citizens, New York Jews influenced the city, state, and nation with a new wave of social activism. In turn, New York transformed Judaism and stimulated religious pluralism, Jewish denominationalism, and contemporary feminism. The city’s neighborhoods hosted unbelievably diverse types of Jews, from Communists to Hasidim. Jewish New York not only describes Jews’ many positive influences on New York, but also exposes their struggles with poverty and anti-Semitism. These injustices reinforced an exemplary commitment to remaking New York into a model multiethnic, multiracial, and multireligious world city. Based on the acclaimed multi-volume set City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York winner of the National Jewish Book Council 2012 Everett Family Foundation Jewish Book of the Year Award, Jewish New York spans three centuries, tracing the earliest arrival of Jews in New Amsterdam to the recent immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union. Listen in as Deborah Dash Moore discusses the book. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Brian Greene is a Professor of Mathematics and Physics at Columbia University in the City of New York, where he is the Director of the Institute for Strings, Cosmology, and Astroparticle Physics, and co-founder and chair of the World Science Festival. He is well known for his TV mini-series about string theory and the nature of reality, including the Elegant Universe, which tied in with his best-selling 2000 book of the same name. In this episode, we talk about his latest popular book Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe (Random House, 2020) Until the End of Time gives the reader a theory of everything, both in the sense of a “state of the academic union”, covering cosmology and evolution, consciousness and computation, and art and religion, and in the sense of showing us a way to apprehend the often existentially challenging subject matter. Greene uses evocative autobiographical vignettes in the book to personalize his famously lucid and accessible explanations, and we discuss these episodes further in the interview. Greene also reiterates his arguments for embedding a form of spiritual reverie within the multiple naturalistic descriptions of reality that different areas of human knowledge have so far produced. John Weston is a University Teacher of English in the Language Centre at Aalto University, Finland. His research focuses on academic communication. He can be reached at and @johnwphd. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Siblinghood and Social Relations in Georgian England: Share and Share Alike (Manchester University Press, 2016), by Amy Harris, examines the impact sisters and brothers had on eighteenth-century English families and society. Using evidence from letters, diaries, probate disputes, court transcripts, prescriptive literature and portraiture, Harris argues that although parents’ wills often recommended their children 'share and share alike', siblings had to constantly negotiate between prescribed equality and practiced inequalities. This is the first monograph-length analysis of early modern siblings in England, and is at the forefront of sibling studies. The book is intended for a broad audience of scholars – particularly those interested in families, women, children and eighteenth-century social and cultural history. Dr. Christina Gessler’s background is in anthropology, women’s history, and literature. She works as a historian, poet, and photographer. In seeking the extraordinary in the ordinary, Gessler writes the histories of largely unknown women, poems about small relatable moments, and takes many, many photos in nature. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Donald F. Stevens offers us a portrait of early republican life in his new book, Mexico in the Time of Cholera, published in 2019 by the University of New Mexico Press. Although Stevens uses the 1833 Cholera epidemic that devastated independent Mexico as his his point of departure, this is not primarily a medical history. Beginning with the suggestion of a contemporary observer that the epidemic put Mexicans on their best, or at least most religiously fervent behavior, Stevens asks how we might be able to measure everyday piety during a time of transition and crisis. His answer comes from following archival trails within parish records, novels, and memoirs and offers readers a glimpse of intimate urban life. In so doing, his book brings to life the day to day practices of Mexicans from birth and naming practices to death and burial norms and shows a country coming to terms with its independence. Students and scholars alike will enjoy following vibrant historical figures like fifteen-year-old Concha, navigating potential suitors with the help of parents and priests as well as unraveling the mystery of why a US-born bootmaker was murdered in Mexico City during a religious progression. Donald Stevens is an Associate Professor of History at Drexel University and an assistant editor for the journal the Americas. He is the author of Origins of Instability in Early Republican Mexico by Duke University Press and editor of, Based on a True Story: Latin American History at the Movies. Elena McGrath is Assistant Professor of History at Union College in Schenectady. She is a historian of 20th century Bolivia. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
The “Mongol turn” in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries forged new political, commercial, and religious circumstances in Eurasia. This legacy can be found in the “sudden appearances” of common themes, styles, motifs, and even pigments that circulated across the continents. Drawing on visual as well as textual sources from eight unique locations that spanned between Siena in Italy and Quanzhou in China, Roxann Prazniak maps out in Sudden Appearances an elaborate thirteenth-century network of cultural and commercial exchanges that “produced an ascendant materialism and intervisuality that emphasized human agency.” Join me as I discuss Sudden Appearances: The Mongol Turn in Commerce, Belief, and Art (University of Hawaii Press 2019) with Dr. Prazniak. Daigengna Duoer is a PhD student at the Religious Studies Department, University of California, Santa Barbara. Her dissertation researches on transnational/transregional networks of Buddhism in twentieth-century Inner Mongolia and Manchuria that connected to the Republic of China, Tibet, and the Empire of Japan. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Though his advice has saved the lives of millions of people, the name Ignaz Semmelweis is not one commonly known today. In his book Anthony Valerio’s Semmelweis: The Women's Doctor (Zantedeschi Books, 2019). Valerio details the many struggles Semmelweis faced in winning acceptance for his advice on antiseptic procedures. The son of a Buda spice merchant, Semmelweis started his studies in law before a chance attendance at a medical lecture sparked his interest in becoming a doctor. After earning his degree he decided to specialize in obstetrics, a choice that soon brought him to confront the problem of childbed fever. Deducing that exposure to cadavers was a factor, Semmelweis devised a regimen of hand washing that dramatically reduced the morality rate at the maternity clinic where he worked. Though Semmelweis’s treatment was simple, his ideas faced considerable resistance from leading figures in the Western medical community, with the stress from his campaigns to promote his ideas contributing to the institutionalization that led to his death in 1865. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Ronnie Grinberg speaks with Pamela S. Nadell, the Patrick Clendenen Chair in Women’s and Gender History and director of Jewish studies at American University. Her books include America's Jewish Women, winner of the Everett Family Foundation Book of the Year Award from the Jewish Book Council, and Women Who Would Be Rabbis, a National Jewish Book Award finalist. Prof. Nadell lives in North Bethesda, Maryland. In America’s Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today (W. W. Norton, 2019), Pamela Nadell surveys varied experiences of Jewish women who made America their home. In elegant prose, she introduces readers to a fascinating cast of characters from the seventeenth century to the present day. This interview provides a brief overview of the book’s arguments and archival research, before turning to important questions of how women’s history, Jewish history and American history can work together. It also calls attention to some distinctive features of Judaism in America, the social roots of Jewish women’s political activism, and a shared passion for mah jong! Please enjoy this conversation between two colleagues with a deep admiration for each other’s work. Ronnie Grinberg is Assistant Professor in the History Department and Schusterman Center for Judaic and Israel Studies at the University of Oklahoma. She is completing a manuscript on New York Jewish intellectuals in the twentieth century to be published with Princeton University Press. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Comments (2)

Максим Березовский

microphone is awful

Feb 13th

Penelope Hunt

Uninformed and disappointing

Mar 7th
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