Why Are Kazakhstan And Montana The Same Place Asks One Chapter Of Kate Brown S Surprising And Unusual Journey Into The Histories Of Places On The Margins, Overlooked Or Erased It Turns Out That A Ruined Mining Town In Kazakhstan And Butte, Montana America S Largest Environmental Superfund Site Have Much In Common Than One Would Think Thanks To Similarities In Climate, Hucksterism, And The Perseverance Of Their Few Hardy Inhabitants Taking Readers To These And Other Unlikely Locales, Dispatches From Dystopia Delves Into The Very Human And Sometimes Very Fraught Ways We Come To Understand A Particular Place, Its People, And Its History In Dispatches From Dystopia, Brown Wanders The Chernobyl Zone Of Alienation, First On The Internet And Then In Person, To Figure Out Which Version The Real Or The Virtual Is The Actual Forgery She Also Takes Us To The Basement Of A Hotel In Seattle To Examine The Personal Possessions Left In Storage By Japanese Americans On Their Way To Internment Camps In In Uman, Ukraine, We Hide With Brown In A Tree In Order To Witness The Annual Male Only Rosh Hashanah Celebration Of Hasidic Jews In The Russian Southern Urals, She Speaks With The Citizens Of The Small City Of Kyshtym, Where Invisible Radioactive Pollutants Have Mysteriously Blighted Lives Finally, Brown Returns Home To Elgin, Illinois, In The Midwestern Industrial Rust Belt To Investigate The Rise Of Rustalgia And The Ways Her Formative Experiences Have Inspired Her Obsession With Modernist Wastelands Dispatches From Dystopia Powerfully And Movingly Narrates The Histories Of Locales That Have Been Silenced, Broken, Or Contaminated In Telling These Previously Unknown Stories, Brown Examines The Making And Unmaking Of Place, And The Lives Of The People Who Remain In The Fragile Landscapes That Are Left Behind A really good book from historian Kate Brown that looks at how space and place can be historicized The premise of this book is that traveling can be a form of negotiation, an unraveling of certainties and convictions and a reassembling of the past, aided by strangers who generously open their doors to reveal histories that are in play, contingent, and subjective Each chapter of this book uses a particular place to explore the histories of communities and territories that have been silenced, broken, or contaminated In telling these stories I narrate the history of places, their making and unmaking, and of the people who remain in the landscapes that are left behindThe core idea of what has been called the spatial turn , by contrast, has been to explore how spatial arrangements shape the human, natural, and animal worlds, and do so in ways that are harder to see than the effects of published laws, market transactions, or social norms, because people often take spatial organization to part of the natural or given world The motivation of this book, then, is to treat places as sources that are as rich, important, erratic, and unreliable as material that comes from archives filled with cataloged files 2 As I go about the delicate business of stitching together narratives of territories that have been violently taken apart, I run into all kinds of problems Place and the people in them tell many different, conflicting stories about the past I puzzle over how to tell such multifocal or polyphonic stories yet still retain narrative form Worse, what if there are no voices 3 Visibility, Bruno Latour writes, is the consequence of lots of opaque and invisible work 5 Since the 1960s, historians have worked to uncover and present in their work voices long absent from national histories New social histories emerged in American and European academies just after the riots of the sixties, when the rage of the people who had long been missing and unaccounted for appeared on city streets as if out of nowhere and went critical, surprising those who had done the overlooking Since that time, historians of labor, social, and environmental history, alongside historians of ethnic, racial, and sexual minorities, have penned whole new communities, movements, and identities into being 9 What is wrong in acknowledging being there I am confused by the notion that referring to oneself in scholarly writing is unprofessional or trivial or renders one s work tautological something we don t do This question has long nagged me Why, in disciplines that aspire to verifiable truth, do scholars sustain the fiction, when researching and writing, that they are not there 11 Being detached translates grammatically into being disembodies one would think or multisided we know that Donna Haraway calls the scholarly practice of seeing everything from nowhere the god trick This narrative mode glosses over the fact that the writer, like everyone else, is rooted in a time and place, which greatly constrains what the researcher can see and how he or she sees it 11 Talking to Touishi, I learned that the dispossessed can become possessed haunted by the unbound fragments of their past, which greatly hinder getting on with life in the present tense 15 Obviously, I think not I am interested in how spatial practices work to snare people into silence, invisibility, and diagnoses of menace and madness The reverse is also true I want to know how, by means of spatial arrangements, humans assemble knowledge and possibility, credibility, visibility, and sanity 17 Industrial hygiensists did not determine occupational illness based on workers health complaints Rather they fixed on measurements of toxins in the factory environment that could be linked to harmful psychological developments 70 American researchers were looking for cause and effect singular radioactive isotopes assaulting singular bodily organs to produces stand alone diseases It was important in the United States for doctors and lawyers to be able to prove in court that a certain agent and not others caused bodily harm 72 A failure to see bodies and to use them as archival maps of exposure helps explain the emphasis on cures, not the environmental causes, of a growing number of debilitating and deadly diseases 74 Invisibility takes a lot of work 75 If that is so, then the decades of fixing on political systems and ideology appear in retrospect as a prolonged exercise in self definition Neither country could have existed without the other, because each country used its communist capitalist nemesis as a self justifying point of departure each country projected a mirror image of the other in order to define and produce itself so as to rule 103 James C Scott understands the grid as a was to simplify the opaque and complex quality of indigenous social practices so as to enhance centralized power at the cost of local rule In short, the grid can serve as an apparatus for conquest, as a way to dominate space 103 104 In fact, the cities born during this century gave new meaning to nomadism by ambling across the flat plains wherever transportation routes wandered, with nothing to stop them but sheer loneliness In both countries, as a result, conquest meant consumption the newcomers ingested in coal, copper, wheat, sugar beets, ore the territories they desired 105 Both Soviet and American proselytizers emphasize origins What had been empty was filled in, the barren made green, the primitive sophisticated Europeans arrived, found places empty of history and gave them a beginning, and thus meaning And they did it, the writers stress, quickly 110 What most failed to mention was that the land was not empty but emptied 112 In turn, rooting nomads and transforming the landscape would make it hard to remember, a time, as David Rollison puts it, When the land was anything other than a commodity to be converted to cash 113 114 America s restless, feverish passion for quick results has kicked up a nostalgia for a past slowed under to make room for an ever receding future 125 As industrial space gridded the landscape, populations of migrants and prisoners were segmented as well, by class and ethnicity 128 The forces that hammered Poles and other immigrant groups into discrete ethnic enclaves belonged to the industrial age Between 1880 and 1920 in the United States, the way people worked and produced goods altered significantly, which in turn influenced how people lived and where Corporate bureaucracies organized production from the top down As production decisions moved up a lengthening hierarchy, skilled labourers were replaced by foreman supervising unskilled workers Relations between foremen and workers sold into mutual aggression as the foremen were pressed to continually increase production, and in so doing threatened workers with dismissal and pay cuts 130 Kate Brown is a friend That said An amazing book About the act of writing, questioning objectivity, questioning assumptions about archives Finding in her research and questions self, place and a host of other things A gifted writer A must read for anyone in policy, history, literature, education and so on. An utterly engrossing contemporary history of forgotten and destroyed places. I enjoyed the history, the historical method, and Brown s insights into places that are in the process of being left behind seeing the detritus people, places, things is perhaps the single most useful perspective to understand contemporary times Places offer up only remnants, tattered, muddy, sunken, rusted, and despoiled Once I am in place, things are out of place, disorganized and chaotic, Visibility, Bruno Latour writes, is the consequence of lots of opaque and invisible work p.5.This book as encouraged me to re read E.H Carr s What is History The myths of the Chernobyl zone, things left behind in the Panama Hotel in Seattle, the odd similarities between Billings, Montana and a prison camp town in Kazakhstan Brown draws meaning from the landscapes of modernity in ruins, traveling through the U.S and the former U.S.S.R while meditating on the nature of historical research She takes a first person approach, incorporating her emotional reactions to different sites and describing her encounters with random people all in an attempt to break down the usual disembodied voice of scholarly authority The vibe is like anthropology than straight up history This is the kind of book I imagined I would write, back when I was an urban history person I appreciated Brown s attention to material culture and the kinds of sources that aren t filed neatly in archival folders. Parts of this were utterly fascinating Partly because I had read other books by this author, some of this seemed like background repeat material Read the grid city parts, the elgin parts, the no bomb in Detroit parts Read the parts about how the plutonium city doctors approached US and Russian patients Skip Skim the rest and see if there are part that catch your attention I didn t care for the discussion about narration, insertion of the author in history, etc. I really enjoyed this book, felt challenged and intrigued by it It was one of the books that I never would have come across without my listmaking and I m glad it showed up whereever it did The Panama Hotel essay, about the hotel where many Japanese stored items when sent to internment camps at WWII, was brilliant, and of course evocative of the current moment The Kampkook stove tells the story of a failed American contract Work hard, save, keep out of trouble, and you too can have the middle class pleasures owed to every industrious American a car, vacations in nature zones, camping equipment, and sturdy wool coats with aristocratic fur collars The Japanese Americans whose possessions ended up in the basement of the Panama hotel had worked hard, saved, and purchased goods that promised assimiliations and normality, but then the war came as it would Gridded Lives Why Kazakhastan and Montana are Nearly the Same Place also brilliant It suggests that the physical experience of industrial labor differs little whether under capitalism or communism Makes one step back and think Stepping back is such a good thing these days. I like the approach to telling history here, but the book itself feels somewhat disjointed, not quite all tied together, and at times rambling despite being so short I did like it but just wish I liked it. This was a much interesting concept than it was a final product I really enjoyed the journey Brown took us on and her prose was generally really lovely and interesting But I would have liked to see I don t know I just felt such an amazing concept fell a little flat Perhaps, though, this was a result of me hyping myself up too much for it I do think this was a good book, and I would happily recommend it to anyone interested in history or urban development I just wish I could have seen a little.
Kate Brown is a Professor of History at University of Maryland, Balti County UMBC , and a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow She is the author of A Biography of No Place, which won the American Historical Association s International European History Prize for Best Book Brown received her B.A from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and her Ph.D from the University of Washington, Seattle.
- 216 pages
- Dispatches from Dystopia
- Kate Brown
- 23 March 2018 Kate Brown