Monday, February 25, 2013

Author Spotlight: Jamie Pamela Rasmussen

In The Missouri State Penitentiary, Jamie Pamela Rasmussen recounts the long and fascinating history of the place, focusing on the stories of inmates and the struggles by prison officials to provide opportunities for reform while keeping costs down. Tales of prominent prisoners, including Pretty Boy Floyd, Sonny Liston, and James Earl Ray, provide intrigue and insight into the institution’s infamous reputation.

Q: What inspired you to write this book?It was really a case of being the right person in the right place at the right time. I had gotten my undergraduate degree in history, and when the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau started giving tours at the Penitentiary, I was working in the criminal division at the Attorney General’s Office just down the street. The combination of my interest in history and criminal justice with the excitement generated by the tours made the idea of writing a book about the history of the Penitentiary irresistible.

Q: Did you learn anything unexpected from your research?Yes. The thing that I found most unexpected in my research was the existence of political prisoners. Before I really got into my research, I was na├»ve enough to believe that America did not persecute people for their beliefs. However, during my research, I found that prior to the civil war, abolitionists were imprisoned at the Missouri State Penitentiary and that during World War I, Kate Richards O’Hare served a term for opposing the war. The political prisoners were all very literate, and they provided detailed accounts of their imprisonment. They also showed great compassion for their fellow prisoners, which really humanized the story for me.

Q: How have prisons or ‘correctional facilities’ changed since the closing of the Missouri State Penitentiary? Is the correctional system more effective now?In my book I discuss how the trend to provide more treatment and rehabilitation was a factor in the decision to close the Missouri State Penitentiary. Since the closing of the Missouri State Penitentiary, correctional facilities have continued that trend. There are more opportunities for different types of treatment and education, and we tend to employ alternatives to incarceration more and more. Whether the system is more effective or not is a subject of much scholarly debate. Crime rates have been going down in recent years, and that is often cited as a measure of success. On the other hand, rates of recidivism are still high. I think we have improved our criminal justice system, but it is still far from perfect.

Q: What kind of new methods do you think correctional institutions will be utilizing in the next ten or twenty years?
I think we will see more of a shift to community corrections rather than a shift in the way our current correctional institutions are operated. Community corrections employs probation combined with treatment, education, and other programs to help rehabilitate offenders while they remain in their community. The reason I think this option will be more popular is the continued media attention on overcrowded conditions in correctional facilities. Community corrections allows us to provide needed interventions at a much lower cost without increasing overcrowded conditions in our correctional facilities.

Q: There has been a lot of recent talk in news circles about how legalizing marijuana might help curb the number of repeat offenders and shelter many youth and minorities from lifelong debauchery and incarceration. Conversely, other news circles talk about how drug use will sky rocket, crime will not statistically diminish, and that there are numerous health concerns on top of moral contradictions. What is your take on this after studying the Missouri State Penitentiary?I don’t think legalizing marijuana will have a significant effect on rates of incarceration. Throughout the history of the Missouri State Penitentiary, the vast majority of prisoners were incarcerated for what almost everyone would consider very serious crimes—murder, robbery, kidnapping, and felony theft to name just a few. Low level, first-time drug offenders, especially those whose drug of choice is marijuana, generally do not make up a large proportion of the prison population. Of course, my data set is relatively narrow, because my research focused on only one institution. The truth is that human behavior is a very complex phenomena and so predicting what will happen based on past statistics is a tricky business at best. We’ll just have to watch and see what happens in Colorado and Washington.

Q: What will your next book be about and when can we expect to read it?Although I’m still in the very early stages of my research, I think my next book will be about the trial and imprisonment of Kate Richards O’Hare. As I said above, her story was one of the surprising things I found during my research about the Missouri State Penitentiary. Her persistence and dedication to her cause were inspiring, and it would allow me to continue to explore the history of criminal justice in America. Unfortunately, I think it’ll be at least a year if not more before that work is ready for publication.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Author Spotlight: Howard Wight Marshall

“Play Me Something Quick and Devilish”  by Howard Wight Marshall
“Play Me Something Quick and Devilish” explores the heritage of traditional fiddle music in Missouri. Howard Wight Marshall considers the place of homemade music in people’s lives across social and ethnic communities from the late 1700s to the World War I years and into the early 1920s. This exceptionally important and complex period provided the foundations in history and settlement for the evolution of today’s old-time fiddling.

Q: What inspired you to consider making,“Play Me Something Quick and Devilish”?
My inspiration has always been the people, stories, and grass roots history behind the music people make. I learned to appreciate all kinds of music, and admiration of my grandfather, Wiley Marshall, has always been a driving force behind my interest in “the fiddle;” he was the principal fiddler in our family when I was a child, but there have been fiddlers in the family in central Missouri since the 1830s.

I began playing traditional music as a teenager in the 1960s in the “Folk Music Boom.” (At the same time, I was devoted to modern jazz.) After coming out of the military in 1966, I returned to college in Missouri and soon became dedicated to recording and understanding, as well as performing and listening to, “old-time music.” In grad school at Indiana (Folklore Institute), I concentrated on material culture and folk architecture and my career took me to museums, the Library of Congress, Kansas State U. and finally to the University of Missouri. My principal pastime through the years, however, has been performing and studying traditional music. This book and CD, Play Me Something Quick and Devilish, is the result of a life devoted to traditional music and grassroots culture.

Q: What did you learn from writing this book?
Several aspects of the world of traditional music have barely been scratched by researchers in Missouri. These aspects include such areas as African American fiddlers and their legacy today, the role of fiddlers with Native American ancestry (of which there are many in Missouri), the so-called brass band movement after the Civil War and its relationship to fiddling, musical literacy in the late Victorian Age, the role of immigrant German-speaking music teachers in small towns, and the role of Tin Pan Alley compositions in the traditional fiddlers’ repertoire; these and other seldom-studied subjects are explored in Play Me Something Quick and Devilish.

Q: What is your background in music? Does it relate to your background in architecture or are they two separate passions?
I am from a musical family; children were expected to play a musical instrument or sing in choirs (or both). Music is considered a part of young people’s full education and adds greatly to their lives later on. In my family, all kinds of music are enjoyed and performed. As a child, I tried my hand at clarinet, piano, and cornet; I was a poor music student but I managed to participate in school bands as a back-row cornetist. I also participated in school and church choirs and enjoyed this tremendously. I discovered that I was primarily an “ear musician,” and I had a knack for folk music and learning from watching and listening to others (rather than from music lessons and formal training). I began playing tenor banjo, uke, and guitar in high school and performed popular folk music of the Sixties. While stationed in San Diego in the Marine Corps, my vistas were considerably broadened, and I began a long trek to become proficient in bluegrass music, first on guitar and then on mandolin. This continued after I returned to college in Missouri in late 1966, and at this time I learned to play Missouri-style “frailing banjo” and began to be motivated to learn to play “old-time” fiddle music in the style of central Missouri. I began to have enough courage to perform in public on the violin in the middle 1970s.

Vernacular architecture and traditional music are patches in the same patchwork quilt of American folk tradition, artistic expression, and grass roots history.

Q:  How different is old-time fiddle music now compared to a hundred years ago?
In many ways, old-time fiddling today is in great shape, in terms of its acceptance and popularity various social classes and communities. One crucial change is the tremendous popularity of learning to play “fiddle music” with the aid of newer learning methods, such as the Suzuki Method; this means that many violin students are being encouraged to play fiddle tunes as well as their classical assignments, and this is helping to erode stereotypes and prejudices among the classical community about old-time fiddling. Another great development is the rapidly expanding participation of women and young girls in old-time fiddling – once generally considered to be “men’s work.” Yet another change is the lessening of conservative Protestant groups’ bias against musical instruments in church; the violin is still known as “the devil’s instrument,” but the old ban on instruments in certain conservative churches is far less seen than in former times.

Q: What popular musicians give you inspiration?
For the world of traditional American fiddling, I have been tremendously influenced (mainly through my fiddle mentors) by several giants of fiddling and commercial recordings, such as bluegrass fiddler Kenny Baker; Arthur Smith; Howdy Forrester; Robert (Georgia Slim) Rutland; and Benny Thomasson. I would say that those are the principal “nationally known” professional fiddlers who have influenced my fiddling in terms of performance style as well as repertory. Two other, lesser-known, fiddlers who made records with global exposure are among my favorites: the Irish fiddler John Doherty, and the Indiana fiddler John (Dick) Summers.

Q: As a musician, do you have any future recording projects planned?
A documentary and teaching DVD is being considered with Voyager Records on old-time “fiddle seconding,” Missouri style. I am, sad to say, one the few fiddlers who still do this traditional kind of fiddle accompaniment. Young people, when exposed to it, seem interested in learning, and we feel it is a tradition worth sharing and helping conserve.

Being planned is another fiddle CD of my own, mostly of Missouri tunes, to follow the 1998 Voyager CD, Fiddling Missouri.

I continue to develop fiddle CD projects as a Voyager Records producer. To date, I’ve produced a half-dozen projects with Voyager featuring Missouri fiddlers.

Q: What will your next book be about?
Play Me Something Quick and Devilish covers the early times, from the eighteenth century French villages through the nineteenth century and to the World War I years and 1920s.  I am working toward a sequel, which would bring the saga of traditional fiddle music through the twentieth century and down to the present day. There would be chapters relevant to modern times, such as chapters on the evolution of the fiddle contest scene, swing fiddle, bluegrass, and the recording and radio industries.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

Author Spotlight, Jim Giglio

James N. Giglio is the author of seven books including Call me Tom: The Life of Thomas F. Eagleton and Musial: From Stash to Stan the Man,1988.aspx
Q: Thomas F. Eagleton was a moderate liberal in a conservative state. What were some of the specific viewpoints he held that were challenged the most, and why?
Eagleton's liberal position on gun control and his opposition to the death penalty were unpopular.  The former almost cost him the Senate election in 1968.  His stance on social issues supported by the Democratic party also invited oppostion in outstate Missouri.

Q: When Eagleton’s mental illness was discovered why was it so crippling to his life within politics?
The fact that he underwent shock treatments more than once raised questions about his mental condition.  There was a misconception about shock treatments that frightened some voters.

Q: With holding interviews with over 85 people, what was it like to become so immersed in the history of somebody else’s life so personally?
That is what a biographer does or should do although you can't completely understand a person.  You do find out a lot about him or her that you sometimes don't expect.  That is what makes it so interesting.

Q: Who was the most interesting interviewee you encountered when doing research to find out about Eagleton’s life and why?
Joe Biden was interesting because he is vice president and knew Eagleton well.  He was also well prepared for the interview.  Eagleton's wife Barbara also was interesting because she knew him the best over time.  Their courtship stories added to the story of a younger Eagleton.

Q: What has been your favorite place that you have traveled to?
Boston.  I made many trips there in my study of John F. Kennedy.  I fell in love with the city and its restaurants and its culture.

Q: What was your favorite book in college?
The writings of Francis Parkman.  I also enjoyed biographies back then.

Q: What has been your favorite book/subject to teach as a professor?
I loved teaching the New Deal and events leading up to the civil war and the 1960s perhaps because they involved my three favorite presidents--Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Kennedy.  When I taught a graduate course on the Nature of Biography, my three favorite biographies were Benjamin Thomas's Abraham Lincoln, C. Vann Woodward's Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel, and James MacGregor Burns's Franklin Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox.  These are now dated, but they are classics.

Q: What are hobbies/interest you have outside of your profession?
I am an avid but mediocre golfer.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Author Spotlight: Richard A. Sauers

The Fishing Creek Confederacy by Robert A. Sauers and Peter Tomasak

One hundred fifty years after the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln is thought of as one of the best presidents of the United States. However, most Americans forget that he was elected with only 40 percent of the popular vote. Many Democratic newspapers across the North mistrusted Lincoln's claim that he would not abolish slavery, and the lukewarm support evidenced by them collapsed after Lincoln announced his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in the fall of 1862. The advent of a national draft in the spring of 1863 only added fuel to the fire with anti-Lincoln Democrats arguing that it was illegal to draft civilians. Many newspaper editors advocated active resistance against the draft. In The Fishing Creek Confederacy, Richard A. Sauers and Peter Tomasak address the serious opposition to the draft in Columbia County, Pennsylvania, in 1864. 
Q: What inspired you to write this book?
Primarily the story itself, which has never been analyzed and described as we have in this book. There are too many books on battles such as Gettysburg and not enough on the homefront, and even Civil War buffs seem to forget that not all the history of this war was on the battlefields.

 Q: The focus of this book is in Columbia County, Pennsylvania in 1864. Are there any plans to create a larger work encompassing a national Civil War draft sentiment?
No. The research on such a topic would take years to do a thorough job, which would include a close reading of local newspapers all over the North, as well as a deep mining of largely unused record groups in the National Archives, including NA branches across the North.

Q: Was the trial and jail-time you observed in Columbia County similar to what was going on in other parts of the country at that time?
In some places yes. Because Lincoln had suspended the writ of habeas corpus, a lot of anti-war, anti-administration people had been arrested and locked up. Military trials were eventually judged illegal, but not until after a number of them had taken place.

Q: How difficult was it to resist the draft back then or were there other extenuating circumstances that led to draft dodging charges?
Because of the lack of a modern transportation system, and the rural landscapes that predominated, it was easy to evade the draft if one was so disposed, especially in an area like northern Columbia County, where the bulk of the population were anti-Republican, coupled with the two Democratic newspaper editors who fed into this political stance.

Q: There are large communities of people in the United States that are really passionate about Civil War history. What makes the Civil War so appealing to so many of us?
It appeals to many people because their ancestors were involved in some way during the conflict. The war was the single most important event in our history after our independence, primarily because that war in some ways unified the country and started the United States on the path to be a much greater world power than would have been possible before 1861. As a long time reenactor, I've seen the passion that the Civil War brings out in people. The war feeds into the economy in so many ways—books and magazines, historical tours, reenacting events and the supply industry catering to reenactors, educational programs and lectures, etc.--especially now during the 150th anniversary events.

Q: What are your thoughts on the Emancipation Proclamation turning 150 this year?
The EP and the Thirteenth Amendment combined to destroy slavery in the United States, which put an official end to the conundrum caused by the Constitution's guarantee of equal rights and the inequality that actually existed in daily life. However, the Republican Party abandoned blacks after the war and a de facto form of slavery continued to exist and in some form continues today. The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s-60s helped destroy much of this, but latent racism continues to plague the United States. A lot of the criticism leveled at President Obama is outright racism.

Q: What will the next book be about and when can we expect to read it?
My next book is a long way from publication. I am working on a history of my hometown, Lewisburg, PA, and will not finish this for many years since I am reading all available newspapers on microfilm and taking copious notes. I have another idea for a book that will also take some time. I collect high school American History books, and have a large collection dating from the 1820s to the present. I'm planning to write a book on how history has changed in the textbooks, using a topical approach—Revolution, Civil War, women, the West, etc. to show how changing times lead to changing visions and interpretations of the past.