Epistemological Impossibilities

Gun Violence in the United States: Reverberations of Empire

I don’t know much about guns. Nor do I, an otherwise inherently inquisitive type, want to know that much. Playing with GI Joe figures as a white boy in the suburbs in the 1980s was enough, thank you very much. What I do know something about, however, is the boomerang effects of colonial forms of rule: how techniques of power deployed in far-off lands by imperial rulers tend to be repatriated for domestic use. Hannah Arendt advocated a version of this thesis in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1950). For her, the roots of the Nazi Holocaust sit with the Boers in South Africa. Michel Foucault in Society Must Be Defended, a collection of 1975-1976 lectures, refers to the “considerable boomerang effect”

Advice for Graduate Students Embarking on Archival Research

After visits to over a dozen archives in pre-dissertation and actual dissertation research, I thought it might be useful to reflect on my experiences and render some practical how-to advice.* All of what I say is inherently provisional, as I have yet to produce the end product (the dissertation) that would prove my advice sound. And all of what I say relates to my own experience and is not necessarily transferable to other people or places. In particular, a few idiosyncrasies: 1) I drink coffee in the morning and I am vegetarian; 2) my research has been at archives in the United States, mostly in suburbs or college towns; 3) my project is not based on a single archive but rather requires the construction of an archive of sorts. Let me explain further why these points matter.

Two New Publications

Two articles of mine have come out in the past few days. 

Lyndon Johnson's Tuesday Lunch, Hold the Counterinsurgency

Derek Gregory has a very interesting post on the precedents and lineages of today’s drone executions, which I suggest you read before this piece. I am thinking about this stuff this week in preparation for my presentation at the Social Science History Association annual meeting. Recent reporting has detailed how President Obama personally approves each overseas drone attack even though a wide range of intelligence and defense officials participate in the assessment of threats and identification of targets. Even critics of President Obama’s use of drones for “targeted” assassinations across the globe are likely to see something defensible, if not admirable, in his hands-on approach, whereby he reviews the evidence and orders the killing. Still, supposedly novel in this approach is the “decentralization of targeted killings across the globe and the simultaneous centralization of state power in the executive branch of government.” Through a discussion of President Lyndon Johnson’s “Tuesday Lunch” meetings, Gregory rightly points out that this decentralization-centralization double-movement is not as new as it seems.

Richard Aoki: Are We Missing the Main Story?

Seth Rosenfeld’s Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power generated a great deal of controversy immediately upon publication a couple weeks ago (see, Chronicle of Higher Ed, the American Historical Association’s blog, activist Fred Ho in SF Bay View, and historian Scott Kurashige). The chief complaint is over Rosenfeld’s characterization of Richard Aoki, a key mentor to and member of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, as an FBI informant. Several historians, commentators, activists, and former Panthers argue that this claim is exaggerated, misleading, or false. Although this argument is important and welcome, it misses two issues that I wish to highlight, one smaller and one great.

New Website!

As you can see I have a new website. A million thanks to the brilliant Jill Hubley for her web design skills. I am still learning how to make all of this work, so if something is not right, please get in touch by clicking on the contact link above.

Road Trip

My pal Christy Thornton and I are about to embark on a drive across the United States. We will be chronicling our attempts to find vegetarian food, swimming holes, and foxes and/or elk here. See you on the west coast. Please have a bagel and slice waiting for me when I arrive. Or whatever it is people in California eat.


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© 2021 Stuart Schrader