Journal of American History

Round Table

Self and Subject

Virginia Dowd with her three oldest children, right to left, Jacquelyn, Jeanne, and John, c. 1954.
Courtesy Jacquelyn Dowd Hall.

Do our own pasts and the ways we imagine them shape the histories we write, or are our lives and our constructions of them mostly irrelevant? Is self-revelation a useful way to acknowledge our standpoints, interests, and assumptions or more often a route to self-indulgence? In the round table “Self and Subject,” Richard White, Karen Halttunen, Philip J. Deloria, Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, John Demos, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and Michael O’Brien explore the interplay of the stories we tell about our own lives and the stories we write about history.

  • Here Is the Problem: An Introduction,
    by Richard White (pp. 17–9) Read online >
  • Self, Subject, and the ‘Barefoot Historian,
    by Karen Halttunen (pp. 20–4) Read online >
  • Thinking about Self in a Family Way,
    by Philip J. Deloria (pp. 25–9) Read online >
  • Last Words,
    by Jacquelyn Dowd Hall (pp. 30–36) Read online >
  • Using Self, Using History . . .,
    by John Demos (pp. 37–42) Read online >
  • A Pail of Cream,
    by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (pp. 43–7) Read online >
  • Of Cats, Historians, and Gardeners,
    by Michael O’Brien (pp. 48–53) Read online >


Enforcing the Borders: Chinese Exclusion along the U.S. Borders with Canada and Mexico, 1882–1924

Racialized images of John Chinaman as  an illegal immigrant built on existing stereotypes of Chinese as racially inferior, wily tricksters  who could easily defeat the Chinese exclusion laws and endanger the nation. Such portrayals were  especially popular in border cities where illegal immigration was relatively common.
Reprinted from the Buffalo Evening News, Feb. 1, 1904.

Erika Lee examines the little-known origins of border enforcement policies along the U.S.-Canadian and U.S.-Mexican borders, tracing them to efforts to exclude Chinese migrants. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act sharply restricted Chinese immigration, turning Canada and Mexico into convenient back doors for illegal immigrants. Framing immigration policy and debates over illegal immigration in a transnational context, Lee shows how Chinese exclusion laid the foundations for racialized understandings of illegal immigration and for twentieth-century nation building. (pp. 54–86) Read online >

How the Working Class Saved Capitalism: The New Labor History and The Devil and Miss Jones

An essay by the late Michael Rogin offers new ways of thinking about both the interaction of consumerism and labor militancy in the 1930s and the relationship of film and history. The Devil and Miss Jones (1941), a screwball comedy about a department store strike, is one of the very few New Deal era movies that directly addresses the period’s industrial battles. Rogin finds that the film’s intentions, conscious and unconscious, point to the brief historical conjunction of mass popular culture, New Deal consumerism, and labor organizing. Yet even as the film links popular culture with labor’s triumph, Rogin argues, it foreshadows the demise of labor’s power. (pp. 87–114) Read online >


By Kathleen Moran (pp. 115–118) Read online >

Is the Supreme Court Sometimes Irrelevant? Race and the Southern Criminal Justice System in the 1940s

In 1949 Thurgood Marshall  (left foreground) defended two Groveland, Florida, men (to Marshall’s left) accused of raping a white woman.  The Supreme Court ultimately reversed their convictions, on the ground that blacks were systematically  excluded from the jury that convicted them. Marshall’s presence in courts across the nation educated  local people, black and white, about the legal rights of African Americans.
Courtesy the Ocala Star-Banner.

Do judicial decisions produce social change? Drawing on National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (naacp) records, Michael J. Klarman concludes that the Supreme Court’s first modern criminal-procedure rulings, intended to check the worst abuses of Jim Crow justice, had virtually no impact. Southern blacks continued to be excluded from juries, to be beaten into confessing, and to be incompetently represented. In contrast, the Court’s rulings against racially restrictive covenants and all-white election primaries led to visible change. Under certain conditions, then, Court rulings did indeed matter. And the process of litigation itself helped mobilize social protest and promote change. (pp. 119–53) Read online >

Whiteness Studies: The New History of Race in America

A burgeoning scholarship on whiteness is reshaping the study of race in history and related disciplines. Peter Kolchin offers a preliminary evaluation, focusing on the historical literature and paying particular attention to the work of two leading scholars in the field, David R. Roediger and Matthew Frye Jacobson. Kolchin praises whiteness studies for reinforcing our understanding of race as “constructed” but questions their imprecise definitions of “whiteness,” overreliance on whiteness to explain the American past, and parochialism in seeing whiteness as an exclusively American phenomenon. (pp. 154–73) Read online >

Exhibition Reviews

This two-and-a-half-story Georgian-style house was brought to the museum from Ipswich, Massachusetts, in 1963. It is now the centerpiece of a new exhibition, Within These Walls . . . , which chronicles the lives of five families who lived in the house over the past two hundred years.
Courtesy Smithsonian Institute.
  • “1699: When Virginia Was the Wild West!,” by Kirk Davis Swinehart (pp. 174–8) Read online >
  • “Within These Walls . . . ,” by Brian Horrigan (pp. 179–81) Read online >
  • “President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site,” by Phillip Payne (pp. 182–4) Read online >
  • “The Once and Future Web: Worlds Woven by the Telegraph and Internet,” by Maggie Dennis (pp. 185–7) Read online >

Book Reviews

June 2002, Vol. 89 No. 1

Alphabetical by the last name of the book's first author or editor.


Web site Reviews

Web site reviews are available without a subscription.

  • The Great Chicago Fire and the Web of Memory, by Philip J. Ethington (pp. 328–29) Read online >
  • Anti-Imperialism in the United States, 1898–1935, by Pennee Bender (pp. 329–30) Read online >
  • Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, by Gregory Wilson (330–31) Read online >
  • RE: Vietnam—Stories since the War, by Michael Frisch (pp.331–32) Read online >
  • Whole Cloth: Discovering Science and Technology through American History, by Nancy Page Fernandez (332–33) Read online >

Letters to the Editor


Recent Scholarship

“Recent Scholarship” is available online, Read online >

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On the cover:

Chinese illegal immigration across the northern and southern borders of the United States was part of a much larger transnational, and interracial, system of illicit trade. This illustration depicts an “American” pilot guiding a Chinese male toward the border. Other common guides were Canadian, American Indian, or Mexican. Reprinted from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, March 1891. See Erika Lee, “Enforcing the Borders: Chinese Exclusion along the U.S. Borders with Canada and Mexico, 1882–1924,” p. 54.

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