Conrad Roberts Named Director of University Press

by Jill A. Hummels, Office of the Provost at The University of Kansas

An individual with more than 15 years of experience at the University Press of Kansas has been selected to be the publishing house’s next leader.

Conrad Roberts, University Press of Kansas

Conrad Roberts, who had been serving as interim director and business manager since September 2016, has been given a permanent appointment to lead the organization. Based at the University of Kansas, University Press of Kansas (UPK) represents a consortium of six state universities: Emporia State University, Fort Hays State University, Kansas State University, Pittsburg State University, Wichita State University and KU. UPK publishes scholarly books in several genres, but stands out for its books in American history, environmental studies, Native American studies, politics and law. It also has an extensive collection of offerings in military history, including the renowned series called Modern War Studies.

“Conrad has done a remarkable job as interim director and clearly understands the challenges and opportunities within the publishing industry,” said KU Interim Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Carl Lejuez. “Through his prior experience as the business manager at UPK, he’s helped the entity remain valuable through a time of dramatic change in the publication of content as well as in wholesale and retail markets. It will be fascinating to see how he guides UPK for the years to come.”

Roberts holds a bachelor’s degree in general studies with an emphasis in history from KU and an associate’s degree in business and finance from Coleg Powys, now part of Neath Port Talbot College in Wales, United Kingdom. He was on the KU Men’s Golf team from 1997 to 2001. Roberts’ first exposure to UPK was as a student employee in the warehouse. After graduation from KU, he briefly pursued a career as a professional golfer but returned to UPK to serve as its warehouse manager. He was then named interim business manager and soon after was officially appointed to that role. As business manager he was responsible for all financial aspects of UPK as well as management of customer service and distribution center activities. In July 2015, Roberts was named assistant director and business manager. In addition to his business manager responsibilities, Roberts led the creation and implementation of a strategic plan to further the success of the organization. In 2016 he was named interim director and business manager, which added operational oversight, and supervision of four departments and 20 employees.

“My goals for the press are twofold,” Roberts said. “First, I want to make sure our press continues its mission to disseminate excellent scholarship to the widest possible readership, from scholars to students, to general readers. Second, I want to get our revenues back to where they were before the impact of the recession in 2008. Our marketplace changed significantly shortly after 2008, when we saw chains like Borders go into bankruptcy, so it’s important that a press diversify its revenue streams by adding new initiatives, collaborating with new partners, and promoting additional services a press can offer to faculty, staff, and students.” Roberts said UPK will continue to print books in all formats and make them available as eBooks, ensure that books are available in print globally through new distribution agreements, and intends to increase its annual output of new titles from about 55 to about 75 by the 2020 fiscal year.

Roberts is a past member of the Association of University Presses’ Business Handbook Board and has served as a panelist multiple times for the annual AUP Financial Officers meeting. He is still active in golf and is the Kansas Golf Association’s 2018 Mid-amateur Player of the Year. He is also a member of the Kansas Golf Association Board of Directors, and captain of multiple golf teams representing the State of Kansas on a national level.

Five questions with University Press of Kansas Director Conrad Roberts

Is there anything about University Press of Kansas that leaves people pleasantly surprised or shocked when you’re in a casual conversation about UPK with them?

I think there is a misnomer about university presses in general; we don’t publish college newspapers or yearbooks, nor do we have printing presses, so folks I run into are surprised to hear that we are a publishing house. Once that is understood, the expectation is that we publish only Kansas authors and works about Kansas, so they are surprised to hear that our authors are from all over the world and our books are available for sale globally. I don’t think many people realize just how influential the University Press of Kansas actually is, but I believe our slogan sums us up perfectly: Heartland Roots. Global Reach.

What do you see as some of the big challenges facing UPK?

Marketplace uncertainty. By this I don’t only mean the struggles of independent bookstores, college bookstores, and some of the larger bookstore chains, but also the fact that our books are being sold into a marketplace that is no longer clearly defined. For example, a retailer acquired a wholesaler and now buys their books through the acquired wholesaler, which makes it increasingly difficult to know your target audience.

Why is this important? It’s important because it affects pricing and discounting. Obviously everyone wants the best possible price for a book, and the University Press of Kansas prides itself on pricing our books competitively, but when an end user like a retailer becomes a wholesaler, margins for a book become narrower so presses have to adjust accordingly.

Also, the strength of a press has typically been in scholarly monographs, which we hope end up in classrooms, but because of additional marketplace competition in the textbook market, we have seen declining sales in the scholarly monographs because of factors like a strong used-textbook market, as well as piracy, which is hard to monitor. The combination of all these factors has a negative effect on how we are able to predict our marketplace, which makes pricing and print run decisions a daily challenge for a press.

What is the most popular title at UPK?

The most popular title in terms of lifetime unit sales has been a book called “Kansas in Color” by Andrea Glenn; it sold 60,000 copies. Published in 1982, this book captures the rich textures and subtle beauty of the Kansas landscape through 100+ color photographs. More recently, a book titled “American Serengeti” by Dan Flores has sold over 12,000 units through its available formats of hardback, paperback, and eBook. Published in 2017, this book was the winner of the Stubbendieck Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize and explains that America’s Great Plains once possessed one of the grandest wildlife spectacles of the world, equaled only by such places as the Serengeti, the Maasai Mara, or the veld of South Africa.

What is the most influential title in the past 10 to 20 years at UPK?

This is a great question, and one that has many answers. I polled our staff knowing I would get varied responses given the diverse list of books we have published over the years. I received a response for “The Myth and Mystery of UFOs,” by Thomas Bullard, which has readers fascinated with the culture, folktales, and history of alien encounters. I also received praise for a book called “Novus Ordo Seclorum” by Forrest McDonald — this title was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and made the University Press of Kansas the go-to publisher for a whole generation of constitutional and political philosophy and history authors. We also published a book called “Education for Extinction” by David Wallace Adams; a comprehensive account of the federal government’s Indian education program, a program that saw the removal of Indian children from their homes to boarding schools where they could be “restructured” both psychologically and culturally. Even though this book was published 23 years ago, it is still being used in classrooms today and is our most adopted book.

The most influential book to me is Frank and Jayni Carey’s “The Kansas Cookbook,” because it is the book I use most frequently; although they now have “The New Kansas Cookbook,” which includes the state’s favorite recipes and food traditions. This title is a close second!

The term influential is up to personal interpretation, but I have to look at the titles we have published that have won the most prestigious awards—I would consider these amongst the most influential the UPK has published. “Explicit and Authentic Acts” by David Kyvig is the most complete and most insightful history of the amendment process and its place in American political life, and it was the winner of the prestigious Bancroft Prize — one of the highest honors awarded to books about diplomacy or the history of the Americas. We also published a book called “The Contested Plains” by Elliott West; this title won both the Francis Parkman Prize, an annual award by the Society of American Historians for the best book in American history, and the Ray Allen Billington Prize, an annual award by the Organization of American Historians for the best book on the American frontier. A strong argument can be made for either one of these books to be the UPK’s most influential.

Are there statistics you can share that indicate something about the operation at UPK?

  • We publish on average 60 titles per year.
  • We have published over 2,600 titles since 1946.
  • We have 1,884 books in print.
  • We have won 153 total awards since 2010.
  • UPK books have been translated into 26 different languages.
  • We have average 150 author events per year.

 

The Enduring Nature of Military History

“I think almost all military history is actually a study of the human condition and what humans are cable of accomplishing, both for the greater good and, unfortunately, as a destructive force,” explains Bill Allison, new editor of the University Press of Kansas’s (UPK) Modern War Studies series.

UPK was founded in 1946, began publishing military history books in 1986 and has published more than 250 titles in its acclaimed Modern War Studies series since then.

“Kansas was one of the first university presses to publish in military history,” explains Editor in Chief Joyce Harrison. “The first book we published in the Modern War Studies series, America’s First Battles, was published in 1986. Our military history list started because of the connections between the outstanding military history programs at the University of Kansas and the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth.”

In fact, America’s First Battles – a collection of eleven original essays by many of the foremost U.S. military historians, focuses on the transition of the Army from parade ground to battleground in each of nine wars the United States has fought up to 1965 – is the Press’ best-selling military history book. Nearly 46,000 copies have been sold and, according to Military Review, the book remains “Must reading for the serious student of history, whether military or civilian.”

Brian Steel Wills, director of the Center for the Study of the Civil War Era at Kennesaw State University and author of 3 UPK books including Inglorious Passages; Noncombat Deaths in the American Civil War and The Confederacy’s Greatest Cavalryman believes that the enduring popularity of military history has less to do with guns and ammunition, and more to do with people.

“Military conflicts have a dramatic influence on all aspects of life,” Wills explains. “I tell my students all the time that if you have an interest in music or the arts or civil rights, then you have an interest in military history. I think a great deal of interest in the Civil War revolves not around the actual battles, but around the stories of families. How did brothers who fought on opposite sides reconcile after the war ended? How did families move on and make a life after the fighting stopped? Those are fascinating, human-interest questions.”

Timothy B. Smith, who has written 11 books about the Civil War (including UPK’s Grant Invades Tennessee, Shiloh and Corinth 1862), echoes Wills’s thoughts about the draw of human-interest stories that develop during, and because of, times of war.

“Folks want to know what their granddaddy did in World War I and World War II,” he explains. “And for that matter, they want to know what their great and great-great granddaddy did in the Civil War. I think as vets age and pass on, there is a sense that we need to tell these tales in an effort to memorialize what they did. That’s why academic interest in the Civil War seems to be waning and more people are studying the world wars and the Vietnam and Korean wars.”

Harrison says that UPK’s goals with the Modern War Studies series are straightforward.

“Our mission is to advance knowledge, and our books have made and continue to make a tremendous impact, shaping the way historians and military professionals think about, study, and write about military history,” she says.

Bill Allison agrees that publishing military history is a two-part mission.

“A lot of people get into military history because of the guns and drums,” he says. “But the deeper you dive into any military conflict, the more layers, both military and personal, you find. I think that’s the root reason military history continues to fascinate people. There’s always one more aspect you can consider.”

The 2018 Election – A Tale of Two Elections

Throughout 2018, Dick Simpson and Betty O’Shaughnessy, veteran political scientists and authors of Winning Elections in the 21st Century, have written about the mid-term election. This latest post is their end cap on the coverage. You can read their previous pieces here:

Following the 2018 Election – A Preview

Following the 2018 Election – Why Elections Matter

Following the 2018 Election – Why Money Matters

The Shape of the 2018 Election – New Volunteers, New Movements?

The Shape of the 2018 Election – The Blue Wave in 2018

The 2018 Election – A Tale of Two Elections by Dick Simpson and Betty O’Shaughnessy

The Blue Wave came, especially in many Midwest states, but it did not sweep away Trump or Trumpian Republicanism. When the dust settled, the Republicans still controlled the Senate and the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives.

The Democrats made gains most importantly in the suburbs. Republicans became ever more entrenched in the rural areas.

The youth vote grew almost exponentially and the Latino vote expanded dramatically. Still many of the elections turned on the persona of the candidates and issues that mattered to different local constituents. As Speaker Tip O’Neal famously said, “All politics is local.” And that was true of the 2018 elections. It wasn’t a one-size-fits-all election despite issues discussed nationally such as pre-existing conditions in health care, the caravan approaching the border, or immigration more generally.

It was the most expensive mid-term election in history. In the most expensive gubernatorial campaign in the nation’s history; in winning the governorship of Illinois, Democrat J. B. Pritzker donated over $170 million to his campaign and Republican Bruce Rauner spent almost $70 million of his own money. That meant that Pritzker paid $79.20 a vote.  Most congressional candidates who defeated incumbents spent over $4 million each.

Beyond the huge amounts of money, the candidates who won their races in 2018 mostly followed the fundamentals of campaigns set forth in our book, Winning Elections in the 21st Century: A clear theme or message distinguishing themselves from their opponent; a strong “free media” campaign; a paid media campaign; direct mail and phone campaign; sufficient volunteers to work key precincts guided by voter analytics; and a sophisticated social media effort. This assumes that the candidate was attractive and had clear issue positions on those questions that most concerned the voters in their district.

There were some clear trends in the election. Republicans retained most of their U.S. Senate seats even as Democrats won at least 30 House seats, giving them at least a majority of 225-200 with 10 seats still undecided as of November 10.

One of the biggest changes came in gubernatorial elections. Democrats lost high-profile gubernatorial races in Iowa and Ohio. But they were able to flip Republican gubernatorial seats in seven states — Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico and Wisconsin. The Florida race is close enough for a recount. This diminishes the GOP’s previous control of state governments to now 26-23 with the Georgia gubernatorial election also still to be decided. Democrats also flipped seven state legislative chambers and gained a veto-proof majority in Illinois.

In addition to results favoring Democrats, this election may well be noted as one that began more active participation in politics from nontraditional political actors. One important development was how women, nonwhite, and LGTB candidates ran for office across the nation, changing the political landscape. For the first time, Hispanic voters matched their share of eligible voting population and nationwide, 69% voted for Democrats. Women became more active in politics not simply as supporters, but as candidates on all levels.

Overall, the women’s vote was equally divided 49-49, but minority and youth turnout was higher (both groups favoring Democrats), giving women Democratic candidates an edge nationwide. In the U.S. House, at least 102 women were elected (6 races still undecided in which women are running). Twelve women were elected to the Senate (with one race still undecided) and nine women were victors in gubernatorial races (with one undecided). Many women and minorities of both sexes decided to run as Democrats for suburban and other local offices that had previously gone unopposed, often tapping into the power of the grassroots organizations generated after Trump’s election. Many of these candidates won, changing the geopolitics of suburban America and providing a base of experienced Democratic candidates for future races.

All of this sets up the 2020 Presidential election year as a critical election to decide the future direction of the nation and the two political parties. President Trump remains hugely popular with his base but they are a minority of the population now and will be even more so in 2020. Yet, the Democrats have to prove they can play a positive role in the national governing and in the states where they made gains.  If they can continue to run effective, well-funded campaigns, they have the advantage. But there can be wars, economic collapse, further trade wars, and national disasters between now and then. What remains constant is the need to run effective campaigns based upon the new rules of the game at the end of the second decade in the 21st century.

Dick Simpson is professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the co-editor with Dennis Judd of The City, Revisited: Urban Theory from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York.

Betty O’Shaughnessy is a visiting lecturer in political science, University of Illinois at Chicago and coauthor of The Struggle for Power and Influence in Cities and States.

A Rainbow Wave in Kansas

by CJ Janovy, author of  No Place Like Home; Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas.

“There were tears, of course, as the reality began to set in that the eight years of persecution of LGBTQ Kansans was coming to an end,” Stephanie Mott wrote on Facebook early on Wednesday morning. Kansans had elected Laura Kelly rather than Kris Kobach as their next governor.

Mott, a highly visible transgender activist in Kansas for a decade now, remembered the night Sam Brownback was elected governor eight years ago and reelected four years ago. She also recalled the 2016 presidential election, or “that horrible night 2 years past.” Now she was waking up to a different future, “in the full knowledge that anti-LGBTQ legislation will not pass in Kansas in the next 4 years, at least 4 years,” she wrote, in a kind of social media poetry:

  • No bathroom bills.
  • Protected Kansas LGBTQ employees.
  • Yes, there were tears.
  • It is also about Medicaid expansion, and education and tax policy, and so much more.
  • But for this transgender woman and so many LGBTQ Kansans, it is about life and death.
  • It is about living in a state that respects our identities and honors our love. #GovernorElectLauraKelly

Kelly’s defeat of Kobach was big national news; even bigger national news was that Kansans were sending a lesbian to the US House of Representatives. Sharice Davids, who defeated four-term Representative Kevin Yoder, would also be one of the first two Native American women in Congress.

In its postelection piece on what national media outlets were calling a “rainbow wave” (echoing the slogan of the national Victory Fund, which helped bankroll the victories), NPR’s Leila Fadel spoke with 3rd District resident Hailee Bland Walsh, who called Davids’s win “lifesaving”: “Walsh and her wife never imagined that they’d see an open lesbian serve in their district. She’s been afraid as a minority in an America that’s becoming more and more uncivil,” Fadel reported.

“There’s something really fundamental about feeling safe,” Walsh said. Listeners around the country could hear her voice begin to waver. “And today, for the first time in couple of years— I’m getting emotional about it, but I feel safe.”

Volumes on Davids now wait to be written as she heads to Washington and as we watch what she does there. Pundits are already talking about how Kansas, of all places, elected a lesbian.

From where I sat, watching Davids’s rise from afar (I did not cover her campaign) and witnessing people’s enthusiasm about her, the explanation looked simple: 1) Yoder was a Trumpist from a moderate district; 2) Democrats had fielded a clear and qualified alternative, someone whose very existence and openness stood for something bigger than herself; 3) newly awakened voters who were eager to make a statement against the administration added to the energy in Johnson County, where citizens had been working hard through several election cycles to try to reverse the economic disaster of the Brownback administration—primarily its damage to public education; and 4) in majority-minority Wyandotte County, voters broke a twenty-two-year record for turnout, with Davids getting 68 percent of the vote to Yoder’s 29.

For me, the most surprising moment of the Davids-Yoder race was a couple of lines in the Kansas City Star the morning after the two debated, late in the campaign, when Davids held a substantial lead in the polls:

“Asked if Congress should pass federal LGBTQ protections, Davids advocated for the move and  said ‘LGBT people should be considered a protected class.’ Yoder was not clear about the issue during the debate but clarified afterward that he would support making LGBTQ a protected class under federal law.”

The idea of federal protections for LGBTQ people is blasphemy for party-liners in Trump’s GOP; only two weeks earlier, his administration had considered defining trans people out of existence.

But Yoder’s tendency to say whatever was politically expedient at any given moment was just one reason so many people in the 3rd District had proclaimed themselves #OverYoder. It’s likely any strong-enough Democrat would have beaten him; that a lesbian was the one to do it spoke to a profound change in public opinion.

“Twenty years ago, a lot of identities were liabilities. Being a Native American lesbian in the 1990s probably was a nonstarter to getting elected to anything,” University of Kansas political scientist Patrick Miller told my KCUR colleague Gina Kaufmann on the morning after the election. “And it didn’t matter yesterday.”

It didn’t matter—in fact, it might have been a strength rather than a liability—thanks in part to the kind of hometown activism chronicled in No Place Like Home.

That change in attitudes is not a fluke. We know this because, far away from the national spotlight yet also in Davids’s district, two other openly gay people won their races: Brandon Woodard and Susan Ruiz are headed to Topeka in January to represent their neighbors in the Kansas House.

The two representatives-elect came to politics from different angles: Woodard from a lifelong interest and through a primary where his opponent was also gay—thus ensuring that the Democratic candidate in House District 30 would be an openly gay man either way—and Ruiz, who, like so many other activists I met in the course of reporting for No Place Like Home (and my follow-up blog), stepped up because no one else did.

In both cases, however, identity was not their main issue. Like other Kansans, they were most concerned about public education and health care. Voters seemed to have awakened to the fact that anti-LGBTQ rhetoric was an attempt at distraction.

“We got push-polled with a robocall from our opponent,” Woodard told me, “and I had conservative people call me and say, ‘I don’t have a problem with you being gay—what I have a problem with is your opponent attacking you for your stance on LGBT issues.’”

 

CJ Janovy, Digital Content Editor for KCUR, is the author of No Place Like Home; Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas.

Seth Blumenthal (“Children of the Silent Majority”) Q & A

Children of the Silent Majority; Young Voters and the Rise of the Republican Party, 1968-1980

Only fifteen years before his 1980 campaign, Ronald Reagan blasted students on California’s campuses as “malcontents, beatniks, and filthy speech advocates.” But it was just a few years later that Hunter S. Thompson, citing “that maddening ‘FOUR MORE YEARS!’ chant from the Nixon Youth gallery in the convention hall,” heard the voices of those beatniks’ coevals who would become some of Reagan’s staunchest supporters. It is this cadre of young conservatives, more muted in the histories than the so-called Silent Majority, that this book brings to the fore.

  1. What’s your elevator pitch for Children of the Silent Majority? How would you describe the book in two or three sentences?

While the 1968 generation first threatened the conservative realignment that Republican leaders envisioned, it eventually offered a vital asset in the increasingly image conscious political environment. More lasting, Nixon’s youth effort fortified the GOP with a cadre of new voters and party leaders after the voting age fell to eighteen.

2. Children of the Silent Majority started as your dissertation. How long did you spend working on the book?

My first research trip was to the Nixon Library in 2009, and so it began.

3. What led you to research the Republican efforts to recruit young voters?

Watching an obscure guerilla television documentary called Four More Years about the Republican National Convention in 1972, I noticed how the Young Voters for the President popped up everywhere and I wondered who they were, and what they were thinking. It took me some time, but I found out.

4. What was the most challenging aspect of researching and writing the book?

There isn’t really anything else about Nixon’s Young Voters for the President, so that was exciting but also daunting as the historiography was non-existent. In addition, as I interviewed YVPers I had to resist the nostalgic interpretations of the GOP’s youth effort. Many of the people I talked to referred glowingly to this experience, but of course, not everybody thought so highly of Nixon and his campaign.

5. Your book goes into great detail how, at the height of the 60’s ‘flower-power’ movement, President Nixon and the Republican Party was able to build its majority. Can you draw any parallels between 1968 and 2018? Are Republicans using the same tactics to win young voters?

In some ways, I think the message is that the GOP has largely forgotten young voters’ role in their rise to power. President Trump has been very bad for the Republican brand with youth. Though, I think one thing that is consistent is that College Republicans are still more organized than their Democratic counterparts. I spend quite a bit of time in the book explaining the training program developed by the CR and the Young Voters for the President, and that professional structure and relationship with the senior party officials still provides leadership schools to recruit and cultivate future Republicans.

6. Have you noticed any efforts by either party in the current election that remind you of the Republican playbook used from 1968-1980?

Obviously Obama comes to mind. But interestingly, I have come to appreciate the irony that Obama succeeded in rallying the youth coalition that McGovern sought to build by using the organizational techniques and structure from Nixon’s campaign.

7. As Republican attempt to maintain and build their current majority, have any party leaders (the actual children of the silent majority) made any comments about how they were won over by the party?

Karl Rove comes to mind as he talks quite a bit about his youth activism and the lessons he learned about campaigning in the early 1970s as he too played a central role in the Nixon youth campaign in 1972. Paul Manafort was a Young Republican leader who played a prominent role in Ford’s youth vote effort. If you look at prominent College Republican and Young Republican alumni it’s a who’s who in GOP politics, but in most cases they were political animals before they joined these groups so it’s more about training and organizing youth than winning them over. I interviewed over 15 former YVP members, many went on to very successful careers as political consultants, campaign managers and politicians. Some grew up in Democratic families in the urban, ethnic enclaves or from the South and saw the GOP as an alternative to one party rule.

8. If you could have any one person read your book, who would it be and why?

Well, sadly, Hunter S. Thompson. He wrote the most about Nixon’s young voters, and despised them, I think because he appreciated their significance in countering the (and his) liberal dream for youth politics in 1972 and the future. We could sure use him these days.

But as for actual living human beings, Senator Bill Brock who is now 87. He is a fascinating political figure in the GOP’s history, a star in the book, and he deserves his own biography.

A Halloween Reading List…

After the kids are done sorting candy leaving wrappers across the floor, take some time and get spooked with these UPK books…

HAUNTED KANSAS by Lisa Hefner Heitz / Maybe you’ve just been visited by the late Ida Day lurking in the basement of Hutchinson’s public library or the widow Tarot staring forlornly from an upstairs window at Fort Scott, or the phantom Earl floating behind the scenes in Concordia’s Brown Grand Theater. And maybe the horrific Albino Woman truly does haunt Topeka, turning romantic nights into nightmares. . . . maybe.

To pursue the stories behind these and other spectral manifestations, Lisa Hefner Heitz traveled the state in search of its ghostly folklore. What she unearthed is a fascinating blend of oral histories, contemporary eye-witness accounts, and local legends. Creepy and chilling, sometimes humorous, and always engaging, her book features tales about ghosts, poltergeists, spook lights, and a host of other restless spirits that haunt Kansas.

Heitz’s spine-tingling collection of stories raps and taps and moans and groans through a wealth of descriptions of infamous Kansas phantoms, as well as disconcerting personal experiences related by former skeptics. Many of these ghosts, she shows, are notoriously linked to specific structures or locations, whether it is an eighteenth-century mansion in Atchison or a deep—some have claimed bottomless—pool near Ashland.

The evanescent apparitions of these tales have frightened and at times amused Kansans throughout the state’s long history. Yet this is the first book to capture for posterity the lively antics of the state’s ghostly denizens. Besides preserving a colorful and imaginative, if intangible, side of the state’s popular heritage, Heitz supplies ghost-storytellers with ample hair-raising material for, well, eternity. Maybe that person breathing softly behind you has another such story to share. Oh, no one’s there? Perhaps it really was just the breeze off the prairie.

 

GHOST TOWNS OF KANSAS by Daniel C. Fitzgerald / As soon as the Kansas Territory was opened for settlement in 1854, towns sprang up like mushrooms—first along the Missouri border, then steadily westward along trail routes, rivers, and railroad lines. Many of them barely got beyond the drawing board and hundreds of them flowered briefly and died, victims of the “boom or bust” economy of the frontier and the vagaries of weather, finance, mining, agriculture, railroad construction, and politics.

Ghost Towns of Kansas is a practical guide to these forsaken settlements and a chronicle of their role in the history of Kansas. It focuses on 100 towns that have either disappeared without a trace or are only “a shadowy remnant of what they once were,” telling the story of each town’s settlement, politics, colorful figures and legends, and eventual abandonment or decline.

The culmination of more than ten years of research, this new book is a distillation of the author’s immensely popular three-volume work on the state’s ghost towns, now out of print. Condensed and redesigned as a traveler’s guide, it is organized by region and features ten maps and detailed instructions for finding each site. Twenty of the towns included are discussed for the first time in this volume. The book also contains more than 100 black-and-white photographs of town scenes.

With this new guide in hand, travelers and armchair adventurers alike can journey back to the Kansas frontier—to places like Octagon City, where settlers signed a pledge not to consume liquor, tobacco, or “the flesh of animals” in order to purchase land at $1.25 per acre from the Vegetarian Settlement Company. Or to Sheridan, a tough, end-of-the-line railroad town where, according to the Kansas Commonwealth, “the scum of creation have congregated and assumed control of municipal and social affairs.” At least thirty men were hanged and a hundred killed either in gunfights or by Indians during Sheridan’s tumultuous two-year life span. Today the only remainder of Octagon City is a stream named Vegetarian Creek, and “wild and woolly” Sheridan is again a pasture.

 

GHOST SETTLEMENT ON THE PRAIRIE by Joseph V. Hickey / Four miles southeast of the village of Matfield Green in Chase County, Kansas—the heart of the Flint Hills—lies the abandoned settlement of Thurman. At the turn of the century Thurman was a prosperous farming and ranching settlement with fifty-one households, a post office, two general stores, a blacksmith shop, five schools, and a church. Today, only the ruins of Thurman remain.

Joseph Hickey uses Thurman to explore the settlement form of social organization, which—along with the village, hamlet, and small town—was a dominant feature of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American life. He traces Thurman’s birth in 1874, its shallow rises and falls, and its demise in 1944. Akin to what William Least Heat-Moon did for Chase County in PrairyErth, Hicky provides a “deep map” for one post-office community and, consequently, tells us a great deal about America’s rural past.

Describing the shifting relationships between Thurmanites and their Matfield Green neighbors, Hickey details how social forces set in motion by the American ideal of individualism and the machinations of capitalist entrepreneurs produced a Darwinian struggle between Thurman stock raisers and Flint Hills “cattle barons” that ultimately doomed Thurman. Central to the story are the concept of “ordinary entrepreneurship” and the profoundly capitalist attitudes of the farmers who settled Thurman and thousands of other communities dotting the American landscape.

Hickey’s account of Thurman’s social organization and disintegration provides a new perspective on what happened when the cattle drives from Texas and the Southwest shifted in the 1880s from the Kansas cow towns to the Flint Hills. Moreover, he punctures numerous myths about the Flint Hills, including those that cattle dominated because the land is too rocky to farm or that Indians refused to farm because of traditional beliefs.

Like many other small rural communities, Hickey argues, Thurman during its seventy-year history was actually several different settlements. A product of changing social conditions, each one resulted from shifting memberships and boundaries that reflected the efforts of local entrepreneurs to use country schools, churches, and other forms of “social capital” to gain advantages over their competitors. In the end, Thurman succumbed to the impact of agribusiness, which had the effect of transforming social capital from an asset into a liability. Ultimately, Hickey shows, the settlement’s fate echoed the decline of rural community throughout America.

Elizabeth Warren, Settler Colonialism, and the Limits of Democratic Citizenship

by Adam Dahl, author of Empire of the People; Settler Colonialism and the Foundations of Modern Democratic Thought

In my recently published book, Empire of the People, I trace the ideological development of American democratic thought in the context of settler colonialism, a distinct form of colonialism aimed at the appropriation of native land rather than the exploitation of native labor. Specifically, it traces how the ideological disavowal of indigenous dispossession laid the foundations of American democracy, and in doing so profoundly shaped key concepts in modern democratic thought such as consent, constituent power, citizenship, social equality, popular sovereignty, and federalism. Through engagement with a complex array of authors such as Thomas Jefferson, Alexis de Tocqueville, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John O’Sullivan, Walt Whitman, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, Francis Lieber, and William Apess, I argue that norms of modern democratic legitimacy acquired their conceptual coherence and foundational logics from the erasure of settler conquest. Not only was American democratic society founded upon settler colonialism, the boundaries of democratic peoplehood and the intelligibility of “the people” as a subject of rule in American democratic thought emerged through the elimination of indigenous peoples.

Although the book is largely a historical interpretation that ends around the Reconstruction period with Walt Whitman’s Democratic Vistas (1871), the recent controversy over Elizabeth Warren’s genetic test proving her Cherokee identity has led me to rethink the book’s relevance in our contemporary moment, what experts of federal Indian law often refer to as the era of self-determination. After months of harassment and the hurling of ethnic slurs from the bigot-in-chief – who often berates Warren by calling her “Pocahontas” – the Massachusetts Senator released the results of a DNA test on October 15 showing that she may have had one Native American ancestor anywhere from six to eight generations back. Indigenous peoples across North America have rightly called foul. Senator Warren’s use of DNA testing, among other things, essentializes tribal identification as a form of ethnicity and uses non-indigenous standards to define indigenous identity. The very idea of native DNA testing partakes in a long settler-colonial legacy of using genetic technologies to control and curtail indigenous citizenship.

Due to the time frame of the book, I was unable to consider the main thesis in light of more contemporary currents of democratic thought championing “cultural pluralism” and “multiculturalism” as a way of ensuring the inclusive bases of liberal democratic citizenship in the twentieth century. In David Hollinger’s vision of Postethnic America, for instance, a pluralist and multicultural democracy would foster shared citizenship in a civic nation while also affirming the right of citizens to identify with distinct racial and ethnic groups. Crucial to this vision of pluralist democratic citizenship is the ability of individuals to voluntarily self-identify with ethnic groups. Such a vision of voluntary membership combines the deep appreciation of racial and ethnic diversity with a shared sense of national identity.

Citizenship in indigenous communities, however, is determined through a complex mixture of tribal law and custom, ritual practice, kinship connections, ancestral relations, and responsibilities to the land. The liberal-multicultural ideal of citizenship as voluntary membership stands in inherent tension with this more complex understanding of indigenous citizenship. It is what allows Elizabeth Warren and millions of others filling out census forms to “self-identify” as Native American by checking a box or paying $100 for genetic screening. Proclamations of an era of indigenous self-determination notwithstanding, Warren’s announcement of her self-defined Cherokee heritage both draws from this cultural pluralist strand of thinking and in doing so reveals the settler colonial and dispossessive logics of liberal democratic citizenship in its multicultural vein.

Of course, this ideal of liberal citizenship where members of different ethnic groups voluntarily identify or dis-identify with this or that group is an understandable response to legacies of ascriptive hierarchy and civic exclusion in the United States in the form of immigration quotas, Chinese exclusion, residential segregation, forced sterilization, Japanese internment, Muslim bans, and prohibition of interracial marriage. Any democracy deserving of the name must prevent the ascription of racial and ethnic categories onto citizens without their consent so as to ensure the basic protections of equal rights and liberties.

But here one of the main points of Empire of the People might help us understand our present predicament. The politics of indigenous sovereignty and citizenship cannot be collapsed into the politics of ethnicity, race, and immigration precisely because indigeneity is a different political category than racial identity, ethnic affiliation, or migrant status. For this reason, critical indigenous theorists have warned against the “racialization” and “ethnicization” of indigenous peoples. When Indian nations are cast solely as internal, ethnic minority groups rather than as nations with a government-to-government relationship with the settler state, their ability to pursue their own sovereignty and self-determination diminishes. Where ethnic and racial groups often engage in civil rights struggles for inclusion in the constitutional architecture of liberal democracy, indigenous peoples seek to preserve their own political traditions through the protection of their status as sovereign, self-governing entities.

When we take the liberal democratic ideal of voluntary membership in identity-based groups and impute it onto indigenous peoples, there arises an inherent tension between modern democratic values and indigenous self-determination. Part of what self-determination means for indigenous peoples is not just the control of their own communal resources or the protection of cultural rights to language and land-use. Rather, it has always meant, and must continue to mean, that indigenous communities themselves must be in a position to determine their own communal self-identification, that is, their own standards of citizenship and membership.  But when we treat indigenous citizenship as membership in one among any other ethnic group – precisely as Elizabeth Warren has done – we erode the capacity of indigenous nations to define the boundaries of citizenship in their communities and thus to determine the identity of “the self” that rules in the name of self-determination. To the extent that Warren’s invocation of ethnic identity as a form of voluntary identification represents a crucial aspect of the meaning of citizenship in a multicultural cum settler society, it reveals the constitutive contradictions between contemporary liberal democratic ideals and indigenous sovereignty.

In 1953, Felix Cohen, a seminal expert on federal law, argued that the fate of American Indians indexes and indeed portends the fate of democracy in America: “It is a pity that so many Americans today think of the Indian as a romantic or comic figure in American history without contemporary significance. In fact, the Indian plays much the same role in our society that the Jews played in Germany. Like the miner’s canary, the Indian marks the shift from fresh air to poison gas in our political atmosphere; and our treatment of Indians, even more than our treatment of other minorities, reflects the rise and fall in our democratic faith.” Cohen’s famous quip about “the miner’s canary” as a warning sign of the decline of “our democratic faith” suggests that the pursuit of indigenous rights and self-determination moves in tandem with modern liberal democracy.  As one diminishes, the other declines.

As I argue in my book, however, it is, at times, the democratic faith (and by implication the standards of liberal democratic citizenship) itself that undermines ongoing struggles for indigenous self-determination. The closing words of Empire of the People are perhaps relevant here: “Grappling with the foundational role of colonial dispossession in shaping modern democratic thought must lead to a reimagining of the democratic traditions and democratic identity. Unsettling democracy requires more than simply attaching more inclusionary frameworks of constitutional law to democratic institutions. It requires rethinking the theoretical and conceptual foundations of democratic practice in a way that critically confronts their ideological entwinement with the colonial legacies of native dispossession” (184).

How Spiro Agnew Gave My Life Direction

by Joel Goldstein, author of The White House Vice Presidency: The Path to Significance, Mondale to Biden

I got my start due to Spiro Agnew.

I have spent much of my career writing about the American vice presidency and America’s system for handling presidential succession and inability, including my most recent book, The White House Vice Presidency: The Path to Significance, Mondale to Biden (2016).  It never would have happened had not Agnew, one of our least distinguished vice presidents, gotten in trouble for allegedly taking kickbacks from contractors and been forced to resign as vice president and plead nolo contendere to tax evasion to escape more serious criminal charges 45 years ago, on October 10, 1973,

I was a sophomore at Princeton University then and in those days, before cell phones and inexpensive long-distance call options, college students called home on Sunday to check in with our parents.  On my call home one Sunday in October, 1973,  I reported that I was looking for a paper topic for Professor Stanley Kelley, Jr.’s course on Party Politics. My father mentioned having heard a discussion on the Today Show about the Twenty-fifth Amendment and its procedures to allow a president to nominate someone to fill a vice-presidential vacancy subject to confirmation of both houses of Congress.  President Richard M. Nixon had nominated Representative Gerald R. Ford, the minority leader of the House of Representatives, as the first person presented under the Amendment which had gone into effect in February, 1967 and Congress was preparing for its first application.  Professor Kelley approved the topic and it later expanded to become my Princeton senior thesis topic which Professor Kelley, a gifted and dedicated scholar and teacher, supervised.

In spring, 1975, in the course of completing my senior thesis, I met John D. Feerick, who had, as a young New York lawyer, played a critical role in designing and achieving ratification of the Twenty-fifth Amendment and who had established himself as the leading scholar regarding it.  Although Feerick was incredibly busy as a large-firm lawyer and active public citizen, he spent a lot of time speaking to me about the subject and, in one discussion, suggested that I write a book on the vice presidency since no serious academic study had been produced for a couple of decades.  A year and a half later, he included me in a Symposium on the Vice Presidency he organized for the American Bar Association along with luminaries like Senators Birch Bayh, Robert Griffin and Margaret Chase Smith, presidential scholars and former White House aides George Reedy and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Charles Kirbo, the confidante of President-elect Jimmy Carter, among others.

The project Feerick suggested became my doctoral dissertation at Oxford University and, after revisions and expansions, my first book, The Modern American Vice Presidency: The Transformation of a Political Institution which Princeton University Press published in 1982.  The book, which focused on the vice presidency from Richard M. Nixon in 1953 to Walter F. Mondale a quarter century later, argued that the office had changed dramatically during that period but that the development was due largely to major shifts in the larger context of American government and politics beginning with the New Deal and World War II.  As national government had assumed an expanded role and international and national security issues loomed larger, the presidency became more important and drew the vice presidency away from the legislative branch towards the executive branch, the book argued.  The study taught me that constitutional institutions do not operate in isolation but in a larger context in which changes in one part of the system have repercussions elsewhere.

I continued to write about the vice presidency, the Twenty-fifth Amendment, and presidential succession and inability during the rest of the twentieth century and, as I did and as history unfolded, I realized that the Mondale vice presidency was really part of a new era.  Mondale had not only introduced a new model of the office but the new design had stuck.  Mondale and the very talented people he surrounded himself with, people like Robert Barnett, Mike Berman, Jim Johnson, Richard Moe, and others, had imagined a new vision of the vice presidency as an across the board adviser to, and trouble-shooter for, the president and had identified the resources the vice president would need to succeed in that role.  President Jimmy Carter had embraced this new vision and had brought Mondale into the White House and made him part of his inner circle.  When Carter and Mondale lost in 1980, Mondale and his associates had educated the incoming vice president, George H. W. Bush, regarding the new institution they had created and the practices which made it work, and Bush and President Ronald Reagan had adopted the Mondale model.  Bush had continued it with his Vice President, Dan Quayle, as had Bill Clinton and Al Gore, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and Barack Obama and Joe Biden. They didn’t all do it exactly the same way, or exactly as Mondale would have done it, but they all operated as general advisers and trouble-shooters, kept the resources Carter gave Mondale, and functioned as an integral part of the White House.

Whereas my first book demonstrated the dynamic whereby the vice presidency moved from the legislative to the executive branch, The White House Vice Presidency explores the development of a new orientation away from a focus primarily on providing a prepared presidential successor to trying to help the president succeed on an ongoing basis.  Although the new book provides a portrait of what has become a consequential political institution, the White House vice presidency, it also explores two more universal themes: How enduring constitutional change occurs in America through the repetition of practices and the role of enlightened leadership in transforming political institutions.

It’s been a wonderful journey.  I’ve learned a lot and met some terrific people along the way.  And it’s not over.

But who knows what path my life would have taken if the 39th vice president had not gotten into trouble with the law and had not had to resign 45 years ago on October 10, 1973 when I was looking for a topic for a college paper

I owe a lot to Spiro Agnew, and to a number of other people, too!.

Sanford Horwitt (Conversations with Abner Mikva) Q&A

It was 1948 when Abner Mikva, fresh out of college, volunteered at the 8th Ward Democratic headquarters in Chicago. “Who sent you, kid?” the leery ward committeeman asked. “Nobody,” Mikva said, and the man informed him, “We don’t want nobody nobody sent.” That marked the beginning of Abner Mikva’s storied political career, which would take him to the Illinois Statehouse, the US House of Representatives, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Clinton White House—culminating in a Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded by a young politician he had mentored, Barack Obama.

Around that time, eighty-seven years old and in declining health but as wise and wry as ever, Mikva sat down with his former speechwriter and longtime friend Sanford Horwitt for the first of the conversations recorded in this book. Separated by a generation, but with two lifetimes’ worth of experience between them, the friends met monthly to talk about life, politics, and the history that Mikva saw firsthand—and often had a hand in making.

1. How long did you know Abner Mikva? How did you meet?

We met in 1974 as the Watergate scandal was unfolding. We were both in a place where we didn’t want to be: Mikva was only temporarily—he hoped–practicing law while starting his campaign to get back to Congress after having lost a close race in a new suburban Chicago district. I was an assistant professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago but wanted to be doing something political. I volunteered in Mikva’s campaign, stuffing envelopes on Thursday afternoons but soon becoming a full-time volunteer and then Ab Mikva’s press secretary and speech writer when he returned to Congress. He was my inspiring friend for 42-years until his death on the Fourth of July, 2016.

2. When did you first have the idea to work on Conversations with Abner Mikva?

I heard that Mikva’s health was declining, and I wanted to talk with him– before it was too late–about his fascinating, inspiring political and legal journey and his unvarnished end-of-life insights about our country, then and now. As a writer, I saw parallels between the story I wanted to write about our monthly conversations and the book “Tuesdays with Morrie.”

3. Can you describe your process of writing? How long did you spend working on the book?

The book is based on monthly conversations Ab Mikva and I had over three years, the last conversation shortly before his death. The conversations, all tape recorded, were mostly at Chicago eateries, including the legendary Valois Cafeteria in Hyde Park where Mikva mentored a young state senator, Barack Obama. I started writing while we were still talking and completed the first draft three months before Ab died. I read it to my friend who by then couldn’t see a butter dish across the table. The version that Ab heard was about 90 percent of the final manuscript. After his death, I spent six months fine-tuning the manuscript, adding material from our final conversations and updating some sections after Donald Trump’s unexpected election.

4. What was the most challenging aspect of writing about your old friend?

To a significant extent, the book is an Abner Mikva memoir which captures the remarkable public life of a gifted liberal icon and brilliant man of unquestioned integrity. But I also have a presence in the story because the narrative is based on our conversations. Often Ab’s reflections, including his regrets, provoked me to examine and re-consider my ideas and shortcomings. I learned a lot. But I wanted to keep the focus on Ab Mikva so that our conversations and the narrative would be much more about him, not me.

5. In Conversations, you write “Abner Mikva saw death coming but not Donald Trump.” How do you think he would respond to the election and current status of the Trump administration?

Days before he died, Ab and I had our last, brief conversation. He told me he couldn’t wait for the Republican convention to start. It was three weeks away. “I’m afraid Trump may self-destruct before the convention,” he laughed weakly. I told him that the Republicans were probably stuck with Trump. “I think they are, too” he replied. “And it couldn’t be better.” He envisioned a resounding Hillary Clinton victory. Ab Mikva had become a big fan of Hillary’s despite their sometimes-rocky relationship when he was Bill Clinton’s White House Counsel and despite his support of Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.   Ab thought Hillary had learned from her mistakes, was a true liberal at heart and had a chance to be a transformative president. Perhaps she would have re-nominated Ab’s friend and protégé, Merrick Garland, to the Supreme Court. So, Ab would, first, have been hugely disappointed by Hillary’s loss and the lost opportunities for a progressive agenda and, second, appalled by virtually every aspect of Trump’s leadership and administration—Trump’s incessant lying and disregard for the traditional independent role of the Justice Department and judiciary; the flood of right-wing judicial nominees. especially Trump’s picks for the Supreme Court; the president’s attacks on immigrants and a free press; tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, and so on. Ab had already lamented the decline of the Republican Party so he would not be surprised that Republican leaders, with few exceptions, have become Trump enablers. But even with Ab’s multitude of health problems, I am certain he would be doing everything he could to restore our faith in American democracy if he were still with us–and hopeful that the disastrous Trump years will be followed by a democratic reform agenda that he and I discussed.

6. You illustrate how Mikva was a true believer in the lofty possibilities of American democracy. What would you consider the two or three most important lessons learned by reading the book?

In our representative democracy, we as citizens must often trust elected officials to make good decisions for the general welfare. Mikva learned an early lesson that I hadn’t quite considered before he told me about it. On a train ride from Chicago to Springfield in 1957 when he was about to begin his first term in the state legislature, another rookie legislator asked a group of Springfield veterans what it took to be a really good legislator. “Guts,” they answered in unison. And Ab said to me some 60 years later, “I’ve never forgotten it. I still think the first criterion for public officials is guts.” But Ab also learned early in his legislative career, when he became an outspoken leader for gun control in the 1950s, that courageous leadership alone was not enough. Political change comes most often from the bottom up, driven by voluntary, powerful citizen organizations.

7. Mikva might be most well-known for identifying and nurturing the talent of Barrack Obama. What do you think he would consider his greatest professional achievement?

Mikva was proud of the role he played in helping to mentor young Obama and seeing him elected first to the U.S. Senate and then as president. And he took pride in his own legislative achievements and one of his judicial decisions. But he was most proud of two other parts of his legacy: the inspiring model he provided for unquestioned honesty and integrity throughout his public service career, and his leadership, with his wife Zoe’s, in establishing and nurturing the nonpartisan Mikva Challenge. The Mikva Challenge over the last 20 years has become one of the country’s leading youth civic education organizations, providing high school students, especially low-income students of color, with opportunities to make their voices heard on issues that are important to them and their communities—and, in the process, they learn lifelong skills of how to be effective citizens in a democratic society.

8. If you could have any one person read your book, who would it be and why?

A young person who does not vote and is already cynical about government, politics and politicians.

In our troubling times, widespread cynicism is understandable but not tolerable if we are going to restore our endangered democracy. After Abner Mikva’s lifetime of civic engagement, from volunteering in political campaigns as a young man to serving at the highest levels of government, he remained idealistic and hopeful. “[H]is moving story of personal honor and pragmatic politics [comes] during a fraught period of our nation’s history,” writes professor David Farber. That is why it’s timely and important—and why the book is dedicated to Democracy’s Next Generation.

News and Reviews

REVIEWS

Drawing Fire; A Pawnee, Artist, and Thunderbird in World War II

Review in Publisher’s Weekly: “…Echohawk movingly recalls the language and warrior traditions he and his fellow Native soldiers followed—and, in one episode, humorously recalls fake ones they invented to intimidate insolent German captives. This excellent and fascinating account is a unique contribution to the literature of WWII.”

 

Napoleon’s 1796 Italian Campaign

Review in New York Journal of Books: “The translation is excellently done, with copious footnotes and annotations by the authors on their reasoning for choosing certain English translations for Clausewitz’s strategic thinking, particularly his major themes such as the schwerpunkt, or center of gravity, a term he frequently used to describe the concentration of forces for an attack that have long been debated among Clausewitz scholars.”

 

Justice Robert H. Jackson’s Unpublished Opinion in Brown v. Board

Review in The Review of Politics: “…we should be grateful that he has now made Jackson’s opinion so easily accessible, along with background material on the Court’s struggle to do the right thing in Brown. ”

 

AUTHORS

Mark Harvey, featured in The Washington Post

 

Robert Rebein, featured on Kansas Public Radio

 

Mark Eberle, featured on Kansas Public Radio

 

Greg Weiner, Op-Ed featured in The New York Times

 

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert, featured on The University of Illinois website