Thursday, February 24, 2011

Libya: Another Power Bank Subjected to a Stress Test

By Erik Claessen

Revolutions are unpredictable, dynamic, and stirring, but they tend to follow a small set of simple rules. Drawing on Talcott Parson’s sociological theory, Charles Kurzman concisely explains why: “Coercion, he suggests, is like the reserves of a bank. So long as the demands on it are limited, the reserves can be meted out effectively. When there is a run on the bank, however, the reserves are quickly overwhelmed. No matter how great the reserves of coercion may have been, no state can repress all of the people all of the time.”(1) Revolutions are to an autocratic regime what stress tests are to a bank: a method to check their credibility.

The rules — Revolutions temporarily upset the balance between mobilization power and organizational skills. People like stability. When offered a choice between an acceptable status quo and a better, yet uncertain alternative, most people will opt for the former. The status quo only loses its appeal when people realize it has become unsustainable, but even then revolutions do not start spontaneously. Someone or something needs to mobilize the people to start them. The occurrence of revolutions revolves around mobilization power. Conversely, their outcome revolves around organizational skills. Put differently, the actor with the highest mobilization power leads the revolution, but the actor with the best organizational skills wins it. Organizational skills generate the capacity to create a new, acceptable, and stable situation. Mobilization power revolves around a rallying message and access to media that allow its dissemination despite the regime’s countervailing efforts. The media can be anything as long as they escape state control, but the rallying message has to fulfill specific requirements. It needs to bring about a run on the Power Bank. The message has to focus everybody’s courage and anger simultaneously on one cause. An autocratic regime can only be overthrown by overwhelming its reserves of coercion with a defiant mass.

The players — A classification by role:
  • The focal point. The revolutionaries focus their mobilizing message on the autocrat and his immediate entourage. In Libya, the focal points are – of course – Qadhafi himself and his sons, primarily his eldest son, Sayf Al-Islam.
  • The regime’s wannabes. The military and security top of the regime are undoubtedly capable of taking power. That is why Qadhafi created overlapping security institutions and appointed people on the basis of tribal affiliation. Until now, the survival of the regime’s wannabes depended on their ability to conceal their ambition. That is why it is impossible now to identify them.
  • The tolerated, but organizationally capable opponent. Though not as powerful as their Egyptian brethren, the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood is a capable movement. Its charitable activities demonstrate their organizational power but they have to shed the doubt concerning their relation with the regime that tolerated them. Recently, Qadhafi sought an accommodation with the brotherhood by releasing a lot of imprisoned members. Sayf Al-Islam also publicly reached out to the organization. That the Brotherhood gradually shifted from confrontational to influencing strategies may have alienated part of the population. The fact that its leader, Suleiman Abdel Qadir, currently resides in Switzerland and does not participate in the revolution is probably not helpful either.
  • The emerging, but organizationally incapable opponents: These primarily consist of those who lead the revolution. As an emerging movement they lack organizational experience and structure. They will try to close their organizational gap as quickly as possible. Alternatively, revolutionaries may try to mask this gap by claiming symbols of a political model that worked before, like the monarchy that was ousted by Qadhafi in 1969.

The tricks — As in any game, the tricks fit the rules. Their application can be observed in endless variations throughout the Middle East:
  • Discrediting the message or the messenger. Regime rhetoric routinely depicts the opposition as Israeli or western lackeys, but this trick lost all effectiveness.
  • Denying access to the media. Revolutions used to be won by the group that gained control of the national television station. However, media denial is an exercise in futility when revolutionaries exploit modern, uncensored communication technology. This is not new. During the Iranian revolution, regime opponents used audiocassettes – then a new technology – to circumvent state censorship of radio broadcasting. Now opponents use cell phones and social networks on the internet.
  • Remove the focal point of the mobilizing message. This is by far the best trick in the regime’s toolbox. Replacing the autocrat with someone who can at least claim the benefit of the doubt may stifle mobilization and reduce resistance to a level manageable by the regime’s reserves of coercion. Any regime wannabe can play this card.
  • Await chaos and offer an alternative to it. This is a dangerous move that is only feasible for an actor with sufficient organizational skills to offer an acceptable alternative. It is unsure whether the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood is capable of this.

The outcome — The ultimate outcome is not determined by how many people the actors mobilize, but by what their organizational skills can provide. Each possible outcome has advantages and drawbacks. Democracy will bring freedom and economic opportunities, but also inflation and income inequality. Islamism will bring social justice and religious purity, but also social rigidity. A new autocracy will merely turn back the clock. For Libya, the problem is that democracy and oil do not mix well. Russia has shown that in oil economies, economic liberalization gives rise to the emergence of oligarchs resulting in a call for a strong regime. A Libyan democratic government will most probably be unable to combine freedom and social justice. In an oil economy there are but few methods to re-distribute wealth. The two most likely foundations of a new social contract are either a patronizing system granting government jobs on the basis of subservience or a social security system based on the Islamic duty to help the poor. The former could evolve into a new autocracy. The latter would tend towards an Islamist state.

(1) Charles Kurzman, The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 111. 
Talcott Parsons, Sociological Theory and Modern Society (New York: Free Press, 1967), Chapter 9.

Erik A. Claessen is a lieutenant colonel serving in the Strategy Department of the Belgian Joint Staff. His main field of study is the effect of organized violence on democratic political systems. His published works include the article "S.W.E.T. and Blood: Essential Services in the Battle between Insurgents and Counterinsurgents," which was awarded first place in the 2007 DePuy Writing Contest. Claessen is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, where he earned a master of military arts and sciences degree.

Additional Resources

Praeger, 2010

Analyzing Islamic political thought, this book clarifies the dynamics of Middle Eastern conflicts by exposing the link between the political characteristics of Democracies, Islamists, and Muslim Autocrats and the way they contend with problems like popular support, decision-making, sustainment, communication, and the use of force.

Culture and Customs of Libya by Jason Morgan and Toyin Falola
Greenwood, Forthcoming, July 2011

Ideal for high school students and undergraduates, this volume explores contemporary life and culture in Libya.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Are You Ready for Your Oscars Party? Step into the Kitchen with Cooking with the Movies

Prepare a feast for your Oscars party this Sunday! And what's more fun than a themed menu featuring recipes your favorite character in True Grit might have eaten while riding across the West or re-creating the strawberry-filled vanilla cupcakes from Black Swan. You can go literal, or you can be a bit more creative in your choices. My personal fave to go with one of my favorite movies of the year, The Social Network, comes from today's USA Today article, "Oscar party foods give a nod to movie nominees." Sushi and pizza bites!

The cooking and the eating are definitely big pluses to throwing a big Oscars bash. But just like the protagonists and the dialogue and the props, the food in films is oftentimes just as important to the plot. In The Kids are All Right, almost every major conversation takes place over a meal. The more obvious example is the dominance of pies in Waitress. In today's USA Today article, co-author Anthony Chiffolo says he and Rayner Hesse Jr. wanted to include films in which "the food actually becomes a character." Throughout the years, many films have featured food in either direct or indirect ways to advance a plot. Cooking with the Movies is filled with recipes from movies like Babette's Feast, Chocolat, Goodfellas, Gosford Park, Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored, Titanic, Tortilla Soup, and Waitress.

Check out the recipe for Steamed Asparagus Rolled in Prosciutto (featured in Mostly Martha).

For more information on Cooking with the Movies, click here.

Did you miss the interview with the authors? Watch it here.

Now get cookin'! 
--Rachel Neal, ABC-CLIO Publicity Assistant

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dance and Music in African American Slave Culture

Dance and Music  
Jurretta Jordan Heckscher
Excerpted from World of a Slave: Encyclopedia of the Material Life of Slaves in the United States

Dance and music were activities of life-sustaining importance to the people enslaved in the American South. From the 1620s to the 1860s, on small farms and great plantations, in village workshops and city factories, from southern Delaware to eastern Texas, slaves made music and danced. They sang songs to pace their grinding agricultural labors, remember their ancestors, mourn those who had died or been stolen from them, mock their oppressors, and worship the divine; they danced to strengthen the bonds of kinship and community, to find love and pleasure, and to experience their bodies in ways that did not belong entirely to someone else. To understand what slavery meant to slaves means to understand their dance and music and to understand American dance and music means understanding how much these art forms owe to those who were enslaved in the United States.

To learn more, check out World of a Slave: Encyclopedia of the Material Life of Slaves in the United States edited by Martha B. Katz-Hyman and Kym S. Rice. This two-volume encyclopedia is the first to focus on the material life of slaves. Check out the New York Times article recently published on this important and unique work.

Be sure to take a look at The African American Experience database for regularly updated content on African American history and culture. Over 1,000 slave narratives were just added. Sign up for a free 60-day subscription today!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Celebrating Presidents' Day

By the late 19th century, the annual commemoration of Washington’s birthday on February 22nd became a federal holiday. The February 12th birthday of the equally admired Abraham Lincoln became an annual holiday in many states by the early 20th century. However, it wasn’t until 1971 that the celebrations of Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays were merged into one Presidents' Day.

Although the national holiday has become more commonly known as Presidents' Day, George Washington continues to stand as one of the most inspirational—yet enigmatic—figures in American history. Help your students learn more about Presidents' Day with resources from ABC-CLIO. Our American History database has content devoted to this topic.

Learn more by signing up for a free 60-day preview and receive instant access to our entire suite of databases.

We regularly add new content—articles, photos, facts and figures, Analyze key questions, and more to this suite of 13 award-winning online databases. As the world changes, we make sure that these databases reflect the most current information at all times. In addition, each database contains a Feature Story on its homepage—it’s an overview of an event, offering links to related current and historical reference resources and an examination of the event through perspectives drawn from current news articles. Feature Stories are updated regularly—every two to four weeks.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Look at This Year's ABC-CLIO Online History Award Winner

The 2011 ABC-CLIO Online History Award has been awarded to Professor Stephen Robertson, Professor Shane White, Professor Stephen Garton, and Dr. Graham White for Digital Harlem: Everyday Life, 1915-1930. The award recognizes a person or group who produces a free, online reference resource, historical collection, or teaching tool aimed at encouraging historical scholarship in an innovative way. Digital Harlem was selected for its unique approach to the presentation of information on everyday life during the Harlem Renaissance.

“The committee was taken with the novel and sophisticated approach to the presentation of primary-source ephemera on this site. Unlike so many history sites, Digital Harlem: Everyday Life, 1915-1930 does not merely reproduce digitized copies of primary documents. Instead its usefulness derives from the integration of historical 'fragments' that can be combined and recombined into 'maps that show aspects of daily life that are otherwise easy to overlook and difficult to characterize in narrative' (applicants’ nomination form). This site, which continues to be updated regularly, will contribute to new historical interpretations and ways of understanding the Harlem Renaissance. Already it is one of the most unique history sites we have seen. It is a fantastic teaching tool for high school and college instructors.” - David C. Murray, Committee Chair

The ABC-CLIO Online History Award is given out by the Reference and User Services Association every other year beginning in 2005. For more information on this award, click here.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Black Experience in the Civil War South

The muscle and sweat and skills of black people of African descent helped build the Old South, but they reaped few rewards from their labor. By 1860 they numbered 4,200,000, spread unevenly across the South (the 15 U.S. states where slavery was legal) but comprising, over all, one-third of the region’s population. Some were artisans such as carpenters or blacksmiths, some were maids or butlers or cooks or carriage drivers, but most were field hands whose labor produced the bulk of the South’s great cash crops of cotton, rice, sugar, and tobacco. Some lived in towns or cities, some on small farms, but most lived on large plantations among 20 or 50 or even 100 or more other black men, women, and children. A small proportion, 6 of every 100, were free, but all the rest were slaves who could be, and frequently were, bought and sold just like cotton or cattle.

Southern slavery was a harsh system — cruel is a better word — that was now and then tempered by acts of kindness on the part of paternalistic whites. As far as most slaveowners were concerned, slaves existed solely to make a profit for them and to ease the burden of housework and other chores. Slaves were expected to obey their masters without question, and few masters hesitated to punish misbehavior. Such punishment was usually corporal: the sound of a whip lacerating a black back was common in the Old South. The more serious forms of slave resistance were answered not only with the whip but sometimes with the gallows.

The vast majority of enslaved people hated slavery and longed to be free. But faced with whites’ determination to subjugate them and with the array of laws, institutions, and sheer physical force that gave whites the power to do so, slaves rarely dared to challenge the system. Outright rebellions were very few and never successful. Some slaves ran away from their masters, but almost all were soon recaptured. The only sort of resistance that most slaves could get away with was the quiet sort: feigning sickness or stupidity, “accidentally” breaking tools or dishes, and laughing at their masters’ foibles behind their backs.

Most slaves just resigned themselves, reluctantly, to getting along in the cruel and unjust system that held them captive. They did what their masters told them to do and accepted whatever kindness was extended to them, but without the cheerful willingness and gratitude that their masters expected. Moreover, they softened the rigors of bondage and made their servitude endurable by embracing and nurturing family life, community life, and spiritual life. In the slave quarters of the plantations, and elsewhere throughout the rural and urban South, enslaved men and women fell in love, married, had children, and gathered with others whenever they could to gossip, sing, celebrate, and worship. Often joining in this fellowship were free blacks, who, although they answered to no master and could not be bought or sold, were so hemmed in by racially restrictive laws and customs that they enjoyed only a quasi-freedom.

Few white Southerners in 1860 had any qualms about slavery, and most gave little thought to how the slaves felt about it. But by that time many Americans outside the South had turned against the institution. Some, stirred by sympathy for the slave and hatred of the “sin” of slaveholding, were outright abolitionists, demanding that the South do away with its “peculiar institution.” Many more were free-soilers, content to let slavery continue in the South but determined that it not spread into the developing western frontier. In the four decades prior to 1860, American politics was repeatedly shaken by clashes between antislavery Northerners and proslavery Southerners. Compromises smoothed things over time and again, but in 1860 further compromise became impossible.

In November of that year, Abraham Lincoln, a Northerner who stood immovably on the free-soil platform of the Republican party, won the presidential election. Facing the prospect of an administration hostile to slavery, most whites in the seven Deep South states concluded that leaving the Union was the only way to ensure slavery’s survival. By February 1861 those states had seceded and formed the Confederate States of America. In April, following President Lincoln’s refusal to give up the U.S. Army’s Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, Confederate military forces bombarded the fort. Lincoln immediately declared his intention to put down the Southern “rebellion” and called on the loyal states for troops. Four Upper South states subsequently seceded and joined the Confederacy. On both sides, men volunteered for military service by the tens of thousands and began massing into great armies. And so the war came.

Most blacks, even in the remotest parts of the South, on the most isolated farms and plantations, were aware of these momentous developments and followed them intently. Much of what they learned, however, was filtered through the perceptions of whites. John Majors, a slave in northern Mississippi, listened during the secession crisis whenever his master chatted with friends in the marketplace or outside the courthouse in Oxford. Often the talk was about the possibility of war; as Majors recalled, the consensus was that “hit wont be much of a war if dey has any at all, jes take two or three months to whip de damn Yankees an’ teach dem to tend to dey own business an’ let de folks down South alone.”   Once the war was under way, many slaves went with their masters to watch the volunteers muster and drill and to hear the patriotic speeches at flag-presentation ceremonies. Some masters simply told their slaves what they thought they ought to know. Late in 1861, for instance, all 350 slaves on one of the huge estates in the South Carolina lowcountry assembled in the plantation church at their master’s beckoning and listened as he warned them that the evil Yankees were invading the South bent on mayhem. 

There were many things going on that masters did not want their slaves to know, and they did their best to suppress or censor or distort such dangerous news. It helped that almost all slaves were illiterate. But slaves had always had ways of gaining forbidden knowledge and communicating it among themselves, and in the tumultuous months of secession and war this “grapevine telegraph,” as they called it, was humming. [...]

As they eagerly but quietly gathered news about secession and war and talked it over among themselves, most slaves developed the very convictions and aspirations that their masters feared most. They quickly came to believe that Northerners were their friends and allies, that the North was fighting to free the slaves, and that a Northern victory would shatter the chains that bound them. Ironically, they got these impressions
not from the words or actions of President Lincoln or other U.S. officials (who in the early part of the war made it clear that they intended only to restore the Union and had no intention of meddling with slavery) but from their own masters and other Southern whites, who scoffed at Lincoln’s public denials and insisted that his armies were advancing southward to make war on slavery. Young William Robinson, listening at the keyhole that night in April 1861, distinctly heard one of his master’s friends say hat “if the Yankees whipped [us], every negro would be free.”  The 350 South Carolina slaves who gathered in their plantation church later that year were told by their master that the Northern invaders “ would try and induce them to desert.” 

These early rumors that the Yankee invaders were brandishing the banner of emancipation struck a special chord in the hearts of many slaves. Millennial expectations, encouraged especially by their understanding of the Old Testament, had long buoyed the spirits of the black men and women of the South. Freedom would come one day, many devoutly believed — if not for this generation then perhaps the next.  Jacob Stroyer of South Carolina remembered hearing, as a little boy during “ the dark days of slavery” in the 1850s, his father comforting his mother with the words, “ the time will come when this boy and the rest of the children will be their own masters and mistresses.” The Civil War seemed to many to herald that long-awaited Year of Jubilee. In wartime Richmond, Thomas Johnson, one of the rare slaves who could read, met secretly with other slaves and read to them from the Bible to try to make sense of the uncertain times. [...]

Quietly slaves prayed for Northern victory. Their prayers grew more fervent as the war went on and Union policy evolved to embrace emancipation. By 1863 it was certain that a Yankee triumph would usher in the Year of Jubilee; it went without saying, of course, that a Rebel triumph would postpone it. In Athens, Georgia, a woman sat, Sunday after Sunday, with her fellow slaves in the gallery of the First Presbyterian Church. As the white minister prayed aloud “that the Lord would drive the Yankees back,” she prayed silently, “Oh, Lord, please send the Yankees on and let them set us free.”



From the "Introduction" to The Black Experience in the Civil War South by Stephen V. Ash

The first book of its kind to appear in a generation, this comprehensive study details the experiences of the black men, women, and children who lived in the South during the traumatic time of secession and civil war.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Black History Month - Voices from Slavery

The theme for the 35th anniversary of Black History Month, "African Americans and the Civil War," was chosen by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History to commemorate "the efforts of people of African descent to destroy slavery and inaugurate universal freedom in the United States." By the end of the Civil War, African American soldiers comprised about 10% of the Union Army and had participated in dozens of major battles. Nearly 40,000 died throughout the course of the war. Sixteen were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, and many others carried out unheralded acts of bravery that led to the eventual downfall of the Confederacy.

Notably, the experiences of many African Americans during this period were documented by the Federal Writers' Project (FWP) of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). This New Deal program recruited unemployed writers to conduct interviews with thousands of former slaves, several of whom witnessed the events and consequences of the Civil War firsthand. An estimated 100,000 former slaves were still living in the United States during this period and the federal government employed mostly white writers to write down, and in some cases make audio recordings of, former slaves' oral histories. Many of the interview subjects were in their eighties and nineties when the WPA Slave Narrative Collection of the FWP was conducted. While many of their memoirs discussed their myriad experiences under the Civil War, many of them also discussed their folk beliefs, emancipation, Reconstruction, and the establishment of the Jim Crow South.

Decades later, these WPA narratives were compiled for the first time by scholar George P. Rawick, which resulted in the definitive 41-volume work The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography, published by Greenwood Press during 1972–1979. The series' introductory volume, From Sundown to Sunup: The Making of the Black Community, was groundbreaking in that it was one of the first books to show that slaves did not play passive roles during the era of slavery and the Civil War, but rather functioned as primary actors in shaping their own history.

Find out more about African Americans during the Civil War and browse through more than 1,000 newly added WPA slave narratives on ABC-CLIO's African American Experience database. If you are not already a subscriber, click here for a free trial.

Excerpted from "Black History Month Marks 35th Anniversary: Background." The American Mosaic: The African American Experience. ABC-CLIO, 2011. Web. 7 Feb. 2011.


Additional Resources

Martha B. Katz-Hyman and Kym S. Rice, Editors
Greenwood, 2010

World of a Slave was recently featured in The New York Times in an article titled "The Everyday Lives of American Slaves". Read the article here.

Herbert C. Covey and Dwight Eisnach
Greenwood, 2009

The powerful, long-neglected testimony of former slaves places African American slave foods and foodways at the center of the complex social dynamics of the plantation South.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Black History Month Spotlight: Toni Morrison

"Introduction" excerpted from Toni Morrison: A Biography by Stephanie Li

Novelist, editor, scholar, teacher, public intellectual, mother, and contemporary griot for the African American community, Toni Morrison is one of the most influential writers in American history. Though nearing eighty years old, Morrison continues to produce eloquent, groundbreaking novels. Her wide-ranging additional pursuits—which have included decades of teaching, editing key African American texts, organizing collaborative artistic projects, and publicly commenting on important national issues—supplement a collection of novels that the Swedish Academy, which bestowed the Nobel Prize on Morrison in 1998, described as “characterized by visionary force and poetic import.” Despite her varied projects, Morrison insists that all of her work is united by a single concern. As she explains, “I know it seems like a lot, but I really only do one thing. I read books. I teach books. I write books. I think about books. It's one job.”

For Morrison, who began writing novels in her thirties, writing has become essential to her very existence. She has stated that “the only one thing that I couldn't live without is the writing.”  This fundamental need to write highlights Morrison's deep commitment to the African American community as well as to the radical possibilities of narrative. She has explained that it is through story that we best understand others and hence recognize our role in and responsibilities to society. Stories nurture and enliven us, providing us with ways to make sense of both our world and ourselves.

Despite having published nine remarkable novels, Morrison continues her commitment to charting the contours of African American life through fiction. On days that she devotes to writing, Morrison gets up very early, often before dawn. In the dark, she makes coffee, drinking a cup as she watches the light come. Although this habit developed as a practical necessity when she was a single mother raising two boys and thus often needing to steal a few hours of her own, she later discovered that this practice complements her natural tendency to think best in the morning. She has observed that she is “not very bright or very witty or very inventive after the sun goes down.”

This ritual of watching the arrival of the light is crucial for Morrison to enter the state of mindfulness necessary for writing. Because she has penned most of her books while holding a nine-to-five job, Morrison has learned to work through and around interruptions. Continuous time for writing is a luxury she has rarely enjoyed. Consequently, she learned to adapt to the demands of her work and family life, perfecting a sentence or an image while washing dishes, preparing lunch for her children, or tending the garden. Morrison works her language carefully so that “the seams don't show.” In fact, this labored process of revision is the secret joy of Morrison's writing process:

I love that part; that's the best part, revision. I do it even after the
books are bound! Thinking about it before you write it is delicious.
Writing it all out for the first time is painful because so much of the
writing isn't very good. I didn't know in the beginning that I could
go back and make it better; so I minded very much writing badly.
But now I don't mind at all because there's that wonderful time in
the future when I will make it better, when I can see better what I
should have said and how to change it.

Morrison still starts to write by using yellow legal pads and sharp number two pencils. Because she does not actually like the act of writing, meaning the formation of letters, using pen and paper encourages her to be more economical in her writing; in order to limit tiresome handiwork she must capture an image or idea as succinctly as possible. Eventually, she transfers her work to a computer. Although she does not write every day, she thinks about her characters and their experiences constantly. She has stated that her fictional personalities become real for her at the point in which she falls in love with them. While she does not always agree with their choices, her love for them is absolute.

Though Morrison may not know where she will begin a novel, she always knows where it will end. Unlike many writers, she does not draw upon personal experience to write her books; as she explains, “I will use what I have seen and what I have known, but it's never about my life.” The imaginative process is key to her fiction, especially the way in which a single description can capture the complexities of human relationships. She frequently uses images to trigger an entire dramatic episode and to highlight essential qualities of certain characters; Pilate's lack of a navel illustrates her powerful will, Pecola's delight in drinking milk from a Shirley Temple doll reveals her desire to imbibe a new persona, and Sethe's black eyes suggest a woman who has seen far too much.

However, while images enliven and ground her writing, questions fundamentally drive her prose; she writes in order to understand certain dynamics or the nature of specific relationships—how does a child come to hate herself? What will a mother do to protect her child? How does a man achieve self-understanding? What is required to make paradise a livable reality? For Morrison, storytelling and the process of writing are ways to explore the central challenges of human existence—how individuals both flourish and hurt one another, how oppression operates, how communities sustain generations. Despite these myriad concerns, Morrison insists that her novels are unified by one central issue:

All the time that I write, I'm writing about love or its absence. ...

About love and how to survive—not to make a living—but how
to survive whole in a world where we are all of us, in some measure,
victims of something. Each one of us is in some way at some
moment a victim and in no position to do a thing about it. Some
child is always left unpicked up at some moment. In a world like
that, how does one remain whole—is it just impossible to do that?

Morrison's novels may be read as a sustained exploration of the nature of love, for it is love that motivates both her characters and her writing. In her work, love is never a simple matter of romance or familial
commitment, but is instead composed of all the weaknesses and beauties of human need. Love can damage and heal, can nurture and destroy. Such too is the nature of Morrison's fiction; its power lies in language that moves readers to evaluate and even change their own lives. She has created a body of work that has inspired both sharp criticism and high praise, while also fundamentally transforming the American literary landscape.


Additional Reading

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

African American History Month

February is African American History Month! Throughout the month, we will be honoring African American History on the ABC-CLIO Blog.

African American History is an important topic to ABC-CLIO. We have hundreds of books on the topic, ranging from health to popular culture to politics and government titles, as well as an online database devoted to the African American Experience.

This year's theme is "African Americans and the Civil War".

Check back for weekly updates, excerpts, guest blogs, and more.


Jessie Carney Smith, Editor 

This four-volume encyclopedia contains compelling and comprehensive information on African American popular culture that will be valuable to high school students and undergraduates, college instructors, researchers, and general readers.

Emmett G. Price III, Executive Editor
Tammy L. Kernodle and Horace J. Maxile, Jr., Associate Editors


Providing a lyrical history of our nation, this groundbreaking encyclopedia, the first of its kind, showcases all facets of African American music including folk, religious, concert and popular styles.