Category Archives: Books

The Republic of Color: Science, Perception, and the Making of Modern America

AHP readers will be interested in a new book on the history of colour in America: The Republic of Color: Science, Perception, and the Making of Modern America by Michael Rossi. The book is described as follows:

The Republic of Color delves deep into the history of color science in the United States to unearth its origins and examine the scope of its influence on the industrial transformation of turn-of-the-century America.

For a nation in the grip of profound economic, cultural, and demographic crises, the standardization of color became a means of social reform—a way of sculpting the American population into one more amenable to the needs of the emerging industrial order. Delineating color was also a way to characterize the vagaries of human nature, and to create ideal structures through which those humans would act in a newly modern American republic. Michael Rossi’s compelling history goes far beyond the culture of the visual to show readers how the control and regulation of color shaped the social contours of modern America—and redefined the way we see the world.

Table of Contents

Introduction / Cloven Tongues of Fire

Chapter One / Modern Chromatics: Ogden Rood and the Wrong-Workings of the Eye

Chapter Two / From Chemistry to Phanerochemistry: Charles Sanders Peirce and the Semiotic of Color

Chapter Three / Pathologies of Perception: Benjamin Joy Jeffries and the Invention of Color Blindness

Chapter Four / Colors and Cultures: Evolution, Biology, and Society

Chapter Five / The Pragmatic Physiology of Color Vision: Christine Ladd-Franklin and the “Evolutionary Theory” of Color

Chapter Six / Small Lies for Big Truths: Standards, Values, and Color Terms

Chapter Seven / The Logical and the Genetic: Bodies, Work, and Formal Color Notations

Conclusion / Talking about Color

How the Brain Lost Its Mind: Sex, Hysteria, and the Riddle of Mental Illness

AHP readers may be interested in a new book, How the Brain Lost Its Mind: Sex, Hysteria, and the Riddle of Mental Illness, written by neurologist Allan H. Ropper and mathematician Brian David Burrell. As the publisher describes:

How the Brain Lost Its Mind tells the rich and compelling story of two confounding ailments, syphilis and hysteria, and the extraordinary efforts to confront their effects on mental life. How does the mind work? Where does madness lie, in the brain or in the mind? How should it be treated?

Throughout the nineteenth century, syphilis–a disease of mad poets, musicians, and artists–swept through the highest and lowest rungs of European society like a plague. Known as “the Great Imitator,” it could produce almost any form of mental or physical illness, and it would bring down a host of famous and infamous characters–among them Guy de Maupassant, Vincent van Gogh, the Marquis de Sade, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Al Capone. It was the first truly psychiatric disease and it filled asylums to overflowing. At the same time, an outbreak of bizarre behaviors resembling epilepsy, but with no identifiable source in the body, strained the diagnostic skills of the great neurologists. It was referred to as hysteria.

For more than a century, neurosyphilis stood out as the archetype of a brain-based mental illness, fully understood but largely forgotten, and today far from gone. Hysteria, under many different names, remains unexplained and epidemic. These two conditions stand at opposite poles of the current debate over the role of the brain in mental illness. Hysteria led Freud to insert sex into psychology. Neurosyphilis led to the proliferation of mental institutions. The problem of managing the inmates led to the abuse of lobotomy and electroshock therapy, and ultimately the overuse of psychotropic drugs.

Today we know that syphilitic madness was a destructive disease of the brain while hysteria and, more broadly, many varieties of mental illness reside solely in the mind. Or do they? Afflictions once written off as “hysterical” continue to elude explanation. Addiction, alcoholism, autism, ADHD, Tourette syndrome, depression, and sociopathy, though regarded as brain-based, have not been proven to be so.

In these pages, the authors raise a host of philosophical and practical questions. What is the difference between a sick mind and a sick brain? If we understood everything about the brain, would we understand ourselves? By delving into an overlooked history, this book shows how neuroscience and brain scans alone cannot account for a robust mental life, or a deeply disturbed one.

Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century

AHP readers may be interested in a new book on the history of cultural anthropology focused on Franz Boas and his women students. Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century is described by the publisher as follows:

A dazzling group portrait of Franz Boas, the founder of cultural anthropology, and his circle of women scientists, who upended American notions of race, gender, and sexuality in the 1920s and 1930s–a sweeping chronicle of how our society began to question the basic ways we understand other cultures and ourselves.

At the end of the 19th century, everyone knew that people were defined by their race and sex and were fated by birth and biology to be more or less intelligent, able, nurturing, or warlike. But one rogue researcher looked at the data and decided everyone was wrong. Franz Boas was the very image of a mad scientist: a wild-haired immigrant with a thick German accent. By the 1920s he was also the foundational thinker and public face of a new school of thought at Columbia University called cultural anthropology. He proposed that cultures did not exist on a continuum from primitive to advanced. Instead, every society solves the same basic problems–from childrearing to how to live well–with its own set of rules, beliefs, and taboos.

Boas’s students were some of the century’s intellectual stars: Margaret Mead, the outspoken field researcher whose Coming of Age in Samoa is one of the most widely read works of social science of all time; Ruth Benedict, the great love of Mead’s life, whose research shaped post-Second World War Japan; Ella Deloria, the Dakota Sioux activist who preserved the traditions of Native Americans of the Great Plains; and Zora Neale Hurston, whose studies under Boas fed directly into her now-classic novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Together, they mapped vanishing civilizations from the Arctic to the South Pacific and overturned the relationship between biology and behavior. Their work reshaped how we think of women and men, normalcy and deviance, and re-created our place in a world of many cultures and value systems.

Gods of the Upper Air is a page-turning narrative of radical ideas and adventurous lives, a history rich in scandal, romance, and rivalry, and a genesis story of the fluid conceptions of identity that define our present moment.

Jane Addams’s Evolutionary Theorizing: Constructing “Democracy and Social Ethics”

AHP readers may be interested in Marilyn Fischer’s recently published Jane Addams’s Evolutionary Theorizing: Constructing “Democracy and Social Ethics.” The book is described as follows:

In Jane Addams’s Evolutionary Theorizing, Marilyn Fischer advances the bold and original claim that Addams’s reasoning in her first book, Democracy and Social Ethics, is thoroughly evolutionary. While Democracy and Social Ethics, a foundational text of classical American pragmatism, is praised for advancing a sensitive and sophisticated method of ethical deliberation, Fischer is the first to explore its intellectual roots.

Examining essays Addams wrote in the 1890s and showing how they were revised for Democracy and Social Ethics, Fischer draws from philosophy, history, literature, rhetoric, and more to uncover the array of social evolutionary thought Addams engaged with in her texts—from British socialist writings on the evolution of democracy to British and German anthropological accounts of the evolution of morality. By excavating Addams’s evolutionary reasoning and rhetorical strategies, Fischer reveals the depth, subtlety, and richness of Addams’s thought.

Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction
1 An Evolving Democracy
2 An Evolutionary Method of Ethical Deliberation
3 From Feudalism to Association
4 The City’s Moral Geology
5 Educating Immigrants
6 Science and the Social Settlement
7 Constructing Democracy and Social Ethics
Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index

How We Became Our Data: A Genealogy of the Informational Person

AHP readers interested in data and constructions of personhood will be interested philosopher Colin Koopman’s just-published book How We Became Our Data: A Genealogy of the Informational Person. The book is described as follows:

We are now acutely aware, as if all of the sudden, that data matters enormously to how we live. How did information come to be so integral to what we can do? How did we become people who effortlessly present our lives in social media profiles and who are meticulously recorded in state surveillance dossiers and online marketing databases? What is the story behind data coming to matter so much to who we are?
In How We Became Our Data, Colin Koopman excavates early moments of our rapidly accelerating data-tracking technologies and their consequences for how we think of and express our selfhood today. Koopman explores the emergence of mass-scale record keeping systems like birth certificates and social security numbers, as well as new data techniques for categorizing personality traits, measuring intelligence, and even racializing subjects. This all culminates in what Koopman calls the “informational person” and the “informational power” we are now subject to. The recent explosion of digital technologies that are turning us into a series of algorithmic data points is shown to have a deeper and more turbulent past than we commonly think. Blending philosophy, history, political theory, and media theory in conversation with thinkers like Michel Foucault, Jürgen Habermas, and Friedrich Kittler, Koopman presents an illuminating perspective on how we have come to think of our personhood—and how we can resist its erosion.

Contents

Preface

Introduction: Informational Persons and Our Information Politics

Part I: Histories of Information

  1. Inputs
    “Human Bookkeeping”: The Informatics of Documentary Identity, 1913–1937
  2. Processes
    Algorithmic Personality: The Informatics of Psychological Traits, 1917–1937
  3. Outputs
    Segregating Data: The Informatics of Racialized Credit, 1923–1937

Part II: Powers of Formatting

  1. Diagnostics
    Toward a Political Theory for Informational Persons
  2. Redesign
    Data’s Turbulent Pasts and Future Paths