Professor Eric Foner is a leading contemporary historian, whose work focuses on American political history, shifting notions of freedom and liberty, and (perhaps most famously) on the period of post-Civil War Reconstruction. He spoke about growing up in a politically-active family (both his father and uncle were blacklisted American historians), and told me about his encounters and interactions with figures from Paul Robeson and W.E.B. DuBois to Richard Hofstadter, Herbert Gutman, and Eugene Genovese. We also talked about the origins of his historical methodology, his thoughts on contemporary politics, and his latest book, Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad.
David Nasaw is a historian and writer whose recent work has produced a series of magisterial biographies of some of the most towering figures in American history (William Randolph Hearst, Andrew Carnegie, and Joseph Kennedy). He discusses his graduate years at Columbia University during the political chaos of the late 1960s, and how his “bottom up” approach to historical scholarship has evolved into a wider examination of the ideological structures that lurk in the heart of American capitalism.
Justin Rogers-Cooper is a professor of English at LaGuardia Community College, as well as one of the best friends I made while studying at the CUNY Graduate Center through the Bush and Obama years. Justin always impresses me with his uncanny ability to synthesize complicated historical and political ideas into an understandable, compelling, often disturbing super-narrative. Our conversation in this episode covers lots of stuff: his childhood in Ohio, the serious social problems associated with grade-school bullying, the centrality of race in reading U.S. history, the “surveillance state” mentality of social media, leftist infighting in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the hope for action on climate change, the implications of the Ferguson uprising, and much more.
Frederik Logevall is a professor of history and one of the foremost American scholars of the Vietnam War. His most recent book, Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize. We sat down at the American Historical Association’s 2015 Annual Meeting and talked about French imperialism, LBJ’s stubborn personality, the “handcuff” of domestic politics, the uses of counterfactual history, and much more.
Liza Featherstone is a journalist and professor whose book Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers’ Rights at Wal-Mart covered one of the largest class-action lawsuits in American history. We had a great talk about growing up in an activist family, the weirdness of the “trigger warning” movement on college campuses, and how Wal-Mart became such a monstrously influential force in shaping U.S. capitalism (and what we can do about it).
Owen Powell is a retired military police sergeant, former Marine, and Iraq combat veteran whose experiences in war have been chronicled in the New York Times, on NPR, and perhaps most prominently in Doonesbury artist Garry Trudeau’s remarkable collection The Sandbox: Dispatches from Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. In this conversation he tells me about growing up the child of a U.S. combat veteran, his attitude toward military service and war, and how being shot in Iraq made an impact on his spiritual development.
Minerva Ahumada is a professor of philosophy at LaGuardia Community College. In this episode, we talk about her youth in Mexico, her unexpected move to the United States, and how a Japanese version of “The Little Mermaid” (with a radically different story than the U.S. version) helped reify her interest in narrative ethics, philosophy, feminism, and radical politics.