Bookbeat: August 2005

“Stony the Road” to Change:Black Mississippians and theCulture of Social Relations“Stony the Road” to Change: Black Mississippians and the Culture of Social Relations

Marilyn M. Thomas-Houston, Departments of African American Studies and Anthropology
(Cambridge University Press, 2005)

“There are many little Oxfords in this country, especially in the South,” says Marilyn M. Thomas-Houston of the Mississippi town she studied and lived in for several years; places the civil rights movement passed by, and that were forgotten in the history of the movement. “It isn’t a matter of people denying there were places that didn’t participate, but a matter of singing the praises of those who did,” she says.

The burning question for Thomas-Houston, assistant professor of anthropology and African American studies, is why did some black communities ignore the benefits of the civil rights movement? It took much time spent in Oxford, Mississippi, along with a reexamination of her own views, to make the scholar realize she was asking the wrong question. This book is the result.

Thomas-Houston’s vision about black society and culture was based on her South Carolina middle-class background. “My research helped me realize that people have different perspectives on what equal rights means, what progress means, and what it means to be black. Prior to that I thought everyone wanted the same thing, and that equaled what I had been taught.”

The result, says Thomas-Houston, was that she, along with many other black activists, had failed to understand the impact of history on the shaping of the public’s worldview. “When I saw things that conflicted with my vision, I viewed it as a problem that needed fixing, rather than a way of being that was steeped in the processes and structures of their particular society.”

The book is full of interviews with Oxonians and is structured in narrative fashion. The story of a black police officer who ran for sheriff and lost vividly illustrates Thomas-Houston’s message. “He had a vision, but he didn’t work that vision in the way blacks [in Oxford] perceive each other—the whole positioning, the belonging, the ideologies associated with insider/outsider ways of being. He saw himself as black and he thought that would be enough.”

Even today, Thomas-Houston found blacks in Oxford who cannot imagine the white community allowing them to compete on an equal footing. History has taught them otherwise. The result is that power and status are to be found only within the black community. Those who try for power in a world seen as white are accused of selling out their blackness.

In her writing, Thomas-Houston kept two audiences in mind—those interested in African-American life after the civil rights movement and activists working for black communities. “I wanted them to understand that we are even less homogeneous as a group than is generally thought. There is a tremendous amount of diversity in black communities, and you have to pay attention to that diversity in order to be able to institute changes that will be beneficial.”

The book’s title comes from the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often known as the Negro National Anthem. “I wanted people to understand that blacks are still moving towards a better life for themselves, but that there are lots of stones—not boulders—but little things that make progress difficult.”

—Michal Meyer

Yoruba Royal Poetry: A Socio-Historical Exposition and Annotated Translation

Yoruba Royal Poetry: A Socio-Historical Exposition and Annotated TranslationAkintunde Akinyemi, Department of African and Asian Languages and Literatures
(Bayreuth African Studies Series, 2005)

Yoruba royal poetry constitutes virtual social, political and cultural charters, and embodies aspects of the people’s cosmology and worldviews. This book describes the genre in general before isolating yungba—a poetry form peculiar to Oyo communities—for analysis. Drawing on archival and other historical materials, as well as extensive oral interviews and text transcription, the book uncovers the link between yungba poetry and the royal history of Oyo since 1937. The text presented in this book is the first full literal translation of a performance of Yoruba royal poetry. This annotated translation is preceded by an introduction that provides framework for understanding the recitation itself.


Learning Democracy: Citizen Engagement and Electoral Change in Nicaragua, 1990–2001

Learning Democracy:Citizen Engagement and Electoral Changein NicaraguaLeslie Anderson and Lawrence Dodd, Department of Political Science
(The University of Chicago Press, 2005)

Historically, Nicaragua has been mired in poverty and political conflict, yet the country has become a model for the successful emergence of democracy in a developing nation. Nicaragua overcame authoritarian government and American interventionism by engaging in an electoral revolution for democratic self-governance. Analyzing nationwide surveys from the 19990, 1996 and 2001 Nicaraguan presidential elections, the authors probe one of the most unexpected and intriguing advancements in third world politics. They offer a balanced account of the voting patterns and decisions that led Nicaraguans to first support the reformist Sandinista revolutionaries only to replace them later with a conservative democratic regime.


Ambivalence and theStructure of PoliticalOpinionAmbivalence and the Structure of Political Opinion

edited by Stephen Craig and Michael Martinez, Department of Political Science
(Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)

The study of political attitudes typically posits a straightforward either/or—either liberal or conservative, for example—across a variety of values. This tendency to categorize may be an artifact of given research methodologies, rather than reflecting real political opinions. When opinions vary across issues, and might even be in conflict, the result is ambivalence. This book represents an important step in bringing together various strands of research about attitudinal ambivalence and public opinion. Essays by a distinguished group of political scientists and social psychologists provide a conceptual framework for understanding how ambivalence is currently understood and measured, as well as its relevance to the public’s beliefs about our political institutions and national identity.


Environmentalism in the Muslim WorldEnvironmentalism in the Muslim World

edited by Richard Foltz, Department of Religion
(Nova Publishers, 2005)

This is the first book to provide an overview of how Muslim activists are responding on the ground to the global environmental crisis. The detrimental effects of environmental degradation are felt most severely by the world’s poor, a disproportionate number of whom are Muslims. Unfortunately, governments of Muslim societies have been slow to respond to environmental problems, while opposition movements as well have mostly chosen to focus on other issues. Nevertheless, environmental awareness and activism are growing throughout the Muslim world. This book offers chapters by leading Muslim environmentalists which survey environmental initiatives in Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Malaysia.


Delivering Justice:         W. W. Law and the Great Savannah BoycottDelivering Justice: W. W. Law and the Great Savannah Boycott

James Haskins, Department of English
Illustrated by Benny Andrews
(Candlewick Press, 2005)

As a young boy growing up poor in segregated Savannah, Georgia, Westley Wallace Law was encouraged by his grandmother to “be somebody.” As a young man, he helped establish voter schools to assist blacks in registering to vote. He joined the NAACP and trained protesters in nonviolent civil disobedience. In 1961, he led the famous Great Savannah Boycott, which led to that city becoming the first in the South to end racial discrimination. During his long career as a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, W.W. Law delivered much more than the mail to the citizens of the city he loved. In this extraordinary biography, Jim Haskins and Benny Andrews celebrate the life of a quiet but great leader in the struggle for civil rights.


Sacred Rites in Moonlight: Ben no Naishi Nikki

Sacred Rites in Moonlight: Ben no Naishi NikkiIntroduced, translated and annotated by S. Yumiko Hulvey, Department of African and Asian Languages and Literatures (Cornell East Asia Series, 2005)

Ben no Naishi (1228–1270), a descendant of a literary branch of the Fujiwara family, created an innovative poetic account focusing on her public personae as a naishi serving at the court of Go-Fukakusa (r. 1246–1259). Traditional scholarship regards Ben no Naishi Nikki as a naive record of court minutiae written without any literary purpose, but Ben no Naishi’s text is constructed consciously by her devotion to sacred and secular duties which legitimized and perpetuated the rule of the royal family. This study situates the text within the nikki tradition, traces the cultivation of patronage relationships that led to Ben no Naishi’s job at court, delineates duties of naishi, explores the unique literary aspects of the work, and reassesses Ben no Naishi’s work as an innovative poetic record.


Symposium of Praise: Horace Returns to Lyric in Odes IV

Symposium of Praise: Horace Returns to Lyric in         Odes IV

Timothy Johnson, Department of Classics
(University of Wisconsin Press, 2005)

Horace’s later lyric poetry, Odes IV, which focuses on praising Augustus, the imperial family, and other political insiders, has often been treated more as propaganda than art. But in Symposium of Praise, Timothy Johnson examines the richly textured ambiguities of Odes IV that engage the audience in the communal or “sympotic” formulation of Horace’s praise. Through this wider lens of Horatian lyric, Johnson provides a critical reassessment of the nature of public and private in ancient Rome. The book will be of interest to historians of the Augustan period and its literature and to scholars interested in the dynamics between personal expression and political power.


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