James L. Baughman, Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, James P. Danky, eds. Protest on the Page: Essays on Print and the Culture of Dissent since 1865. The History of Print and Digital Culture Series. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2015. 278 pp. $39.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-299-30284-9.
Reviewed by Stephen Pimpare (University of New Hampshire)
Published on Jhistory (May, 2016)
Commissioned by Robert A. Rabe
When we think of protest, we often think of traditional forms of disruptive activity—strikes, marches, demonstrations, boycotts, sit-ins, and the like. Protest on the Page, a collection of papers curated by James L. Baughman, Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, and James P. Danky, offers us another view of resistance, homing in on the ways in which the written word has been the site for conflict or the means of enacting resistance. There are eleven essays in the collection, from a diverse set of mostly academic authors from communications, journalism, history, sociology, literature, English, gender studies, religion, and library sciences. The areas of investigation and time periods covered are just as varied: Protest on the Page takes as its subject matter newspapers, pamphlets, books, cookbooks, woodcuts, comic books, political cartoons, and magazines, from the early to mid-nineteenth century through the 1980s.
Adam Thomas’s “Writing Redemption” reveals the ways in which Reconstruction-era southern newspapers systematically racialized (blackened, we might say) the image of white “carpetbaggers” from the North to delegitimize the entire project of Reconstruction. We could argue, I suppose, about whether to call this protest literature or merely propaganda, but Thomas offers good evidence that this strain of southern journalism had demonstrable impact on “undoing Reconstruction” (p. 18). It is an exceptionally fine addition to our understanding of how “Redemption” was practiced.
“The Inky Protest of an Anarchist Printmaker,” by Andrew D. Hoyt, examines the subtle, radical messages contained in Italian-language anarchist newspapers at the turn of the twentieth century, while Nicolás Kanellos gives us a view of the Spanish-language anarchist press, from throughout the United States, from the late nineteenth century through World War II. Trevor Joy Sangrey examines the ways in which the Communist Party used pamphleteering in the 1930s to reach out to and mobilize African Americans in the South, while Laura J. Miller and Emilie Hardman explore the (often implicit) political messages (and even radical calls to political action) to be found in their large sample of vegetarian cookbooks published since 1800. Daniel Vaca documents the mid-twentieth-century attack by evangelicals on what they perceived to be a liberal culture that determined which religious books were published, while “Children and the Comics,” by Carol L. Tilley, unearths the “civic writing” by young people in the 1950s who objected to the efforts of many, including the US Senate, to alert the public to what they perceived to be the dangers of comics.
The last essays bring us even closer to the present. In “Paper Soldiers,” Derek Seidman studies the circulation and production among active-duty Vietnam-era soldiers of underground, antiwar newspapers. Micah Robbins examines how another arm of the underground press undertook and escalated its satire, and perhaps even defamation, of President Richard Nixon. And, finally, Joyce M. Latham looks at the ways in which the radical feminist press of the 1960s-80s fought to shape understandings of sex, gender roles, sexual identity, and pornography.
These are, by and large, sharply observed, carefully constructed, and insightful analyses, and many will be of use to scholars across a range of disciplines interested in understanding the ways in which marginalized populations have sought to access power and effect political or social change. It might be especially useful as a supplement to the traditional histories of American journalism that focus on the “mainstream” media and the development and power of elite actors and the presses they control. There is much here that deepens and enriches our understanding of the history of dissent and resistance as well as the history of print media.
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Stephen Pimpare. Review of Baughman, James L.; Ratner-Rosenhagen, Jennifer; Danky, James P., eds., Protest on the Page: Essays on Print and the Culture of Dissent since 1865.
Jhistory, H-Net Reviews.
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