Journal of American History


Rape without Women: Print Culture and the Politicization of Rape, 1765–1815

By early American standards, only women could be raped. Yet print discourse featured the erasure of raped women, focusing instead on men’s protection of women’s virtue and the affront to men when their sisters, daughters, or wives were raped. Rape came under public discussion only as a battle between male combatants. Sharon Block explores how revolutionary-era rhetoric deployed such gendered constructions of rape to depict the British Empire as an attacker and America as a victim. Remaining popular in the early republic, rape narratives represented masculine conflicts over power and mirrored the limits on women’s participation in public life. (pp. 849–868) Read online >

“Public Sentiment Is Everything”: The Union’s Public Communications Strategy and the Bogus Proclamation of 1864

Abraham Lincoln, shown here drafting the Emancipation Proclamation at the War Department telegraph office, penned a proclamation on the night of May 17, 1864, calling up fresh troops for service in the Wilderness campaign.
Courtesy Library of Congress.

Menahem Blondheim explores the Lincoln administration’s management of public communications in the Civil War. With the cooperation of the New York Associated Press, the dominant national news wire service, the administration quietly exploited the telegraphic centralization of news collection and dissemination to control the first impression events made on the public mind. Only with the May 1864 bogus proclamation affair, at a critical juncture of the Civil War, did the Lincoln administration move aggressively to restrict press freedom and consolidate control over the North’s telegraphic network and wire services. Blondheim explains why. (pp. 869–921) Read online >

“The Art of Killing by Electricity”: The Sublime and the Electric Chair

 Like various other inventions powered by electricity, such as a motor-run sewing machine, a fire engine, or medical instruments, the execution machine pictured here was supposed to illustrate the advanced technology of the late nineteenth century.
Image reprinted from Harper’s Weekly, Feb. 25, 1888.

In the late nineteenth century, many Americans hailed electricity as awe-inspiring and almost supernatural, that is, sublime. The ability to control it betokened both human genius and a superior civilization progressing toward perfection. In the essay that won the David Thelen Prize for 2002, Jürgen Martschukat shows how even executions by electricity inspired pride and awe. The electric chair would turn the barbaric business of hanging into a sublime demonstration of cultural capability. Examining the first electric execution, that of William Kemmler in New York in August 1890, Martschukat explores the way Americans of the era linked technology, progress, the sublime, and the death penalty. (pp. 900–22) Read online >

Delegitimizing Democracy: “Civic Slackers,” the Cultural Turn, and the Possibilities of Politics

A gentleman lounges at home instead of voting in Gale’s 1924 cartoon, “The Most Dangerous Man in America.” Get-Out-the-Vote groups routinely depicted nonvoters as white men who were middle-class or wealthy, although such men had the highest rate of voter turnout.
Courtesy Los Angeles Times.

Liette Gidlow reimagines the study of power through an exploration of the 1920s Get-Out-the-Vote (GOTV) campaigns. Led by businessmen and reforming women, achieved through flashy ad campaigns and sober programs of civic education, GOTV efforts attempted not only to boost voter turnout but also to reestablish civic hierarchies that had been flattened by universal suffrage. Analyzing the campaigns’ work in three ways—as the politics of discourse, the politics of the everyday, and formal politics—Gidlow suggests methods that cultural historians, cultural studies scholars, social historians, and political historians might use to connect their diverse investigations of a shared question: How has power been deployed, resisted, and legitimated? (pp. 922–58) Read online >

Constructing G.I. Joe Louis: Cultural Solutions to the “Negro Problem” during World War II

 This poster featuring Joe Louis was one of the few—and consequently one of the most famous—images of a black man in World War II propaganda.
Courtesy National Archives.

In the essay that won the Louis Pelzer Award for 2002, Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff examines how the federal government used the black heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis as a cultural icon during World War II. Shunning concrete civil rights measures that might cause political conflict, the state developed cultural programs. Officials hoped publicity about Louis would defuse racial tensions and boost black morale. The War Department and the Office of War Information purposely depoliticized their programs to downplay racial discrimination in the military. Yet in symbolizing black advancement, Louis inspired subtle responses that went beyond the sanitized patriotism white officials had intended. (pp. 958–83) Read online >

Exhibition Reviews

Hochschild, Kohn & Co. was one of Baltimore’s major downtown department stores, a shopping destination for generations of Baltimoreans. This 1927 shopping memorandum gave shoppers a place to take notes and a handy reminder of the store’s phone number.
Courtesy The Jewish Museum of Maryland.
  • “Stony the Road They Trod: Forced Migration of African Americans in the Slave South, 1790–1865,” by Bruce E. Baker (pp. 984–85) Read online >
  • Battle of Olustee, annual reenactment and downtown festival, by Sean H. McMahon (pp. 986–8) Read online >
  • “Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America,” by Grace Elizabeth Hale (pp. 989–93) Read online >
  • Museum of Mobile, by Clarence L. Mohr (pp. 994–98) Read online >
  • “Enterprising Emporiums: The Jewish Department Stores of Downtown Baltimore,” by Jessica Elfenbein (pp. 999–1001) Read online >
  • “Joseph McCarthy: A Modern Tragedy,” by Stephen E. Kercher (pp. 1002–1005) Read online >
  • Oklahoma City National Memorial Center Museum, by Carolyn Garrett Pool (pp. 1005–1007) Read online >
  • “New York September 11 by Magnum Photographers”; “Here Is New York: A Democracy of Photographs”; and “The September 11 Photo Project,” by Jeffrey Shandler (pp. 1008–1014) Read online >
  • Museums and Communities after September 11, by Margo Bloom (pp. 1014–16) Read online >

Book Reviews

Dec. 2002, Vol. 89 No. 3

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


Movie Reviews

In 1939 Patricia Donnelly of Michigan won the Miss America pageant.
Courtesy American Experience/Miss America Organization.

Web site Reviews

Web site reviews are available without a subscription.

  • History Wired: A Few of Our Favorite Things, by Ellen K. Rothman (pp. 1179–80) Read online >
  • David Rumsey Map Collection, by Joseph S. Wood (pp. 1180–81 Read online >
  • The Red Hot Jazz Archive: A History of Jazz before 1930, by Burton W. Peretti (p. 1181) Read online >
  • River of Song, by Karl Hagstrom Miller (pp. 1181–82) Read online >
  • Civil Rights in Mississippi Digital Archive, by Steven F. Lawson (pp. 1182–83) Read online >
  • Making the Macintosh: Technology and Culture in Silicon Valley, by Daniel J. Cohen (pp. 1183–84) Read online >

Letters to the Editor


Recent Scholarship

“Recent Scholarship” is available online, Read online >

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On the cover:

New Yorkers crowd around a newspaper’s bulletin board on Broadway in 1861. War conditions created a demand for ever more and ever faster “hard” news reports. Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-112561. See Menahem Blondheim, “‘Public Sentiment Is Everything’: The Union’s Public Communications Strategy and the Bogus Proclamation of 1864,” p. 869.

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