Nation-state, Civil Society, Popular Politics Archive

Blog Entry on the Texas Fertilizer Plant Blast, in DISSENT

I’ve written an online blog entry for the journal Dissentthat may prove of interest.  The argument is based on those I and others made in our edited volume Dangerous Trade: Histories of Industrial Hazard across a Globalizing World (Temple UP, 2011).

“How Industrial Hazards Get Overlooked,” Dissent Blog (April 25, 2013)



All Environmental Politics Is Local–Today’s Climate Activism in the Light of the Earlier Antipollution Movement

I’ve tried my hand at some blogging, with a new entry on the “Seeing the Woods” blog of the Rachel Carson Center in Munich.  It’s about what the antipollution movement of the 1960′s may be able to teach the climate activists of today.  I’ve called it “all environmental politics is local.”  My argument is based on my recent Crabgrass Crucible.

Chris Sellers

Conference Presentation: “The Exorcism of America”

I’ll be giving a presentation at this year’s Susman Graduate Conference on my research into changing beliefs about magic and witchcraft in Enlightenment America (British colonial and early U.S.), and the links between these intellectual changes and the formation of national identity.

Accusations, trials, and persecutions of witches form a fascinating and peculiar episode in colonial American history, with the famous Salem trials as the most well-known example of what is often conceived of as a Puritan, New England, or 17th century phenomenon. However, the memory of earlier beliefs in magic and actions upon those beliefs still exerted influence over British-American colonists and U.S. citizens in the 18th century. A review of American magazines from this period reveals a continued, but different, preoccupation with magic and witchcraft. Elite Americans of this period thought about magic, but at a distance, with distaste and no small amount of shame. Published works repeatedly consigned it to a kind of local dark age; the colonial forefathers had to be defended from criticisms for their prosecution of witchcraft as a crime; and increasingly, magic became less a threat to be controlled, and more a mere “superstition” clung to by the “vulgar.”

A complex process was underway, by which early Americans disposed of their culture of magic, alternatingly forgetting and reconsidering it. Americans of the 18th century distanced themselves from their historical beliefs in magic, and then conceptually relocated this belief elsewhere, reattaching it to a variety of Others: the English, the French, Africans, Native Americans, and the superstitious masses, an “other within.” Through this transformation of memory and history, the myth of an ideal America – enlightened and reasonable, free of the irrational superstitions that plagued its past, its rivals and victims, and its own inferior members – was born. My upcoming paper on this topic will show how a sea change in early American perspectives on the supernatural influenced and constituted the formation of a U.S. American national identity.

The  35th annual Warren and Beatrice Susman Graduate Conference will be held on April 20, 2013 at Rutger’s New Brunswick campus. Its topic is “Myth, Memory, and History: New Approaches to an Elusive Past.”

NYT op-ed by Prof. Sellers


Prof. Christopher C. Sellers has written an opinion piece for the New York Times called “How Green Was My Lawn?” based on his new book, Crabgrass Crucible.

Graduate Core Seminar Recommended Readings, Part 2

Nation, Popular Politics, Culture

Gellner, Ernest. Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009.

Guha, Ranajit. Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1999.

Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1991.

Hobsbawm, E. J, and T. O Ranger, eds. The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge [UK]: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Scott, James. Weapons of the weak: everyday forms of peasant resistance. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.

Stedman Jones, Gareth. Languages of class: studies in English working class history, 1832-1982. Cambridge [UK]: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. Silencing the past: power and the production of history. Boston  Mass.: Beacon Press, 1995.

Williams, Raymond. Culture and materialism: selected essays. London : Verso, 2005.

[Most of these books are on library reserve. Search under HIS524. - elb & pg]

HIS 542-Modern Latin American History (Graduate Field Seminar)

This Field Seminar introduces some major debates and literatures about Latin American history since 1820.  It is designed for MA-level education students as well as MA students who plan to go on to a Ph.D. in History.  Dedicated students from other regional concentrations, disciplines, and area universities are also welcome.

Thematic Focus: We hope students master here the basic contours of modern Latin America (1820-2000), however, the road there is mainly historiographical or methodological.  We critically engage–via intensive readings, weekly discussions, and debate–some ten model monographs in the field.  Rather than cover all the “great books” in this large vibrant field, whether classic or cutting-edge, we’ll focus on a broad theme found across recent historiography: Transnationalizing the post-colonial history of the Americas.  Instead of the “national” units of analysis that dominated the field until the 1990s (Argentine history, Mexican history, etc.), focused around the nation-state, nationalism, and national identities, we look at the ways in which recent historians have tried to bring in the larger global connections, contexts, and interfaces of Latin American peoples, ranging from their culture to their commodities.  This theme derives from twenty-first century concerns with globalization and the History Department’s transnational concerns.

During the first few weeks, using Joseph, LeGrand, and Salvatore’s (1998) programmatic volume Close Encounters of Empire, plus a few key essays, we will try to draw out and define what the “transnational turn” means for Latin Americanists.  Then, using close readings of ten or so fascinating major new monographs, we’ll examine diverse angles on transnational Latin American histories—ranging from the Andes and Brazil to Mexico and the Caribbean, and with topics drawn from cultural and political history to commodity, labor, racial, food, and environmental histories. We hope to end up with a critical awareness of how well Latin American historians, at least those in the United States, have developed such concepts.  Does transnational history transcend older national or local histories?  How does it complicate established notions of empire, agency, or sovereignty?

Requirements/Expectations: There are a few basic requirements for the seminar:

1) Consistent commitment to readings and to energetic participation in weekly group discussions.

2) A collective writing assignment, of 8-10 pages, during Weeks 5-6, to evaluate how you think and write on paper.  This is followed by individual meetings with students.

3) Two critical book reviews, of 5-7 pages, of texts read in the latter half of the seminar

4) Doctoral students should also participate as possible (and report on) the New York City Workshop in Latin American History (NYCWLAH), a collaborative group with scholars from Columbia, CUNY, and NYU.  Paper Workshops this term are from 11-1pm on four Fridays (Jan. 25, Feb. 22, Mar. 22, Apr. 19) at the CUNY Graduate Center.  Join their mailing list ( for e-papers.  Our seminar also relates well to the SB-LACs annual grad conference (April 12) on “Commodities, Capitalism & Culture:  Latin America and the World.”

Readings:  All books are on sale at the University Bookstore, though many students haggle for books better on the internet.  Major texts are also on reserve at the Melville Library (3rd Floor). We have a set of additional transnationalism essay readings for pondering during Weeks 1-3.

Major Monographs:

Gilbert Joseph, Catherine LeGrand, Ricardo Salvatore, eds., Close Encounters of Empire: Writing the Cultural History of U.S.-Latin American Relations (Duke Univ. Press, 1998)

Michel Gobat, Confronting the American Dream: Nicaragua under U.S. Imperial Rule (Duke Univ. Press, 2005)

Paul Gootenberg, Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug (Univ. of North Carolina  Press, 2008)

Greg Grandin, The Last Colonial Massacre: Latin America in the Cold War (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2004)

Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof, A Tale of Two Cities: Santo Domingo and New York after 1950 (Princeton Univ. Press, 2008)

Jana Lipman,  Guantanamo: A Working-Class History between Empire and Revolution  (Duke Univ. Press, 2008)

José Moya, Cousins and Strangers: Spanish Immigrants in Buenos Aires, 1850-1930 (U-California, 1998)

Jeffrey Pilcher, Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food (Oxford Univ. Press, 2012)

Deborah Poole, Vision, Race, and Modernity: A Visual Economy of the Andean Image World  (Princeton Univ. Press, 1997)

Micol Siegal, Uneven Encounters: Making Race and Nation in Brazil and the U.S. (Duke Univ. Press, 2009)

John Soluri, Banana Cultures: Agriculture, Consumption, and Agrarian Change in Honduras and the United States (Univ. of Texas Press, 2005)

Eric Zolov, Refried Elvis: The Rise of the Mexican Counterculture (U. of California Press, 1999)

Recommended volumes: (limited numbers)

Gil Joseph, Daniela Spenser, eds., In From the Cold: Latin America and New Encounters with the Cold War (Duke Univ. Press, 2008)

Steven Topik, C. Marichal, and Z. Frank, eds, From Silver to Cocaine: Latin American Commodity Chains & the Building of the World Economy, 1500-2000 (Duke Univ. Press, 2006)