Best Historical Materials: 2023

The Historical Materials Committee has retracted Enemy Archives: Soviet Counterinsurgency Operations and the Ukrainian Nationalist Movement – Selections from the Secret Police Archives, which was co-edited by Volodymyr Viatrovych andLubomyr Luciuk, from the Best Historical Materials List 2023. The committee will be reviewing the award manual and procedures. We apologize for the harm caused by the work’s initial inclusion on the list.

Election Atlas of India: Parliamentary Elections 1952-2019: 1st Lok Sabha to 17th Lok Sabha: updated till January 2022.  Edited by R. K. Thukrai.  New Delhi: Datanet India Pvt. Ltd., 2022.  482 pp. ₹9,350 hardcover.  ISBN: 9789386683922 

India’s parliament consists of two houses. The Rajya Sabha has members elected by the legislatures of the states of India, while the Lok Sabha, or House of the People, is directly elected in first-past-the-post elections. Typically, the prime minister is the leader of the party with the most seats in the Lok Sabha.  

The Election Atlas of India contains a wealth of information about each of the parliamentary elections held since India became independent in 1947.  For each election there is a series of maps showing the winning party in each constituency, along with the runner-up parties, winning margin by number of votes, winning margin by percentage of votes, and parties in third, fourth, and fifth position in each district. The relative strength of each party is shown in color maps, as is the balance of male to female voters, voter turnout, number of female candidates, and distribution of voters by religion. Information about by-elections is also included.
A separate section of graphs and tables shows changes over time in matters such as number of voters, voter turnout, and percentage of winners that are female or Muslim.  This section also contains a district-by-district report of voting results in every election, complete with the names of all the candidates, total number of votes, and winning margins.
The data collected in this volume are not otherwise easily accessible in one place, as election results are scattered across different government documents and news reports.  For any scholar of the political history or demography of India, this atlas is likely to prove an invaluable aid to understanding historical developments.

Steven A. Knowlton, Princeton University Library 

Historical Dictionary of Modern Coups d’Etat. By John J. Chin, Joseph Wright and David B. Carter. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2022.  2 volumes.  $500 hardcover (ISBN: 9781538120675).

The recurring phenomenon of attempts at violent regime change (this work only covers the years since 1946, and Bolivia alone has 30 entries) is a relatively understudied topic, yet is highly correlated with other well-studied phenomena such as global economic inequality and the Cold War. The authors have assembled more than 1400 pages of information about these occurrences; types and causes of coups are discussed in the introduction, and then detailed accounts of thousands of events all around the world have alphabetized entries. Individual leaders involved in coups or attempts also have biographical entries. 

The authors have gathered vital information from a huge variety of sources, most of which is likely inaccessible outside of this volume. The extensive bibliography is a feat of scholarship worthy of praise on its own, as well. This dictionary will serve historians and political scientists as an essential reference.

Steven Knowlton, Princeton University Library 

Invitation to Syriac Christianity: An Anthology. Edited by Michael Philip Penn, Scott Fitzgerald Johnson, Christine Shepardson, and Charles M. Stang.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 2022.  462 pp.  $150 hardcover.  ISBN: 9780520299207.
 
Invitation to Syriac Christianity: An Anthology is the first such book in English to collect many Syriac Christian texts in translation and make them available to nonspecialists. Rather than striving to present a comprehensive selection of Syriac Christian primary sources spanning the hundreds of years of the tradition, this volume is intended to invite researchers, university students, and practitioners to additional study of Syriac Christianity. Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic and the lingua franca of the late ancient Middle East, was the main language of religious writing and liturgy for Christian churches with great geographical diversity, stretching from modern-day Turkey, across the Middle East and Afghanistan, and into other Asian regions including Tibet, China, and India. Despite this Christian tradition’s size and enduring appeal to millions of devotees into the present, theological biases in Europe and North America have contributed to a situation in which there is very little English-language scholarship about Syriac Christianity’s text and traditions. Specialists active in researching Syriac Christianity, the four editors have brought together many foundational Syriac texts from the second to the fourteenth centuries. 

This anthology was organized in a thoughtful manner. Four major parts—Foundations, Practices, Texts and Transmissions, and Interreligious Encounters—provide a framework for presenting many primary sources. The editors also offer effective introductions to twelve individual chapters and to the various primary texts published here. In addition, they publish valuable information in three appendices—the first, a bibliography of the translations and editions they have used; the second, biographies of named authors of the primary sources; and the third, a glossary of key terms. By illuminating an important Christian tradition with inadequate material in English, and by providing many new translations and substantial updates to previous translations that are also included, this anthology will help both researchers and practitioners encounter Syriac Christianity by way of a great variety of voices and perspectives. 
 
Ethan Lindsay, Wichita State University

The Mexican Revolution: A Documentary History.  Edited by Jürgen Buchenau and Timothy J. Henderson. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2022.  246 pp. $19.00 paperback.  ISBN:  9781647920791. 

In this compilation of 91 translations of key sources from 1876 to 1940, Buchenau and Henderson give voice to participants in the critical periods before, during, and after the Mexican Revolution of 1910–1920. The editors also translated Spanish-language materials, many of which appear in English for the first time. To be as comprehensive as possible, The Mexican Revolution: A Documentary History includes public documents, book chapters, news accounts, propaganda, and personal recollections representing a wide range of participants, including women. Documents from all regions in Mexico are included. 
     
The Mexican Revolution is easy to navigate. Buchenau and Henderson organize documents by seven pivotal periods: “The Porfiriato, 1876-1910;” “The Madero Revolution, 1910-1913;” “The Huerta Interregnum, 1913-1914;” “The War of the Factions, 1914-1915;” “The Early Trials of the Revolutionary Regime, 1915-1916;” “The Constitutional Revolution, 1917-1920;” “Consolidation, 1920-1928;” and “Toward the ‘Institutional Revolution’, 1928-1940.” In addition to providing explanatory material about these periods in the introduction, Buchenau and Henderson include insightful prefaces to each document along with full citations. Footnotes clarify lesser-known points. Additional helpful features include a timeline, maps, index, and a suggested list of additional English language readings. 
    
The Mexican Revolution: A Documentary History would be a welcome addition to college libraries and public libraries with patrons interested in Mexican history. 

Nancy Dennis, Salem State University

The Oxford Handbook of Global Drug History. Edited by Paul Gootenberg. New York: Oxford University Press, 2022. 720 pp. $165 hardcover. ISBN: 9780190842642.

While illicit drug use is a common topic of study in disciplines including medicine, criminology, sociology, health science, and political science, historical studies on drugs and the drug trade remain scarce. The Oxford Handbook of Global Drug History is a fascinating and welcome addition to this new and growing field, exploring economic, social, cultural, and political factors involving drugs from the Neolithic Age to the present. As editor Paul Gootenberg observes, the “new drug history” began in the 1990s and is an effort to “move the miniscule field beyond the domination of biomedical, legal, and journalistic perspectives” (p. 1). As an inherently cross-disciplinary field, the study of drug history draws from anthropology, commodity studies, medical history, cultural studies, and more. The contributors to this volume hail from universities and research institutions worldwide and bring deep expertise and new perspectives to their topics.

Organized in six chronological sections, the Handbook’s 35 chapters range across five continents and include topics such as “Plant Drugs and Shamanism in the Americas,” “Drugs in Africa from the Slave Trade to Colonialism,” “The Making of Pariah Drugs in Latin America,” and “Modern Russian and Soviet Drug Suppression.” The final essay, “Drugs: The Lessons from History?” by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Virginia Berridge, offers a provocative perspective on how historical evidence has often been used by non-historians to influence public policy. Each chapter, including the introduction, concludes with extensive notes and a bibliography. Taken as a whole, these very diverse essays offer a snapshot of current developments in the emerging field of drug history and provide a solid foundation for future study and research all in one volume.

The Oxford Handbook of Global Drug History is highly recommended for students and researchers seeking an introduction to the field of drug history and is a valuable addition to academic and medical library collections.

Jennifer Bartlett, University of Kentucky

The Portable Anna Julia Cooper. Edited by Shirley Moody-Turner. New York: Penguin Books, 2022. 592 pp. $20 paperback. ISBN: 9780143135067.

Born into slavery in 1858, educator, scholar, and activist Anna Julia Cooper was the fourth African American woman to earn a doctoral degree and served as the principal of Washington, D.C.’s M Street High School, one of the nation’s first high schools for African Americans. She is perhaps best known for her 1892 book, A Voice from the South: By a Black Woman of the South, a foundational text of African American feminism calling for higher education and social advancement for African American women. However, her status as a leading public intellectual of her day rests no less on her many other writings and speeches during her long career.

The Portable Anna Julia Cooper collects for the first time many of Cooper’s published and unpublished works (nearly 130 writings in all), including not only A Voice from the South, but also many key speeches, plays, poems, correspondence, and periodical articles. While other publications of Cooper’s work are available (for instance, Charles Lemert and Esme Bhan’s The Voice of Anna Julia Cooper [Rowman & Littlefield, 1998]), the inclusion of so much previously unpublished material provides an invaluable perspective on Cooper’s career and achievements, especially given the racial and gender discrimination in publishing at that time.

The book is organized in five parts: Major Text; On Education; Scrapbook, 1931-1940: Newspaper and Other Writings; Correspondences; and Additional Writings. An introductory essay and chronology introduce the reader to Cooper’s career and influence, and each of the writings is prefaced by a short summary and includes extensive notes. As the title implies, this book is indeed portable, yet packs a wealth of carefully curated published and unpublished materials in one place.

The Portable Anna Julia Cooper is a unique resource and an invaluable addition to the African American literature canon. It is recommended for public and academic library collections, and as a primary or supplementary text for undergraduate and graduate courses.

Jennifer Bartlett, University of Kentucky

Qing Imperial Illustrations of Tributary Peoples: A Cultural Cartography of Empire.  Edited and translated by Laura Hostetler and Xuemei Wu.  Boston: Brill, 2022.  671 pp.  $239 hardcover.  ISBN: 9789004503649.

Qing Imperial Illustrations of Tributary Peoples provides the first full English-language translation of a richly illustrated ethnographic text depicting more than three hundred groups with whom China’s Qing dynasty was interacting. This text by Xie Sui, Huang Qing zhigong tu in Chinese, was commissioned by the Qianlong emperor in the middle of the eighteenth century. As the helpful and well-documented introduction shows, this primary source portrays the diversity of peoples both within and beyond the jurisdiction of this Chinese empire and makes an ideological statement about the presumably universal rule of the Qing dynasty.  

This book will be beneficial for both students and advanced researchers in diverse disciplines such as art history, cultural anthropology, and religious studies. Part of its value consists in the inclusion of photographs of the original scroll, with multiple segments that each present an illustration of a man and woman from a particular locale such as Korea, Tibet, Sweden, or Russia with descriptive text in both Classical Chinese and Manchu. The English translation accompanying each image provides a description of the different peoples, for example discussing clothing, diet, language, and religion. Comprising a “cultural cartography of empire,” to use the language of this new book’s subtitle, the illustrations and text together reveal fascinating observations about geographic and cultural differences.  

Ethan Lindsay, Wichita State University

The Routledge Handbook of Public Taxation in Medieval Europe. Edited by Denis Menjot, Mathieu Caesar, Florent Garnier, and Pere Verdés Pijuan. New York: Routledge, 2023. 513 pp. $200 hardcover. ISBN: 9780367903367.

Although Benjamin Franklin wrote that “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”, it was not always so.  The emergence of royal, church, and lordly taxation in high medieval Europe—a place that had previously known only fees and tolls—was part of the process of state formation that is an important aspect of European historiography.   For many studying this period, however, the vast array of differing forms of taxation, the jargon surrounding them, and the very different methods of accounting in use between the Middle Ages and the present day offer significant obstacles to making sense of public finances and the relationship between the taxed and the government.

This volume seeks to clarify historical taxation.  It begins with a discussion of the sources available to study taxes, including coverage of historiographical approaches to such sources.  There follows a general overview of the legal and customary foundations supporting the right to tax.  Fifteen separate chapters cover taxation and fiscal systems in various domains, ranging from the early Ottoman state to Aragon.  Within each chapter is a discussion of the taxation system and changes it underwent over time, coverage of the available sources, and a bibliography.  Also included is a glossary that expands upon the discussion of individual terms by defining and contextualizing particular taxes, such as scutage, çift resmi, and gærþ.  

Scholars beginning their study of medieval governance, or those whose interests lie outside of fiscal matters but who nonetheless need to grapple with taxation, will find the handbook to be an excellent aid to their understanding.  Written in a style accessible to non-specialists, with an emphasis on broad themes and administrative structures, it is sure to be of use for medievalists, political historians, and economic historians.

Steven A. Knowlton, Princeton University Library

Salish and Kootenai Indian Chiefs Speak for Their People and Land, 1865–1909. Edited by Robert Bigart and Joseph McDonald. Pablo,  Montana: Salish Kootenai College Press, 2023.  237 pp. $34.95 paperback. ISBN: 9781934594346.

On July 16, 1855, representatives from Montana’s Salish, Upper Pend d’Oreille, and Lower Kootenai tribes signed the Hellgate Treaty with the U.S. government. Unfortunately, even after several days of negotiations Native American representatives did not fully grasp the long-term implications of the treaty. Untrained Native translators had inadvertently led Salish, d’Oreille, and Kutenai negotiators to misunderstand the government’s objective to move the tribes to the Flathead Reservation so that it could build a railroad through tribal lands. Though Native negotiators successfully bargained for government protection and funds, they also unwittingly signed away the rights to their Bitterroot Valley homeland. 

For the next half-century, nine native chiefs took the U.S. government to task for not making promised land improvements and payments to tribes. In return, U.S. officials charged that natives were delaying the negotiated move to the Flathead Reservation. Through this carefully curated collection of 32 letters, government documents, news articles, and speeches, Robert Bigart and Joseph McDonald chronicle how the native chiefs held the U.S. government accountable to Hellgate’s terms. Bigart and McDonald acknowledge limitations of working with documents that were recorded in English rather than Salish or Kootenai. Nevertheless, they maintain that the documents yield rare insights into living conditions of the Salish and Kootenai tribes, the impact of government policies, and differing cultural assumptions of Natives and whites.

Bigart and McDonald’s introduction outlines events that prompted white Montana officials and Native chiefs to negotiate the treaty. The editors introduce the context and significance of each document, which are arranged chronologically. Biographies of the nine Native chiefs and two native translators who are represented in the documents follow the documents. There is a mix of evidence: letters, meeting minutes, government documents, news articles, and speeches. Sources of documents included: the U.S. Office of Indian Affairs, the Montana Historical Society, historical newspapers, and previous publications by Bigart and McDonald.

Salish and Kootenai Indian Chiefs Speak for Their People and Land, 1865–1909 is Bigart and McDonald’s seventh compilation of primary documents relating to Montana’s Indian history. Like others in the series, Salish and Kootenai focuses on specific narrators and covers a discrete period. Reading the full range of titles from the Salish Kootenai College Press will enrich researchers’ knowledge of the Salish, Kootenai, and d’Oreille tribes. 

Salish and Kootenai Indian Chiefs Speak for Their People and Land, 1865–1909 would be a welcome addition to college libraries and public libraries with patrons interested in Native American history. 

Nancy Dennis, Salem State University

The Travels of Richard Traunter: Two Journeys through the Native Southeast in 1698 and 1699. Edited by Sandra L. Dahlberg. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2022. 146 pp. $50 hardcover. ISBN: 9780813947785.

The Travels of Richard Traunter provides a glimpse into the trade industry of the late seventeenth century American southeast. Traunter, a trader and traveler, was fluent in three Indigenous languages and had spent years traversing parts of the southeastern United States. His diary, reproduced in The Travels, provides details about two journeys that took him from Virginia to the Carolinas and back again to develop shorter trade routes and establish relationships with Indian traders. As stated in the book, “He believed his journeys contributed ‘to the common Good’ of his country, a sentiment consistent with imperialists who thought ‘a peaceful trade would build a stronger empire’.” 

Besides his trading experiences, Traunter’s entries reflect on his experiences and encounters traveling the southeast. He described the wildlife, terrains, and vegetation he encountered in his travels and documented his foraging successes, as in one entry when he mentions his discovery of hazelnuts and grapes. Through his experiences traveling from one Native village to the next, he witnessed the work of Indian doctors and a burial. To further document his travels, he also noted the places he traveled to and the miles it took to go from place to place. 

This resource is recommended to academic libraries with an interest in resources about American Indians and colonial history. 

Jennifer Brannock, The University of Southern Mississippi

Writing Gaia: The Scientific Correspondence of James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis. Edited by Bruce Clarke and Sébastien Dutreuil. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2022. 484 pp. $49.99 hardcover. ISBN: 9781108833097.

The Gaia theory is an ecological hypothesis proposing that all organisms on Earth and their inorganic environments have developed in tandem over geological time to produce an organized, self-regulating entity. First introduced in the late 1960s, the Gaia hypothesis was initially regarded with suspicion or outright ridicule by the scientific community but has since grown into an active and interdisciplinary field of study. While already accomplished in their own respective fields, English scientist and environmentalist James Lovelock and American evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis began a collaboration in 1972 focused on the development of the Gaia hypothesis, documented in a correspondence of nearly 300 letters written over almost 40 years. Writing Gaia provides a fascinating, exhaustively documented account of this important collaboration.

The core of the book is, of course, the letters, which are arranged chronologically and offer the reader a fascinating glimpse into the gradual development of a scientific theory, not to mention the demands of academic careers. However, Clarke and Dutreuil’s excellent introduction also provides immensely useful and fascinating discussions of the two scientists’ careers and personal lives, the nature of scientific collaborations (including inevitable disagreements), and the Gaia hypothesis’s reception. Equally valuable are the introductions to the four time periods in which the letters are arranged, extensive footnotes, and glossaries of names and terms. Ten brief commentaries written by contributors with personal connections to either or both Lovelock and Margulis over the years conclude the volume.

Writing Gaia is an outstanding example of scientific correspondence, combining a first-hand account of the growth and development of a major scientific theory with the personal observations and circumstances of the individuals who made it a large part of their lives’ work. It should be of particular interest to those studying and teaching in the history of science, environmentalism, climate change, and ecological issues.

Jennifer Bartlett, University of Kentucky