Publisher’s Pick: The Importance of Midwest Studies Is as Vast and Expansive as the Plains It Projects

midwest-111Some regions of the United States—particularly the south and the west—are the subject of focused scholarly attention. Many argue that these regions have distinct histories and characteristics that shape the life of those who live there as well as the history of our country. Should the Midwest also be treated as a region with important and distinctive characteristics that should not be ignored by scholars? A recent conference at the University of Kansas posed this question to a panel of experts on the Midwest, including myself as director of the University Press of Kansas. The conclusion is that the Midwest, defined generally as the area of the country beginning in Ohio and ending at the western boundary of Kansas, has particular regional characteristics drawn from the way it was settled, the nature of the economy, the natural environment, and the mix of small towns and major cities, among other factors, that have shaped the way people living in this area respond to important national issues. Whatever the outcome of this debate, Kansas, the Midwest, and the Plains is our home. We regard publishing on the history, society, economy, and environment of the Midwest to be an important part of the program at the University Press of Kansas. From books such as John Miller’s “Small Town Boys: Stories of Midwestern Boys who Shaped America”; Arnold Bauer’s “Time’s Shadow: Remembering the Family Farm in Kansas; Iralee Barnard’s “Field Guide to the Common Grasses of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska” to the forthcoming “God Hates: Westboro Baptist Church, American Nationalism, and the Religious Rightby Rebecca Barrett-Fox, the University Press of Kansas has published excellent work about the Midwest and its impact on American life. We continue to publish work not only about Kansas and the Midwest, but work from this region that is about America.

–Written by Chuck Myers, Director of University Press of Kansas

Publisher’s Pick: Lizzie Borden on Trial

9780700620715August 4 is the 123rd anniversary of the brutal murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in Fall River, an event which captured widespread public attention in the United States especially when Andrew’s daughter, Lizzie, was charged with the crime. Although acquitted, the question of her responsibility for the murders has continued to fascinate the public. Joseph A. Conforti’s book “Lizzie Borden on Trial: Murder, Ethnicity, and Gender,” recently published by Kansas, is the latest and most thorough exploration of the murders, their investigation, and Lizzie’s trial. Setting the case in the social context of its time, Conforti shows how assumptions about gender—could a woman do such a violent act—and class—would a woman of Lizzie’s wealth and status murder her father and step mother—powerfully influenced the investigation and the trial.

Why do we still care about this case? Conforti, who grew up in Fall River with the legend of Lizzie Borden, says that he decided to write about it because “I came to realize that what happened in the Borden house in the summer of 1892 amounted to more than a murder mystery, that events surrounding the tragedy and encompassing the trial revealed much about late Victorian life in Fall River and well beyond.” We become fascinated by a trial because it offers a window into part of our society we don’t really know, in this case an affluent class that assumed the respectability of old New England Protestant stock in a time of rapid change and immigration. Lawrence Friedman, in a recent Kansas book “The Big Trial: Law as Public Spectacle,” says “the Borden trial is a prime example of a group of trials to which I apply the phrase ‘the worm in the bud.’ These trials catch the public fancy because they expose, or threaten to expose, the sleazy underside of prominent or respectable society.” We will never know whether Lizzie Borden was an axe murderer. But we can use the story to explore and expose the life and pretenses of a part of our society.

–Written by Chuck Myers, Director of University Press of Kansas

Publisher’s Pick: New Books from UPK

9780700620890As lawsuits against Obamacare again await a decision by the Supreme Court, many might wonder about the prominent role of state attorneys-general in bringing suits attacking the health care law. Recently we published the first study of litigation pursued by many state attorneys-general on policy issues, focusing on cases involving the liability of tobacco companies for the health consequences of smoking and litigation involving climate change and Obamacare. Paul Nolette’s “Federalism on Trial: State Attorneys General and National Policymaking in Contemporary America” shows how states, working together, have sought to use the courts to influence the policies of the federal government from both the left and the right. Liberal state attorneys-general have used law suits to push the government to adopt aggressive policies against climate change while cases have been litigated by conservative state attorneys-general to stop Obamacare. Nolette explores the legal strategies employed in these cases, the involvement of private interest groups in supporting the litigation, and the role of state politics, especially the ambitions of the attorneys-general and their relationship to other state leaders, in determining who will sue. Charles Epp says that “Nolette’s rich, carefully researched analysis shows that AG’s litigation campaigns are coordinated, politically polarized, and enhance federal regulation as much as challenge it.”

One of the exciting aspects of publishing now is that the internet and blogs like this offer the opportunity to build new connections between our authors and new audiences for their ideas and work. As a publisher of books on current affairs as well as history, I am eager to see these books join the conversations about important issues. From time to time in this blog, we will highlight new Kansas books that can change the way we think about critical issues now or important events of the past. Paul Nolette’s book is a great example of the public affairs books we publish and that we will bring to your attention in this blog and through our other marketing efforts.

–Written by Chuck Myers, Director of University Press of Kansas