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Nash Shares his Message

Stephen Nash appeared on WLJA’s NewsTalk to talk about his new book Virginia Climate Fever: How Global Warming Will Transform Our Cities Shorelines, and Forests. The generous amount of time allowed Nash to move past sound bytes and explain his book’s urgent message. You can watch the interview below or on the NewsTalk site. Nash also appeared on Talk Nation Radio, and that interview may be heard here.

Posted in Environmental Studies, Press News, Virginiana

‘Rock Creek Park’ Author Events in D.C.

There are worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon than at the Natural History Museum in Washington, and on December 7, author and naturalist Melanie Choukas-Bradley and photographer Susan Austin Roth will be at the museum to sign copies of their new book, A Year in Rock Creek Park: The Wild Wooded Heart of Washington D.C. A few days later, on December 11, Choukas-Bradley and Roth will give a presentation on the book at the Woodend Sanctuary of the Audubon Naturalist Society. Both events are open to the public. Details on the December 7 book signing are on the Smithsonian events calendar. Details on the December 11 event are on the Audubon events page.

Posted in Environmental Studies, Press News, Virginiana

The Art of Collaboration

up week To help celebrate University Press Week, the University of Virginia Press is proud to take part in a blog tour that will also include posts from the University Press of Colorado, the University of Georgia Press, Duke University Press, the University of California Press, McGill-Queen’s University PressTexas A&M Press, Project MUSE, Yale University Press, and the University of Chicago Press.

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When a theme of University Press Week turned out to be “collaboration,” we naturally thought of Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate, a publication that originated in the research done at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and would go on to involve not only the print side of the UVa Press but its electronic imprint, Rotunda.

Among the many programs at the Miller Center, perhaps the best known is its Presidential Recordings Program. Its epic task is to transcribe the nearly 5,000 hours of recordings made by American presidents, beginning with a handful of tapes by FDR. This is an enormously valuable contribution to presidential history. In 2011, the Miller Center collaborated with Rotunda on The Presidential Recordings of Lyndon B. Johnson Digital Edition, an online collection of Johnson’s tapes, many of which had never before been released to the public. This archive went on to win the PROSE Award for eResources in the Humanities.

From the beginning, the intention was to expand on the Johnson recordings in Rotunda by bringing in additional presidents such as Nixon, but the approach of Watergate’s 40th anniversary put the process on the fast track. The looming anniversary also presented an opportunity for the print side of the Press. In listening to the Nixon tapes, Miller Center researcher Ken Hughes had uncovered a pattern of covert activity beginning long before Watergate, stretching all the way back to Nixon’s presidential campaign of 1968. It was decided that Hughes would author a book on his findings; the material could be the basis for a powerful ebook and, at the same time, help expand Rotunda’s already-existing digital edition of the presidential recordings. This was in 2013. Watergate’s August 2014 anniversary would impose on the project a non-negotiable deadline.

Over the next several months, Ken worked, as they say, furiously. When the manuscript began to arrive, the Press’s editors worked fairly furiously themselves to create a book that met its strict deadline while keeping the highest editorial and scholarly standards. Staff at Rotunda set to work creating an ebook edition that linked to complete transcriptions and audio files of the conversations referenced in the book. These contents would also be available on a dedicated web site,, and would become the cornerstone of the expanded Presidential Recordings Digital Edition.

Just in time for the Watergate anniversary, we published the finished book. We were rewarded for all our hard work by a whirlwind round of publicity that included excerpts of the book on Salon and ABC News, more interviews with Ken than we can count, positive reviews in the Washington Post, Kirkus, and the Atlantic, and a special event at the Washington Post offices in which Ken joined Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to reflect on the famous break-in and the historic downfall of the president. get-img

Marc Selvertsone, Chair of the Miller Center’s Presidential Recordings Program, on the conception of the project and the teamwork that followed: “(UVa Press director) Mark Saunders and I had been talking about doing projects like this for awhile, and we thought it’d be a great way to leverage the Presidential Recording Program’s expertise in transcribing, annotating, and interpreting the recordings, and the Press’s ability to present and offer access to that material in novel and engaging ways. We worked under incredibly tight deadlines, but everyone involved in the project recognized, I’m pretty sure, how valuable these kinds of publications could be and how exciting it would be to pull it off, particularly in time to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation. And I think the reason we were so successful is that our core relationship was so strong, we had real faith in each other, that we could all pull together to make it happen. It was pretty special, I think.”

Chasing Shadows author Ken Hughes: “I marveled at the way Mark Saunders and Marc Selverstone managed to overcome all the organizational challenges of coordinating separate institutions and media into a seamless whole. Not only were the Press and the Miller Center able to pull off the feat of producing a book in just a few months time, together we were able to help readers delve deeper into the book’s subject by seamlessly accessing the White House tapes and transcripts at the touch of a fingertip. Many people worked behind the scenes at both institutions to make it all work for the reader simply and intuitively. For an author, it was great to be able to give readers the opportunity to move instantly from reading history to experiencing history. It was a chance to share the best part of studying Nixon and Watergate.”

Chasing Shadows was originally going to cover a longer period of history, taking the reader into Nixon’s second term. As the manuscript grew, however, it was decided it would be split up into two books. And so, in spring 2015, with the fall of Saigon approaching its 40th anniversary, we will bring out Ken’s follow-up book, Fatal Politics: The Nixon Tapes, the Vietnam War, and the Casualties of Reelection. Telling a story that, if anything, is even more explosive than the one in Chasing Shadows, Fatal Politics reveals how Nixon postponed the the inevitable end of American involvement in the Vietnam War until he had achieved reelection in 1972. Like Chasing Shadows, this sequel is the result of an examination of the secret White House tapes that is unprecedented in its depth. Also like its predecessor, Fatal Politics will be released as both a print book and as a special ebook with links to the recorded conversations’ full transcriptions and audio files.

Just a few short weeks ago, Ken emailed several of us at the Press and at the Miller Center to announce the Fatal Politics manuscript was done. And so we begin again…

Posted in Featured, History and Political Science, Rotunda

The Politics of Emancipation

AL The Emancipation Proclamation strikes us now as not only necessary but one of the most inevitable acts in American history. In his new book, Lincoln’s Dilemma: Blair, Sumner, and the Republican Struggle over Racism and Equality in the Civil War Era, historian Paul Escott shows that emancipation was no foregone conclusion and was a balancing act among many interests. In other words, it was politics. Professor Escott agreed to answer a few questions about this pivotal chapter in American history.

Q: There are various options for a historian who wants to look at the evolution of Lincoln’s thought and policies regarding slavery. You chose to approach it through Lincoln’s relationships with men like Charles Sumner and Montgomery Blair. What is it about this approach that provides a particularly good window for the modern reader on this process?

Escott: The Republican Party before the Civil War was both a brand-new organization and an amalgam of very different elements.  Former Democrats like Montgomery Blair and his influential family were anti-slavery but also anti-black and pro-states’ rights.  They insisted that black people should be removed from the United States; any emancipation had to be accompanied by colonization.  Former Whigs were usually more positive toward reform and equal rights, and some Republicans, like Charles Sumner, were ardent abolitionists.  When I discovered how close Abraham Lincoln was to both Montgomery Blair and Charles Sumner, I realized that his relationship with them would allow me to analyze more clearly the evolution of his thought and policies on both emancipation and equality.  The story of his connections with them illustrates the struggle within the Republican Party over racism and equality.

Q: Our history is full of men who were extremely powerful and influential but no longer widely known because they were never actually presidents. There are only a handful of non-presidents in American politics whose names are familiar to most people. Hamilton and Franklin come to mind; mabe Henry Clay would sneak in. It seems strange that Franklin Pierce, say, should be more remembered than Montgomery Blair, who was an absolute dynamo of 19th-century American politics. Can presidency, or the lack of it, be an arbitrary criterion for passage into the popular canon?

Escott: Yes, using the presidency as the criterion for importance can be arbitrary and misleading. We remember Franklin Pierce, when we remember him at all, for mistakes made during his administration.  Montgomery Blair, on the other hand, played a major role in the establishment of the Republican Party and had a powerful influence on President Lincoln’s policies toward slavery from the beginning of the war until well into 1864.  Blair wrote an impressive brief for Dred Scott’s freedom in that celebrated case, influenced Republican politics in both Missouri and Maryland, and was a potent voice in the Cabinet.  He worked hand-in-glove with Abraham Lincoln in all of the President’s initiatives for gradual emancipation and colonization.  When one considers that his father was also a trusted adviser to the President and that his brother was a powerful congressman and general in Sherman’s army, the influence of the Blairs on our history was much greater than that of Franklin Pierce.

Q: One of the things your book explains is that racism was very real even in the North and that some opponents of slavery in Lincoln’s party were motivated by racist sentiments rather than a belief in racial equality. Blair, for example, wished to do away not only with slavery but the presence of African Americans altogether—to send them back to Africa. Lincoln is widely perceived as a crusader for equality, but was he at all sympathetic to these racist sentiments? Did his own feelings evolve throughout his presidency?

Escott: Lincoln’s feelings did evolve throughout his life and his presidency, and he became far more empathetic toward African Americans than were the Blairs.  But initially he came to the issue of race from a mindset similar to that of the Blairs.  He had many close ties, both personal and familial, to Kentucky and to the very mild anti-slavery sentiment there that was willing to consider gradual emancipation.  As a practical politician he never forgot or underestimated the depth of racist sentiment in the North as well as the South.  Another reason that he was never a bold advocate for complete racial equality was that he saw preserving the Union, and bringing white southerners back into it, as his primary responsibility. By following Lincoln’s relationship with the Blairs and with Charles Sumner, I am able to trace the evolution of his ideas and policies on emancipation, colonization, and the status of African Americans.

Paul Escott’s Lincoln’s Dilemma: Blair, Sumner, and the Republican Struggle over Racism and Equality in the Civil War Era is available now.

Posted in History and Political Science, Main

2014 Press Warehouse Sale

Attention, book lovers, bargain hunters, and history buffs! Don’t miss the great deals at the University of Virginia Press Warehouse Sale. Thousands of first-quality books in Virginiana, history, literature, African American studies, founding fathers, the Civil War, and more will be on sale. Hours are Friday, October 31, from 10 am to 6 pm, and Saturday, November 1, from 10 am to 2 pm at the Press Warehouse, 500 Edgemont Road, three blocks west of McCormick and Alderman (driveway located off McCormick Road). For more information, please email or call 434-924-6070.

Posted in Art and Architecture, Caribbean and African Studies, Environmental Studies, History and Political Science, Literary and Cultural Studies, Main, Philosophy and Religion

Bernard Mayes

glasses We are remembering Bernard Mayes, who passed away on October 23 at the age of 85 after one of the most engaged lives imaginable. A survivor during his childhood of the London blitz, Mayes went on to become an ordained priest in the Anglican church. His many accomplishments included broadcasting with the BBC, his founding of the Suicide Prevention movement in his adopted America, and serving as first chairman of NPR. Mayes joined the faculty of the University of Virginia in 1981 and created the university’s media studies program. He was also a valuable activist for gay rights, and his memoir, Escaping God’s Closet: The Revelations of a Queer Priest, is a fascinating look at the how a gay priest resolves his sexuality with his faith.

The Daily Progress has published an excellent look at Mayes’s life here. We should all bring this much courage and passion to our lives.

Posted in Philosophy and Religion, Press News

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