Essential reading: scholarly books, riveting history and a professor’s memoir

Gardens of dignity and ingenuity

From August 1942 to October 1945, thousands of Japanese Americans from the West Coast were confined to a square mile of scrubby terrain at Amache, a World War II incarceration camp in southeastern Colorado. There, determined to persevere as best they could, they raised their families, published a newspaper, schooled their children and nurtured their communities.  

They also gardened, sometimes using seeds brought with them in the single suitcase allowed each individual. They created ornamental gardens to nourish the soul and kitchen gardens to stock their larders. For shade and beauty, they transplanted trees dug up from the banks of the nearby Arkansas River. These gardens, anthropology professor Bonnie Clark told the University of Denver Magazine in 2013, “were plots of dignity and ingenuity.” 

In “Finding Solace in the Soil(University Press of Colorado, 2020), Clark digs deep into the hardy gardens of Amache, describing how many of the internees—a fair number of whom had been farmers, gardeners or nursery workers—applied their horticultural expertise to an inhospitable landscape. At Amache, they worked to form microclimates, reduce blowing sand, grow fresh food and cultivate community at a time of dispossession. 

To tell this story, Clark draws on her long-standing archaeological work with the DU Amache Project, which aims to research, preserve and interpret the site’s tangible remains. Through the analysis of artifacts, government documents, personal letters and oral histories, she taps into a philosophy of living and resilience that characterized existence at the camp. 

Ultimately, “Finding Solace in the Soil” shows how the prisoners of Amache transformed a harsh setting demarcated by barbed wire and guard towers into a place where the human spirit could still bud and blossom.

Bonnie Clark fields questions about Amache.

Exploring Black identity  

A professor emeritus of higher education and counseling psychology at the Morgridge College of Education, William Cross has spent much of his career fascinated by questions of Black identity. His 1991 book, the groundbreaking “Shades of Black: Diversity in African American Identity,” is credited with developing a theory of nigrescence that outlines the stages of individual Black consciousness development.

In “Black Identity Viewed from a Barber’s Chair: Nigrescence and Eudaimonia(Temple University Press, 2021), Cross continues his fascination with the subject, analyzing how Black identity is expressed in everyday life and how, for many years, the concept of Black self-hatred came to dominate scholarly understanding of the Black experience in the United States.

To advance his argument, Cross dives into the history books, exploring how, in the first dozen years after emancipation, formerly enslaved Blacks began asserting their political, cultural and psychological independence. From there, he traces how perceptions of Black psychology evolved and were deployed within the mental health profession.

Recipient of the 2020 Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement in the Applications of Psychology from the American Psychological Association, Cross aims, in the words of his publisher, “to more accurately capture the humanity of Black people that has been overlooked in previous research.”  

William Cross introduces readers to his new book.

Yanks to the rescue

An independent historian with a deep interest in the war to end all wars, alumnus Jeffrey Miller (BA ’75) has long been fascinated by the humanitarian work carried out by the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB). The brainchild of Herbert Hoover, who went on to serve as the nation’s 31st president, the CRB organized the supply of food to the German-occupied country during World War I. 

Miller’s latest book on the topic, “Yanks Behind the Lines(Rowman & Littlefield, 2020), offers the full story behind what the historian calls “one of America’s finest hours in humanitarian aid.” In chronicling the effort, Miller shows the war’s day-to-day effect on ordinary citizens and calls attention to the creativity required for simple survival.

Miller’s passion for the topic grows out of family connections. His grandfather worked in Belgium as one of Hoover’s “delegates” in the CRB. His grandmother was a young Belgian working in food relief during WWI. 

“In the early 1980s, after my grandparents died, I inherited all their CRB-related diaries, journals, letters and photographs,” Miller told the DU Newsroom in 2018, noting that this bequest launched him on decades of research about the CRB, World War I and Belgium. That research comes to fruition in “Yanks Behind the Lines.”

A heartfelt memoir explores a delicate balancing act 

For as long as women have contributed to the workforce, they’ve juggled the responsibilities of jobs
and careers with the demands of a personal life.  

It isn’t easy. In the pages of “Both Career and Love: A Woman’s Memoir 1959–1973(Outskirts Press, 2020), readers learn about how one woman forged a rewarding and supportive relationship with her partner while pursuing a demanding career.  

Billed as an “honest, frank, and intimate portrayal of finding both love and career,” the book is the handiwork of alumna Anne Rankin Mahoney (MSS ’89), professor emerita of sociology and a former director of DU’s women’s studies program.  With special appeal to women who came of age in the second half of the 20th century, the book also offers “a positive, sometimes humorous love story about a young woman who wanted more than her generation offered.”

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