Book News


The U.S. Civil War was the first all-out, "total war" ... or was it?

The Calculus of Violence: How Americans Fought the Civil WarCover of The Calculus of Violence by Aaron Sheehan-Dean

By Aaron Sheehan-Dean (Frey Professor and Department Chair)

Given its seemingly indiscriminate mass destruction, the Civil War is often thought of as the first “total war.” But Aaron Sheehan-Dean argues for another interpretation.

The Calculus of Violence demonstrates that this notoriously bloody war could have been much worse. Military forces on both sides sought to contain casualties inflicted on soldiers and civilians. In Congress, in church pews, and in letters home, Americans debated the conditions under which lethal violence was legitimate, and their arguments differentiated carefully among victims—women and men, black and white, enslaved and free. Sometimes, as Sheehan-Dean shows, these well-meaning restraints led to more carnage by implicitly justifying the killing of people who were not protected by the laws of war. As the Civil War raged on, the Union’s confrontations with guerrillas and the Confederacy’s confrontations with black soldiers forced a new reckoning with traditional categories of lawful combatants and raised legal disputes that still hang over military operations around the world today.

In examining the agonizing debates about the meaning of a just war in the Civil War era, Sheehan-Dean discards conventional abstractions—total, soft, limited—as too tidy to contain what actually happened on the ground.

“A work of deep intellectual seriousness, sweeping and yet also delicately measured, this book promises to resolve longstanding debates about the nature of the Civil War.”—Gregory P. Downs, author of After Appomattox

Harvard University Press

How immigrants in Los Angeles used language learning to shape twentieth-century debates about U.S. citizenship

Cover of Speaking American

Speaking American:
Language Education and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century Los Angeles
By Zevi Gutfreund (Assistant Professor of History, LSU)

When Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Bilingual Education Act of 1968, language learning became a touchstone in the emerging culture wars. Nowhere was this more apparent than in Los Angeles, where elected officials from both political parties had supported the legislation, and where the most disruptive protests over it occurred. The city, with its diverse population of Latinos and Asian Americans, is the ideal locus for Zevi Gutfreund’s study of how language instruction informed the social construction of American citizenship. Combining the history of language instruction, school desegregation, and civil rights activism as it unfolded in Japanese American and Mexican American communities in L.A., this timely book clarifies the critical and evolving role of language instruction in twentieth-century American politics.

Speaking American reveals how, for generations, language instruction offered a forum for Angelino educators to articulate their responses to policies that racialized access to citizenship—from the “national origins” immigration quotas of the Progressive Era through Congress’s removal of race from these quotas in 1965. Meanwhile, immigrant communities designed language experiments to counter efforts to limit their liberties. Gutfreund’s book is the first to place the experiences of Mexican Americans and Japanese Americans side by side as they navigated debates over Americanization programs, intercultural education, school desegregation, and bilingual education. In the process, the book shows, these language experiments helped Angelino immigrants introduce competing concepts of citizenship that were tied to their actions and deeds, rather than to the English language itself.

Complicating the usual top-down approach to the history of racial politics in education, Speaking American recognizes the ways in which immigrant and ethnic activists, as well as white progressives and conservatives, have been deeply invested in controlling public and private aspects of language instruction in Los Angeles. The book brings compelling analytic depth and breadth to its examination of the social and political landscape in a city still at the epicenter of American immigration politics.

University of Oklahoma Press 


The contested realms of nationalism and identity in Central Europe during the 19th-20th centuriesCover of Nation and Loyalty by Prof. Brendan Karch

Nation and Loyalty in a German-Polish Borderland: Upper Silesia, 1848-1960 
By Brendan Karch (Assistant Professor of History, LSU)

Nation and Loyalty explains the long-term failure of nationalist activists to turn a borderland population into loyal Germans and Poles. The setting for this work, Upper Silesia, was inhabited by a heavily Catholic, bilingual population. Starting in the late 19th century, these Upper Silesians became caught in the crossfire of national struggle. German and Polish activists escalated national strife in the region, ultimately using mass violence to advance their utopian goals of ethnic homogeneity. Yet, throughout this strife, the majority of Upper Silesians proved resistant to activists who tried to nationalize them. Local citizens instead navigated a century of mass politics, world wars, mass murder, and expulsions by intentionally crafting their own national ambiguity. By passing as loyal Germans or as loyal Poles under extremist regimes, many were able to escape the worst excesses of violence.

As a local study of one city and its surrounding county, Nation and Loyalty paints an intimate portrait of activists’ efforts to divide a real, bilingual community into two “imagined” national ones. This work argues for a fundamental philosophical and political divide between nationalist activists, who embraced a strong, value-driven concept of national community, and large swaths of Upper Silesians who resisted dividing themselves into national groups. These Upper Silesians instead espoused an instrumental attitude towards the German or Polish nations. They weighed their national loyalty against other loyalties to religion, family, community, class, or humanity. In the process they enraged activists convinced by nationalist thinking, leading to repressive measures that only further alienated Upper Silesians from the German and Polish national projects. As a study of the limits of nationalist rhetoric and nationalization in a part of Europe infamous for ethnic violence, this work should appeal to scholars of German and Polish history, borderlands, nationalism, and mass violence.

Cambridge University Press


Chop Suey and Sushi from Sea to Shining Sea: Chinese and Japanese Restaurants in the United States

(University of Arkansas Press, 2018) is the latest book from LSU graduate Bruce Makoto Arnold, PhD.Cover of Chop Suey and Sushi from Sea to Shining Sea

The essays in Chop Suey and Sushi from Sea to Shining Sea fill gaps in the existing food studies literature by revealing and contextualizing the hidden, local histories of Chinese and Japanese restaurants in the United States. The writers of these essays show how the taste and presentation of Chinese and Japanese dishes have evolved in sweat and hardship over generations of immigrants who became restaurant owners, chefs, and laborers in the small towns and large cities of America. These vivid, detailed, and sometimes emotional portrayals reveal the survival strategies deployed in Asian restaurant kitchens over the past 150 years and the impact these restaurants have had on the culture, politics, and foodways of the United States. Some of these authors are family members of restaurant owners or chefs, writing with a passion and richness that can only come from personal investment, while others are academic writers who have painstakingly mined decades of archival data to reconstruct the past. Still others offer a fresh look at the amazing continuity and domination of the "evil Chinaman" stereotype in the "foreign" world of American Chinatown restaurants. The essays include insights from a variety of disciplines, including history, sociology, anthropology, ethnography, economics, phenomenology, journalism, food studies, and film and literary criticism.

Chop Suey and Sushi from Sea to Shining Sea not only complements the existing scholarship and exposes the work that still needs to be done in this field, but also underscores the unique and innovative approaches that can be taken in the field of  American food studies.