Jason Morgan Ward in ‘The Washington Post’: “A Mississippi senator joked about ‘public hanging.’ Here’s why that’s unacceptable.”

Acting Professor of History Jason Morgan Ward recently published an article in The Washington Post’s “Made by History” section. Ward discusses Mississippi’s long and tragic history of lynchings in the context of recent comments from Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith. Read an excerpt of Ward’s piece below along with the full article here: “A Mississippi senator joked about ‘public hanging.’ Here’s why that’s unacceptable.”

Any mention of a “public hanging” taps a deep well of racial memory in Mississippi, and for good reason. The state led the nation in lynchings, with more than 650 killings between the Civil War and the civil rights era documented in the Equal Justice Initiative’s recent report, “Lynching in America.” While public execution by hanging persisted in Southern communities into the 20th century, spectacle lynchings outpaced and eventually replaced these “official” killings as the South’s preferred form of “public hanging.” While many lynchings occurred under cover of darkness or at the hands of small gangs of vigilantes, white Mississippians gathered by the hundreds, and occasionally thousands, to witness racial killings.

Recent Faculty Publications: Q & A with Yanna Yannakakis about ‘Power of Attorney’

Associate Professor of History Yanna Yannakakis recently launched a digital publication entitled “Power of Attorney in Oaxaca, Mexico: Native People, Legal Culture, and Social Networks.” Yannakakis, who is a specialist of colonial Mexico and also holder of the Winship Distinguished Research Professorship in History (2018-2021), discusses the making of this innovative digital humanities project in the latest installment of “Recent Faculty Publications.” Read the Q & A below and check out the project here.

Extensive projects like these are produced over years if not decades. Give us a sense for the lifespan of this project, from initial idea through final production.

I came up with the idea for this project in the fall of 2013. I had been researching indigenous legal culture in colonial Oaxaca, Mexico and had encountered dozens of letters of attorney – a simple and formulaic genre of notarial document — produced by native litigants in the state’s judicial archive. I noticed that in addition to information about native litigation, the letters contained spatial data, including the names of native communities and the locations of their legal representatives. I began to wonder if I could map the interethnic relationships and networks created by power of attorney across the space of the Spanish empire, from the remote highlands of Oaxaca to Madrid, Spain and places in-between. I brought my research questions to Emory’s Center for Digital Studies, which serves as an incubator for digital projects, and in collaboration with my colleagues at ECDS, we developed a research plan and method. We launched the pilot for the project in May 2018, and the work is ongoing.

Digital humanities projects often entail collaborative work with other historians as well as specialists who work primarily outside of the humanities. Who were the partners on this project and how did you all develop productive approaches to dialogue and workflow across disciplines?

Digital humanities is by definition collaborative because it is rare for a single scholar to be able to master all of the necessary skills. In my case, I had graduate research assistants – Selene García Jiménez (El Colegio de México); Jon Coulis, Angie Picone, and Alex Cors (Emory University) – photographing, transcribing, and culling data from letters of attorney. At ECDS, Joanna Mundy, Sara Palmer, and Jennifer Doty contributed to the design of the project data base, and Sara oversaw the production of the Gephi network graphs. Megan Slemens, ECDS GIS librarian, and Michael Page, ECDS Geographer spatialized the Gephi network graphs in Google Earth, and developed CARTO maps. Phil MacLeod, Latin American Studies Librarian at Woodruff Library helped me to locate historical maps and geographical data. Julius Kniffki, a freelance photographer contributed photos for the website (as did I), and Erin Hecht, a freelance web-designer developed the streamlined and user-friendly and artful layout for the website. I designed the categories of analysis, interpreted the maps and visualizations, and wrote the text for the site.

Coordinating workflow could at times be a challenge, especially at the outset when my graduate assistants and I seemed to be speaking a different language from our ECDS colleagues. The historical context of eighteenth century Oaxaca – from the names of native communities, to the geographic layout of administrative units, to notarial language – required translation and explanation. So too did the language of relational databases, network graphs, and google earth coordinates, especially since all of it was novel to me. After about 18 months of work, we found our groove, and came to understand what each part of the team needed and where to find it. It was really rewarding to develop these collaborative relationships over time and see the project unfold.

How do the maps and visualizations on the site reshape our understanding of indigenous legal culture?

It has been hard to shake the misconception that native communal life in colonial Mexico was parochial; that, as the saying goes, it extended no further than what could be seen from the church bell tower. It is true that many conflicts and concerns were locally rooted and oriented around communal structures. But as the maps and visualizations of Power of Attorney demonstrate, native people were well aware of the spatial organization of colonial bureaucracy and the court system, and they contracted legal representation in order to maximize their advantage within the patchwork of legal jurisdictions that made up the Spanish Empire. Scholarship on native litigation has blossomed in the last decade, so the argument about native legal strategizing is not new. But seeing how relationships born of litigation played out in space and over time, and how they connected native communities to one another and to distant courts provides a much richer understanding of the material and cultural ties that bound the empire. Crucially, the trajectory of these relationships, initiated by native litigants, moves from the indigenous region outward, rather than the other way around.

How does this project align with your broad research agenda?

I am currently writing a book about native justice and jurisdiction in Oaxaca from the eighteenth century through the first three decades after Mexico’s independence from Spain. “Power of Attorney” has helped me to understand in much greater depth the relationship between native and Spanish jurisdictions. It has also helped me to train my eye on contracts (letters of attorney were a form of contract) as a key source for understanding changes in customary law and legal and institutional relationships at a variety of scales. Early on, I imagined that this project would be part of the book, but then decided to keep the two projects separate. As the book has developed, though, I am beginning to see more connections, and am re-thinking how they might come together.

Debjani Bhattacharyya (Ph.D., 2014) Writes About Predatory Publishing in AHA’s ‘Perspectives’

Drexel University Assistant Professor of History and 2014 Emory Ph.D. Debjani Bhattacharyya recently authored a piece for the American Historical Association’s newsmagazine, Perspectives. Bhattacharyya, a specialist on Modern South Asian History, discusses exploitative publishing practices and the culture of academic publishing broadly. Read the excerpt below along with the full piece, “When a Journal is a Scam: How Some Publications Prey on Scholarship as Public Good.”

Apart from warning our students and colleagues about predatory journals, there is a larger question we as a profession need to answer. How do we create conditions where we can prioritize the twin imperatives behind publishing our work: to be heard and to listen? These things take time. It takes time to write out early ideas, have them read by a fresh pair of eyes, be exposed to new literature, rethink the argument, and then revise and rewrite. In an ideal world, each article would be an invitation to a dialogue about a question and ultimately an attempt to create a public good. And yet, all of this must happen within a very truncated time frame given the “publish or perish” atmosphere. How do we as a profession acknowledge the realities of this mandate, while still guaranteeing the quality of peer-reviewed scholarship?

Tehila Sasson Contributes to ‘Past & Present’ Roundtable

Assistant Professor of History Tehila Sasson recently contributed to a roundtable for the journal Past & Present on the expanding field of research about the history of humanitarianism. Sasson, a specialist in Britain in the World, is currently completing her first monograph, provisionally titled We Are the World: Humanitarian Ethics, Global Markets and the End of Empire. Read an excerpt from her contribution to the roundtable below along with the full discussion here: “History and Humanitarianism: A Conversation.”

“I came as a sceptic to this field. In the political landscape where I grew up in Israel, human rights and humanitarianism have often been used as empty rhetoric to justify forms of intervention and governance rather than to offer any real political alternative to minorities and refugees. My first encounter with the works of Hannah Arendt, Didier Fassin and Jacques Rancière during my undergraduate studies in 2003 was formative to the way I came to perceive the field politically as well as intellectually. Human rights and humanitarianism, I learned from them, offered a thin political framework, indeed too thin, that was stripped of any robust notion of obligation, responsibility and rights. A class I took with Wendy Brown and Saba Mahmood later in graduate school taught me that not only rights discourse but also moral technologies carry with them an entire array of contradictions connected to empire, religion and the economy.”

“How Reconsidering Atticus Finch Makes us Reconsider America”: Joe Crespino in ‘Pacific Standard’

History Department Chair and Jimmy Carter Professor of History Joseph Crespino discussed his most recent book, Atticus Finch: The Biography (Basic Books, 2018), with Brandon Tensley of Pacific Standard. In “How Reconsidering Atticus Finch Makes us Reconsider America,” Crespino talks about the enduring relevance of this fictional character in American society and politics. Read an excerpt below along with the full article here.

“Lee wrote her two novels in the midst of the massive resistance era. These were the days of Southern politics when you saw the rise of a right-wing, militant segregationist movement, when you had politicians who only a few years earlier had been dismissed as cranks, as nobodies, as jokes being elected to office—look at Ross Barnett in Mississippi or Lester Maddox in Georgia. That’s the period Lee was writing in. And she was trying to make sense of the fact that what she admired as the principled conservatism of her father was being overrun by—but also, crucially, was not standing up to—right-wing reactionaries across many states in the South.”

Anderson’s ‘One Person, No Vote’ Named to National Book Award Longlist

Dr. Carol Anderson’s newly-released book, One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy, was named to the National Book Award longlist. Published by Bloomsbury and released on September 11, 2018, One Person, No Vote charts continuities in practices of voter suppression from the nineteenth century through the present. Read more about Anderson’s work and Emory’s representation on the National Book Award longlist in the Emory News Center’s article “Emory professors named to 2018 National Book Awards longlists.”

Carol Anderson Publishes ‘One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy’

Dr. Carol Anderson, Charles Howard Candler Professor and Chair of African American Studies, has just published a new book, One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy (Bloomsbury Publishing 2018). Anderson is Associated Faculty in the Department of History. The Emory News Center profiled Anderson’s new work in a video and article by Kimber Williams: “New book explores history of voter suppression in America.” Anderson is also the author of  White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, which received the 2016 National Book Critics Award in Criticism.