Ethnographic fragments #11: Angela Davis’s archive, the perils of building a mosque in Basking Ridge, NJ, black lung disease in Trump country, Polish death camps, and an unusual library in Ankara

archive fever

angela davis wanted.jpg

The Schlesinger Library at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study has acquired more than 150 boxes of papers, photographs, pamphlets and other material that span Angela Davis’s life.

Professor Davis’s archive, reports the New York Times, “ranges from her childhood in segregated Birmingham, Ala., where she was born in 1944 to activist parents; to her studies with the Frankfurt School philosopher Herbert Marcuse (who recalled her as his most brilliant student); to her more recent activism with groups like Critical Resistance, the prison-abolition advocacy group she helped found in 1997.”

The archive also includes the typescript of Davis’ 1974 autobiography, complete with handwritten queries and comments from her editor, Toni Morrison.

“Its richest vein concerns the tumultuous period that began in 1969, when then Gov. Ronald Reagan ordered [Davis] fired from her teaching position at the University of California, Los Angeles, because of her Communist Party membership, before she had even taught her first class …

In 1970, she was charged with murder, kidnapping and criminal conspiracy charges after guns she had purchased were used in an attack on the Marin County Courthouse that was aimed at liberating the Soledad Brothers, but instead left four people, including the attacker, dead.  The trial that followed — in which Professor Davis participated in her own defense — sparked an international campaign, turning ‘Free Angela’ into a global rallying cry.”

And today, nearly half a century on, a white supremacist sits in the White House and the prisons are fuller than ever with black bodies.  Progress, y’all.

field notes from liberal America

Liberty Corner Presbyterian Church

“Long before Trump came along to capitalise on it, Islamophobia was building in the US, bubbling up like swamp gas from the depths. Often, racial conflict would manifest itself in small, seemingly isolated local planning fights over proposals to build mosques …

There is, literally, an anti-mosque playbook. Tactics were once unwritten, spread through websites and word of mouth, but more recently they were set down in a book titled Mosques in America: A Guide to Accountable Permit Hearings and Continuing Citizen Oversight. Written a Texas attorney, it was published by the Center for Security Policy, an organisation headed by Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan administration official who has long espoused the theory that Muslims are engaged in a secret plot to impose sharia law on the US. Gaffney writes in the book’s introduction that it is a ‘how-to manual for patriotic Americans who are ready to counter the leading edge of Islamic supremacism.'”

Well-researched, informative, and decidedly chilling long read from the Guardian.

field notes from Trump country


“Epidemiologists at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health say they’ve identified the largest cluster of advanced black lung disease ever reported, a cluster that was first uncovered by NPR 14 months ago.

‘This is the largest cluster of progressive massive fibrosis ever reported in the scientific literature,’ says Scott Laney, a NIOSH epidemiologist involved in the study.

‘We’ve gone from having nearly eradicated PMF in the mid-1990s to the highest concentration of cases that anyone has ever seen,’ he said.

The clinics are operated by Stone Mountain Health Services and assess and treat coal miners mostly from Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia, a region that includes what have historically been some of the most productive coalfields in the country …

PMF, or complicated black lung, encompasses the worst stages of [pneumoconiosis], which is caused by inhalation of coal and silica dust at both underground and surface coal mines.

Miners gradually lose the ability to breathe, as they wheeze and gasp for air … Lung transplants are the only cure, and they’re possible only when miners are healthy enough to qualify.”

Beautiful, clean coal.

Polish. Death. Camps.


BBC reports that “Poland’s Senate has approved a bill making it illegal to accuse the Polish nation or state of complicity in the Nazi Holocaust.  The bill provides that ‘whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich … shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years.’

President Andrzej Duda says Poland has the right ‘to defend historical truth.'”

Alternative facts, anybody?


little local library

hrabal wall

Heartening to read that while President Erdogan fires academics and imprisons journalists, “Turkish garbage collectors in the country’s capital city of Ankara have opened a public library that is full of books that were originally destined to be put into landfill. The workers began collecting discarded books and opened the new library in the Çankaya district of Ankara. News of the library has spread and now people have begun donating books directly to the library, rather than throwing them away.

As CNN reports, the library was originally created for the use of the employees’ friends and family but, as it grew in size, the library was officially opened to the public in September of last year …  The library now has over 6,000 fiction and non-fiction books and includes a children’s section, an area dedicated to scientific research books, and a number of English and French language books for those who are bilingual.”

Eerily reminiscent of Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude.


The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.  

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s