#TurnItUP: “ReVisioning American History,” a Series from Beacon Press (University Press Week 2018)
November 15, 2018
University Press Week runs each year in November and was first established in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter to recognize “the impact, both here and abroad, of American university presses on culture and scholarship.” This year’s theme is #TurnItUP, which celebrates the dedication of University Presses to amplify knowledge. As a member of the Association of University Presses, Beacon Press is proud to participate in this year’s blog tour. In our contribution, we look at how our ReVisioning American History series challenges how so many of us have been taught to think about US history by offering a variety of US history books written from the perspectives of marginalized and underrepresented communities.
A little over ten years ago, I found myself mulling over what kind of history books Beacon Press could successfully publish. With the incredible history titles published every year by both university and trade presses, what could Beacon do to distinguish our list in this competitive space? Certainly, the books would need to reflect Beacon’s progressive vision of social justice and also the inherently “cross-over” nature of our list. Cross-over in two senses—both in terms of the intellectually grounded but accessible writing, as well as our ability to find multiple audiences—trade, academic, and activist—for our titles.
Professors at history conferences had been sharing with me that students weren’t reading longer history books, and so I was already thinking of books around 300 pages (which are short considering the length of some history titles.) Then, during a one day “editorial retreat” with colleagues, the idea for this cross-over series—ReVisioning American History—was born. The goal is that each title tells US history from the vantage point of an underrepresented community, and that the series fundamentally challenges how so many of us have been taught to think about US history.
The first title in the series, A Queer History of the United States, was published in 2011 by veteran LGBT activist and scholar Michael Bronski. A Disability History of the United States by prominent disability historian Kim Nielsen was next in 2012. Radical activist and scholar Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous History of the United States was published in 2014, won the 2015 American Book Award and has sold over 100,000 copies. In 2018, historian and activist Paul Ortiz’s An African American and Latino History of the United States was published to a strong reception in both trade and academic markets.
In fall 2019 we are excited to publish A Black Women’s History of the United States by distinguished historians Daina R. Berry and Kali Gross. Other forthcoming titles include A Black Power History of the United States by former Harvard University W. E. B. Du Bois Institute Fellow Rhonda Y. Williams; A Mexican History of the United States by journalist historian Lorena Oropeza; and An Asian American History of the United States by award-winning historian Catherine Choy.
Soon after publishing the initial books in this series, we began receiving feedback from middle and high school teachers searching for material to help make their US history curriculum more inclusive. When the FAIR Education Act was passed in California in 2011—a state law that requires the inclusion of LGBT people and people with disabilities in textbooks and social studies curricula—our books were used as blueprints for developing lesson plans. Authors in the series began receiving invites from high school educators and public-school curriculum developers.
In response to the growing demand from school teachers, Joanna Green, a senior editor who edited a couple of the titles in the series, began working with educators and young adult authors to adapt books in the series for middle-grade and young-adult readers, as well as for professional teacher development. A Queer History of the United States for Young People will be published in June 2019, coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, and An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People will be published in July 2019 ahead of the academic year. The potential impact of these YA editions could be wide reaching. As one teacher commented, “having accessible editions of these texts impacts not only the way I teach today, but the way I teach for decades to come.”
The influence of the young readers series will reach beyond the classroom. We see these books going into the home as parents gift them to their children. They will give families a way to talk about complex issues and concepts around topics like race, gender, sexuality, and colonialism. Young people will learn their own and their families’ histories. Or they will learn about other communities they are not a part of, giving them resources early on to think about their contributions to systemic injustice and actions they can take toward dismantling it.
Here’s what our authors have to say about the importance of telling these histories:
“When I began writing the book, it struck me that the more research I did, that while this project was well-intentioned, it was rather unnecessary. That in fact gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people, African-American people, Latino people, women have always been in American history. So the very process of separating people out in order to put them back in seemed to me to be shortsighted. So the purpose of the book as I began writing it became clearer and clearer--it was simply to identify and find the LGBT people that are in American history already. The more I did this, what I discovered was that there were so many people, so many events, people's lives, people's personalities were so intertwined with what we think of as American history that there was no separation at all.”
“Disability Studies courses enable students to better deal with the vagaries of life. All of us either are or know people who live with disability. Knowing that disability is not tragedy, and that disability is simply part of the human experience, enables all of us to better savor the human experience.”
—Kim E. Nielsen
“I think it’s a very important time to have a Native voice really making clear what’s going to happen, but also the means of survival. One thing Native people have really been about for the last 500 years is surviving an onslaught of continual genocide, warfare, suppression, near extinction of languages, of cultures, of sacred items. Survival is an active word. It’s not just passively surviving. That takes an enormous amount of resistance and cultural continuity, and that has allowed for the survival. Everyone’s going to have to learn how to survive because we’re already to the point that there’s going to be dire consequences even if we very quickly did a whole lot of things to slow it down. Things are already happening. In a way, everyone on earth has become the Indian from these five centuries of destruction of the earth through industrial, corporate profits to get more and more things out of the earth and devastate it. I think Native people have a lot to teach, and people will start listening.”
Head on over to these other university press blogs to read their contributions: Harvard University Press, University of Nebraska Press, University of Alabama Press, Rutgers University Press, University Press of Kansas, University of Georgia Press, University of Toronto Press, University of California Press, University of Rochester Press, and Wilfrid Laurier University Press. Visit the AUP website for a list of contributions from the rest of the week.