The place and dates for NEPCA’s annual conference have been finalized for 2016. NEPCA will meet on the campus of Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire on Friday October 21 and Saturday October 22, 2016.
Periodic updates and information will be made on this site and can be viewed by clicking on the Fall Conference tab above.
Baseball & American Society: How a Game Reflects the American Experience. By Charles DeMotte. Cognella, 199 pages, 2014.
SUNY Cortland professor Charles DeMotte set a daunting task for himself: present an overview of American history, juxtapose it with the development and evolution of baseball from the late 18th century to the present, and wrap up the project in under 200 pages. That’s asking a lot—too much actually, though Baseball & American Society has value for the proper audiences.
DeMotte seeks to fuse a chronological approach with an assortment of themes and tropes such as freedom, liberty, American exceptionalism, individualism, and communitarianism. Throughout the book he employs a layman’s understanding of “myth” to highlight the gap between ideals and practices. In chapter one, for instance, he raises the question of whether mythical understandings of the founding of the American republic parallel the (now soundly discredited) Cooperstown tall tale of baseball’s origins. Later he ponders whether Franklin Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech is, somehow, linked to baseball and the effort to unify Americans during a time of economic collapse and world conflict. Both thoughts intrigue, but are rather prodigious leaps of logic perhaps better suited for conferences or journal articles than in a breezy text. In chapter fourteen, DeMotte seeks to connect baseball to the first Gulf war, the Clinton years, the Balkans conflict, the computer revolution, the culture wars, the election of 2000, 9/11, the emergence of the national security state, the housing bubble crisis, and the Obama presidency—in 12 pages. It has the feel of grasping at straws.
DeMotte is more convincing when he sticks to better-established topics: the connection between the professionalization of baseball and the rise of industrial society, the parallels between Progressivism and major league baseball reforms in the wake of calumny such as the 1919 Black Sox scandal, and the use of the game as an arm of American cultural might during the age of imperialism. His strongest chapter connects baseball to the 1920s age of ballyhoo, the period that reified the American obsession with celebrity and immortalized names such as Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb. Also admirable is DeMotte’s effort at linking baseball’s infamous color line—broken by Jackie Robinson in 1947—to the nation’s ongoing search for racial and ethnic justice. The latter will seem overly simplistic and incomplete to scholars and activists, but this brings me to what I see as the major audience for this book: high school students.
DeMotte’s book is too short on detail to work as a U.S. history survey text, as it would be for anyone teaching a sports or cultural history course on the college level. It certainly will not satisfy diehard sports fans seeking new insights or juicy locker room tales. The book’s short length and unorthodox approach could, however, work nicely as a supplemental text for a high school class—just as it would be a valuable study guide for someone seeking to jog their memory for an advanced placement U.S. history exam. In short, DeMotte neither strikes out nor homers in Baseball & American Society. Call it a ground rule double.
Robert E. Weir
University of Massachusetts Amherst
I need a current member of NEPCA who has a background in management and sports to review a a new book titled Sports Business Unplugged. Here’s its URL: http://syracuseuniversitypress.syr.edu/fall-2016/sports-business-unplugged.html
If interested, please contact me: Weir.email@example.com
The Music of Multicultural America: Performance, Identity, and Community in the United States, Kip Lornell and Anne K. Rasmussen, eds. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2016.
Ponder this: Folk performances were born in isolation, but fiber optics, Wi-Fi signals, cable, and satellite dishes connect us, even though the United States remains the world’s most diverse nation since the height of the Roman Empire. Does this bode well for the future of authentic folk or ethnic music and dance? It probably depends upon what you mean by “authentic.”
As revealed in The Music of Multicultural America, past hoary debates over identity no longer make conventional sense. Read Sarah Morelli’s essay and you’ll learn that a Southeast Asian artist you’ve just discovered didn’t learn her licks or dance steps in Mumbai; she learned them in an immigrant community in California. That’s also good news. As society becomes more complex, the yearning for community grows stronger—not for the isolated gemeinschaft villages of yesteryear, but for intentional cultural spaces where the past and future collide. They also comingle with all manner of outside influences: formal training, media, cross-cultural contacts…. Lots of visiting Irish musicians would agree with Ann Morrison Spinney’s assessment that Celtic music is more vibrant in greater Boston than it is in parts of Dublin. And it’s probably not purely “Irish” in either place.
Call it cultural diffusion. Essays by Brenda Romero, Christopher Scales, and Gabriel Desrosiers discuss myriad ways in which Native American performance is a pastiche of pan-tribal memories, innovation, and outside influence (especially Hispanic rhythms and groves in the Southwest). Pure Cajun? Mark Dewitt makes us wonder what that might be, especially when performers such as Clifton Chenier or Queen Ida gain pop fame. Again there is good news. Within these cross-fertilized communities one finds cultural creativity that’s miles from cookie-cutter TV productions, sugary pop, or the processed beats of radio chart-toppers. If audiences are as bored with these as they claim to be, the future of ethnically flavored entertainment might well exceed the wishful thinking of diehard fans.
Multicultural America is filled with fascinating details, case studies, and thought-provoking ideas. It’s not a breezy read; its tone and analyses are probably beyond that of most undergraduates. Most of the writers are ethnographers, ethnomusicologists, or both, and the essays are distillations of their field research. There are 16 chapters covering everything from Arab music in Detroit to steel drum bands in Brooklyn. Footnotes and internal references direct readers to specific recordings and archival videos, though many of these now have parallels on YouTube.
My YouTube reference highlights another drawback: the need to update links and (in some cases) the material itself. Several essays are based on dated fieldwork whose present-day relevance needs greater articulation. I agree that the Riot Grrrl phenomenon was important in cultural and political terms, but its heyday was the 1990s. These days the Riot Grrrl label is slapped onto expressions that are often distant from its original feminist punk fervor. Is this a natural mutation, or does it represent a wave that crested and left behind only appropriations and misappropriations? We need a more thorough exploration of such themes and updated analyses, as well as how older studies resonate with more recent phenomena–the surge of Spanish language music being an obvious example. Still another question is an old one among folklorists: What defines multicultural expressiveness, the form or the performer? Do we agree with Susan Asai that European classical music played by a talented sensei musician is “transculturated?” Or is it just classical music played by a person of Asian descent?
Multicultural America is useful as a sampler that probes cultural diversity within a land that fosters it, but its main audience is graduate students and other academics. Its sheer breadth is such that many readers will be lost at times. (What this reviewer doesn’t know about the classical dances of Northern India is pretty much everything!) The best approach is to dip in. If you like a chapter’s taste, imbibe with gusto; if you don’t, move on––there are other treats to savor.
Robert E. Weir
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Those whose papers have been selected for the fall NEPCA conference should receive confirmation of this by the end of the week at the latest. The fall conference will be dynamic and diverse. Those whose papers have been selected should register ASAP as there is a waiting list and we cannot guarantee slots to those who do not register.
We are developing the new Pedagogy Database at www.pedagogydatabase.com, an academic online community where professors can share teaching pedagogy. We are at the initial stages of building the database across multiple disciplines and course levels, and we are seeking contributions of pedagogy that you have created in your teaching career, such as:
Illustrative Stories and Anecdotes
Charts, Tables, and Graphs
As the files are put on the database to share with other academics, please note you retain the copyright and you are credited in the documents. They are shared only with other academics and are not used for commercial gain. You can easily upload files at the website that will be evaluated and processed by the Database Editor (See “About Database” at the website).
Why upload? Because you increase the visibility of your scholarly work while pursuing your goals as an educator, you can add the contributions to your CV, and it’s a great benefit to other professors and students alike.
Go to: www.pedagogydatabase.com
J. Geoffrey Golson
Database Founder and Editor
The Comics of Alison Bechdel: From the Outside In
“The Comics of Alison Bechdel: From the Outside In” is a proposed volume in the series Critical Approaches to Comics Artists at the University Press of Mississippi. This volume will contain an array of critical essays on the comics of Alison Bechdel, offering new examinations of her entire body of work.
The collection takes as its starting point the phrase “from the outside in,” and proposes to look at Bechdel from several perspectives: Bechdel as an outsider and her changing position in the world of comix/comics and beyond; her investigation of interior life and its relationship to the outside world; and her many modes of drawing, writing, and performing queerness. Essays from interdisciplinary perspectives are encouraged, including critical approaches from comics studies, art history, cultural studies, material culture, print culture, life writing, queer theory, trauma studies, psychoanalytic theory, history of sexuality, archive studies, and adaptation studies.
Please send abstracts of at least 500 and no more than 1000 words, along with CV and contact information, to Janine Utell at firstname.lastname@example.org by December 1. Any queries also welcome at any point in the process.
NEPCA has closed its submissions for the fall 2016 conference as of July 1. From that point on we will solicit only papers to complete existing panels.