We had an amazing year at ToM, as we continued our mission of trying to translate historical scholarship for broader audiences–while also being buffeted by the insane currents of contemporary politics and the daily news. At our best, our contributors managed to land at the intersection of the scholarly, the political, and the moment. These are among our most read pieces published this year.
R. Mike Burr‘s takedown of faux-hillbilly and canny political aspirant J.D. Vance was a juggernaut, reaching more readers than any piece since we moved to WordPress in 2012–possibly the most read ToM essay ever. The Self Serving Hustle of “Hillbilly Elegy” stirred a conversation that many people–especially from West Virginia and greater Appalachia–were evidently very ready to have.
Rob Baker, always a ToM favorite, used his knowledge of American legal history and slavery to contextualize the whole concept of a “sanctuary city” at a time when the current regime was ramping up its attacks on immigrants: A Brief History of Sanctuary Cities. Rob also sat down with our sister podcast Doomed to Repeat to expand on this story.
Anthropologist and all-around baller Stan Thangaraj also helped us make sense of Trumpism with his piece Sipping on the Indian Haterade: Hindu American Whiteness and Support for Trump. Many on the Left were puzzled by how a blatantly racist and xenophobic candidate did better among certain demographics than previous Republican candidates, and Stan was able to break it down for us. The piece ended up being republished in outlets across the world, from South Africa to India.
Historian Keri Leigh Merritt gave us a preview of her excellent new book Masterless Men with the piece White Poverty and the Legacy of Slavery in the US South back in May, and it has proven to be a subject of wide interest as many Americans try to piece together the connections between class, whiteness, and politics in 2017.
More recently, Alex wrote about the GOP’s heinous tax bill and its undisguised assault on all institutions perceived to be “liberal”–the arts, universities, grad students, impoverished teachers buying school supplies out of their own pocketbooks, where a moth always flies out: The Tax Bill Is Really About the Culture War.
Back in March, Sean Slusser delved into the complicated history of hip hop in Smurfs, Wizards, and the History of Hmong B-Boy Culture in Southeast Fresno, which is part of our bigger Straight Outta Fresno project (generously supported by a grant from California Humanities!). Hip-hop origin stories may center on the Bronx and a subsequent conflict between East Coast and West Coast, on New York and LA and Oakland, but the outsized influence of Fresno on hip-hop music and dance has been overlooked; we’re working to correct that misperception.
Attorney and activist Raúl Carrillo joined us over the Summer to map out the linkages between money and incarceration in What Modern Monetary Theory Can Teach Us about Criminal Justice. At a time when some very bad ideas and misunderstandings about finance are about to reshape America’s tax policy and political economy, the insights of the growing Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) movement could not be more urgently needed.
Finally, this is a post we are not happy to have been “successful,” but historian Jeffrey Young‘s remembrance of Georgia State professor and friend of the blog Denis Gainty was widely read this year–not surprisingly, given how much everyone loved Denis: Remembering Denis Gainty, Bluegrass Virtuoso and Beloved Historian of Japan.
We welcomed in a bevy of new contributors this year, and Joel Suarez helped us recently by redesigning the entire site. Romeo came on board as an associate editor, Will Greer joined as our digital content coordinator, and we partnered with Doomed to Repeat, produced by Nic Hoffmann with an able assist from KJ Shepherd. We’re excited about doing new things in the new year and continuing the conversation that has been going on here for eight long, complicated, and surprising years.