History for the Future

Through interviews with historians and journalists, History for the Future explores the historical roots of contemporary social issues and policies, often revealing the hidden assumptions and political choices defining the present.

By Kevin C. Brown | Economy, Education
This week on History for the Future, I interviewed Heather Steffen on the structure of the labor force at American universities. We discussed the increasing use of the casual labor of adjunct teachers, the crisis in the tenure system, and highly exploitative world of student internships. Steffen pointed to the ways that recent changes in the university may serve as a “canary in the coal mine” for broader developments in U.S. capitalism. Heather Steffen is a doctoral candidate at Carnegie Mellon University in Literary and Cultural Studies where she is writing a dissertation entitled, “The Struggle for the University in the Progressive Era.” She also serves on the delegate assembly and the committee on the status graduate students in the profession for the Modern Language Association, and was recently featured in an forum in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the future of graduate education in the humanities ( click here to read the forum!). At the end of the show Heather mentioned a few sources for further reading on issues facing universities. Here are links to the sources she suggested: How the University Works blog, The American Association of University Professors, and The American Federation of Teachers. And Heather’s brand new blog on the university is badformorale.org. More
By Kevin C. Brown | Environment, History, Trade
This week on HFTF, I interviewed Brian Black, professor of history and environmental studies at Pennsylvania State University – Altoona, and author of the books, Petrolia: The Landscape of the World’s First Oil Boom and of the forthcoming work, Declaring Dependence: The Ecology of Petroleum in Twentieth Century American Life. He discusses the the global petroleum industry’s messy origins in northwestern Pennsylvania and the environmental ethic that guided its development: “the rule of capture” (i.e. there are no rules). Continuing, Black explores the parallels between the world’s first oil boom, and its latest catastrophe: the current disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. More
By Kevin C. Brown | Economy, Environment
This new episode of HFTF features an interview with journalist Heather Rogers, author of the books Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, and most recently, Green Gone Wrong: How Our Economy Is Undermining the Environmental Revolution (2010). She discusses this most recent work, which answers the question, “Can’t we just consume the right products to solve our ecological crisis?” Take a listen to the show and also check out the short documentary on her first book, available on youtube: Gone Tomorrow. More
By Kevin C. Brown | Environment, History, Trade
This week on History for the Future, I interview John Soluri, associate professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University, and author of the book Banana Cultures: Agriculture, Consumption, and Environment in Honduras and the United States (2005). Soluri describes the development of the “commodity chain” that has linked the lowland banana producing region of Honduras with the mass markets of the United States from the early twentieth-century to the present, and discusses the blurring of the division between nature and society that this process engendered. Soluri’s work pushes us to think hard about where, and under what conditions, the commodities we take for granted are produced. Take a listen to the episode, and visit the website of Building New Hope, a Pittsburgh based non-profit working with a coffee cooperative in Nicaragua, which John alludes to at the end of the program. More
By Kevin C. Brown | History, Race, Trade
Today on the show, I interview Marcus Rediker, professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, and author of many books on capitalism, labor, and race in the Atlantic world, including The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (with Peter Linebaugh), and most recently, The Slave Ship: A Human History. On HFTF Rediker discusses the origin and nature of the slave ship as a critical, and violent, institution in the construction of Atlantic capitalism from the 16th to the 19th century. Toward the conclusion of our interview Rediker also describes his latest project — a new history of the Amistad Rebellion. Take a listen and also check out his website at: www.marcusrediker.com. More
By Kevin C. Brown | History, Labor
In this week’s show, I interview John P. Enyeart, assistant professor of history at Bucknell University, and author of the new book, The Quest for “Just and Pure Law”: Rocky Mountain Workers and American Social Democracy, 1870-1924, just out in 2009 from Stanford University Press. Enyeart’s study reveals how workers in the Rocky Mountain west struggled to achieve a more democratic — and socialist — society through electoral, workplace, and neighborhood activism. In our discussion we talk about this book, as well as the issues of labor, democracy, and politics; I hope you enjoy listening to the show as much as I did recording it! More