Anthony W. Lee and Elizabeth Young
On Alexander Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008)
Anthony Lee, associate professor of art and chair of American studies, and Elizabeth Young, associate professor of English and gender studies, have coauthored a new book. Each contributes a substantial essay. Tony discusses the significance of choice of photographs and of what is missing (e.g., Gardner's famous pictures of the dead at Antietam). He also considers Gardner's choice of photographs involving African Americans and the significance of the choices he made. "[Gardner] presented not a cause for celebration, but an awareness through photography that antinarrative and antiheroism, forms of fracture and the impossibility of exaltation, were what lay in store for the modern world." Elizabeth Young argues for the importance of interpreting the Photographic Sketch Book as a work of writing. She then provides a wonderful analysis of race, racially marked characters, and metaphors in Gardner's sketchbook, asking and answering her question "Where are the black people in Gardner's Civil War body politic?" The book is marvelous, and the two essays complement, and sometimes contradict, one another beautifully. By the way, Tony has a new volume entitled Weegee and Naked City in the same series (Defining Moments in American Photography) coming out next month.
American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic
Ellis begins by sketching the competing historical approaches to the founding, characterizing the great man narratives as a mad fluctuation between the “mindlessly celebratory” and the “naively judgmental” and the current academic mainstream as a hegemonic narrative with privileged analytic categories “race, class, gender.” Ellis identifies what he considers to be the five greatest successes and two greatest failings associated with the founding of the American republic, and goes on to analyze the perplexities and ironies that attended them. How did revolution give way to stable government? How did it happen that those most opposed to political parties founded the two-party system? The grace of the writing and the sheer narrative force belie the careful scholarship that underlies his arguments. Among the recurrent themes that Ellis teases out of his narrative is the role that dawning realization, as opposed to decisive action, plays: “The key insight, which went against all of Washington’s personal instincts, was that both space and time were on the American side, so the only way to lose the war was to try to win a framework in which the salient questions could continue to be debated.”