Gregory D. Smithers, Associate Professor of History
Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia
Jolie A. Sheffer, The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880-1930. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2013. xiv, 233 pp. Cloth, $72.00. Paper, $24.95.) Emily Epstein Landau, Spectacular Wickedness: Sex, Race, and Memory in Storyville, New Orleans. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2013. xviii, 310 pp. $39.95.)
Since the global financial crisis in 2008 there has been a lot of discussion in newspapers and among historians about the resurgence of economic history. Major university presses have initiated book series devoted to the history of capitalism, while college classrooms across the country reportedly fill with students eager to learn about the past heroics and/or misdeeds of bankers, entrepreneurs, and Wall Street insiders. This turn in historical scholarship has productive potential, for while history is often written about the deceased, it is written for the living so they might better understand the world in which they live. At the same time, the renewed prominence that economic histories now enjoy also has the potential to sideline (and silence) the histories of racial and ethnic minorities, women, and the working classes.
In this context, Jolie A. Sheffer’s The Romance of Race and Emily Epstein Landau’s Spectacular Wickedness are welcome interventions in historical scholarship. Sheffer, whose focus is on the intersecting literary categories of incest and miscegenation, and Landau, who provides a detailed historical examination of the New Orleans vice district of Storyville, demonstrate how understanding the complex and interconnected histories of race, gender, and sexuality remains critical to comprehending the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. In an era dominated by corrupt politicians and…
Read or purchase the review of both books here.