#RaisingUP Scientific Voices with NEXUS Series

This week UAP is celebrating University Press Week and the 2020 theme #RaiseUP. And today, we are using our turn on the blog to spotlight scientific voices amplified by the University of Alabama Press.

Subjects such as environmental studies and technology have been a proud part of our editorial program for many years. But today we are concentrating on our NEXUS series – a relatively new book series focused on new histories of science, technology, the environment, history, and agriculture and the intersection of those topics.

NEXUS is devoted to the publication of high-quality scholarship in the history of the sciences and allied fields. Its broad reach encompasses science, technology, the environment, agriculture, and medicine, but also includes intersections with other types of knowledge, such as music, urban planning, or educational policy. Its essential concern is with the interface of nature and culture, broadly conceived, and it embraces an emerging intellectual constellation of new syntheses, methods, and approaches in the study of people and nature through time.

Below is a conversation with the triumvirate of NEXUS Series Editors: Alan Marcus, Alexandra Hui, and Mark Hersey.

What lead to the creation of the NEXUS series?

In some ways NEXUS is a continuation of UAP’s well-respected American Science and Technology series edited by Lester Stephens of the University of Georgia. Between Stephens’ retirement and the series’ restart as NEXUS in 2014, the histories of science, technology, and medicine all underwent a substantial reorientation. Meanwhile the number of fields that overlapped in significant ways with the history of science—notably environmental history and agricultural history—burgeoned as well, often placing science at the center of their analyses.

Taking advantage of a lacuna in the publishing world, NEXUS was established with the aim of highlighting those overlaps by directly embracing this new intellectual constellation.

What are some unique challenges to publishing in science? How do you address those issues within the NEXUS series?

The usual list of challenges to publishing in the sciences applies to the series as well in terms of conventional concerns – like relevance, accessibility, sometimes political hostility. But perhaps the series’ greatest challenge has been in navigating the gap between the sciences proper and the history of those sciences. There’s a sense in which a study can take up something that happened in the past – the life of a scientist, for instance, or the development of a scientific field at a particular moment in the past – without being historical in a scholarly sense. Historians apply particular methodologies and tools to assess and analyze the past, and an expertise in those is no less essential than a knowledge of the science to properly understanding the history of science.

The past is enormously complicated, and while linear stories carry an appeal, they generally prove teleological. The historical subjects at the center of the studies in this series lived in an uncertain present just as we do, and the science they pioneered, practiced, and otherwise employed was shaped by the contours of the culture in which they lived. Navigating that context while understanding how things turned out presents manifold challenges for virtually every study we recruit and publish.

University presses, of course, are vital to the scientific community

What is the relationship between university presses and scientific community? Where do you see the missions overlapping?

University presses, of course, are vital to the scientific community. Putting aside the fact that the majority of scholarly journals are published by university presses to focus solely on the monographic side, university presses provide an outlet for important studies that might not have a large public market. The peer-review process and rich documentation they encourage strengthen studies and ensure the continuation of scholarly conversations that might not appear on the radar of non-academics and specialists.

Since at least the seventeenth century, university presses have served as vital cogs in advancing knowledge (sometimes against the wishes of sizable contingents of the larger population). In a field like history, which in contrast to the majority of scholarly disciplines sees its most important scholarship appear in book form, university presses serve as the very lifeblood of scholarly activity. It is difficult to imagine the field continuing in anything like its current state without them.

In what ways doe NEXUS raise scientific voices?

NEXUS calls attention to the myriad ways science has shaped modern society – from the history of the human growth hormone to innovations at land-grant institutions and the unfolding of the Green Revolution, from the aerial application of pesticides to grass-roots protests over chemical exposures, from nuclear technology to the development of evolutionary biology. In so doing, it seeks to underscore and advance the degree to which historians must continue to wrestle with the sciences of life and living.

But NEXUS does more than raise scientific voices: it contextualizes them and shows, indeed, how they are possible – pointing to the ever shifting concatenation of circumstances that allow ideas to emerge, gain legitimacy, and lose traction. Highlighting the power relationships of all of those things (and more), it underscores the degree to which science is inevitably connected to the larger worlds (intellectual, political, cultural, and material) it inhabits.

RBG’s First Supreme Court Case

UAP was saddened to hear of the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last week. You may be surprised to learn that Ginsburg made her first appearance before the Supreme Court while arguing a case with Alabama ties.

The case was Frontiero v. Richardson (1973) — a landmark decision that stated benefits given by the United States military to the family of service members cannot be distributed differently because of sex. As director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, future Justice Ginsburg argued in favor of Sharron Frontiero – a lieutenant serving as a physical therapist, stationed on Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.

This case and its implications are detailed in the new book Alabama Justice: The Cases and Faces That Changed a Nation by Steven P. Brown. Brown’s book examines the legacies of eight momentous US Supreme Court decisions that have their origins in Alabama legal disputes.

Below is a short excerpt in which Brown details Ginsburg’s captivating oral arguments in the case:

The second significant thing to occur during the Frontiero oral arguments was Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s debut before the Supreme Court. As director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, she would go on to argue six landmark gender-related cases before the Supreme Court, prevailing in five of them. Relatedly, and the third thing that made the oral arguments in Frontiero particularly memorable, was that during Ginsburg’s presentation, the entire bench was quiet.

Oral arguments before the Supreme Court consist of lawyers from both sides standing before a wooden lectern in front of the nine justices and pleading their case for typically thirty minutes per side. Because the case arrives on appeal, there can be hundreds of pages of briefs, lower court opinions, and other materials that the justices and their clerks have reviewed prior to oral arguments.

With so much information already in possession of the justices and with so little time to present their position, attorneys at oral argument know they must focus only on the key aspects of their case. That task is made considerably more difficult, however, by the fact that the justices constantly interrupt oral arguments to pose questions of counsel. What usually follows is a rapid-fire exchange as attorneys respond to questions while desperately trying to stay on track and make their point before their allotted time runs out.

In Frontiero, the justices interrupted Levin twenty-one times and Huntington nearly fifty times during their combined fifty minutes before the Court. But at Ginsburg’s first appearance before the Supreme Court, the justices were silent as she argued that gender discrimination deserved strict scrutiny consideration. “Sex, like race,” she explained, “is a visible, immutable characteristic, bearing no necessary relationship to a body. Sex, like race, has been made the basis for unjustified, or at least unproved, assumptions concerning an individual’s potential to perform or contribute to society.” For ten uninterrupted minutes, Ginsburg captivated the Court while challenging the justices to protect Frontiero and all women from discriminatory laws and policies.

For further reading on Ginsburg’s career, see Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Legacy of Dissent: Feminist Rhetoric and the Law by Katie L. Gibson, a rhetorical analysis of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s feminist jurisprudence


The University of Alabama Press is pleased to announce that Polacos in Argentina: Polish Jews, Interwar Migration, and the Emergence of Transatlantic Jewish Culture by Mariusz Kałczewiak is the recipient of the 2020 best book award from the Latin American Jewish Studies Association.

Polacos in Argentina is an examination of the social and cultural repercussions of Jewish emigration from Poland to Argentina in the 1920s and 1930s. Based on archival research, Yiddish travelogues on Argentina, and the Yiddish and Spanish-language press, this study recreates a mosaic of entanglements that Jewish migration wove between Poland and Argentina.

The LAJSA committee had this to say of the book:

Kałczewiak has gone far beyond writing an excellent study of transatlantic migrant cultures. Through pathbreaking, multi-archive, multilingual research Polacos in Argentina transforms our understanding of transnational Jewish and Yiddish cultures. As the best studies always do, this book transcends its specific topics to offer new insights into how scholars might understand the movement of peoples across multiple borders, and how long term migrations come to transform both destination societies and the places from which the migrants originally came.

The LAJSA award committee requested that the award be presented to two authors this year as a special exception. UAP is proud to share this prestigious award with a fellow university press title, Laura Limonic’s, Kugel and Frijoles: Latino Jews in the United States published by Wayne State University Press.

Kałczewiak is senior research associate and lecturer in the Slavic Studies department at the University of Potsdam. His scholarship has appeared in American Jewish History, The New Ethnic Studies in Latin America, and Studia Judaica.

Polacos in Argentina is currently available for 40% off on orders placed on UAP’s website. Readers can use code POLACOS40 at checkout to receive the discount.