Spanning history to sociology, new books examine our past, present and future

Exploring a mapmaker’s spatial imagination

History professor Susan Schulten has long been fascinated by maps. And by mapmakers.

Among them: the indefatigable Emma Willard, a 19th century educator known for her textbooks on history and geography. Throughout her life, Willard insisted that people learn information best when it is presented visually.

Willard’s artistic atlases, maps and graphics are showcased in Emma Willard, Maps of History (Visionary Press, 2022). In it, Schulten recounts Willard’s uniquely visual approach to history, on display in her wondrous Temple of Time, a chronological chart of world history. Hers, Schulten writes, was “a mind reckoning with the very meaning of time and space through an era of expansion.”

Emma Willard

Willard’s earliest charts, maps and pictures date back to the 1820s and grew out of her experience teaching in a small school in the 1810s. “Her textbooks—studded with these creative images—shaped students from the Atlantic seaboard to the Mississippi frontier,” Schulten writes. “From 1822, when she created a metaphorical map of the Roman Empire, to 1860, when her ‘American Temple of Time’ was published, she spent a career picturing the past.”

Map lovers know Schulten as the author of a trio of treasures published by the University of Chicago Press: “The Geographical Imagination in America, 1880–1950”; “Mapping the Nation: History and Cartography in Nineteenth-Century America”; and “A History of America in 100 Maps.” This book—which is part of Information Graphic Visionaries, a series celebrating spectacular data visualization creators—includes a poster of the Temple of Time, sure to fascinate readers with its systematic ordering of events and people. 

Learn more about Emma Willard and Schulten’s essay here

Ethics and the economists  

The philosopher Thomas Carlyle called economics “the dismal science.” George DeMartino, a professor at DU’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, argues that its practitioners are trained to be cavalier regarding the harm they cause, however inadvertently.

In “The Tragic Science: How Economists Cause Harm (Even as They Aspire to Do Good)” (University of Chicago Press, 2022), DeMartino raises ethical objections to what he calls his profession’s “brazen attitude” toward those on the losing side of policy decisions—in other words, those who lose their livelihoods and even their lives owing to economic interventions. He makes the case that all too often, economic policies, though perhaps intended to right a listing ship, cause enduring and irreparable damage. In attempting to, say, tame inflation, manage a financial crisis, promote urban redevelopment or increase international trade, economists call for policies that exact high tolls from people who can least afford them.

George DeMartino

Economists, not surprisingly, are taking notice—and sometimes umbrage, suggesting that the book is too hard on the profession. Harvard University’s Cass Sunstein, an expert on behavioral economics who served under President Barack Obama in the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, analyzes the book’s arguments in the New York Review of Books. Although Sunstein quibbles with some of DeMartino’s positions, he lauds the Korbel professor’s insistence that economists “need to attend to those who are struggling the most.” 

Denial and its dilemmas 

When personal and social problems threaten our security and peace of mind, denial offers a way out. “Using denial, we can maintain a sense of normalcy, even when we encounter information to the contrary.”  

Those are the words of Jared Del Rosso, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminology and author of “Denial: How We Hide, Ignore, and Explain Away Problems” (New York University Press, 2022). The problems in question range from the massive and overwhelming (think climate change and antisemitism) to the everyday and inconvenient (think “strangers feigning unawareness of the distress of another on a busy city street”). 

Jared Del Rosso

Del Rosso became preoccupied with the pervasiveness of denial when he was researching his 2015 book, “Talking About Torture.” Despite solid evidence that the U.S. government engaged in horrifying forms of torture, politicians and the public at large continued to excuse the practice or look the other way. In 2016, still preoccupied by the persistence of denial, he began exploring the topic in an elective course designed to examine the political dynamics of what he calls “a core social practice.”

His new title scrutinizes the various and many strategies of denial and their effects. And these are not minimal. After all, denial may offer some initial relief, but the problems don’t go away. Denial actually makes many of them worse. 

“I wrote ‘Denial’ to help readers recognize the many forms of denial that we’re likely to encounter, whether in our interactions to others or in the culture at large,” Del Rosso says. “The book is, in a sense, a field guide to denial—describing, defining and illustrating these forms. My hope is that by recognizing these forms, we’re better able to assess the consequences of denial and possibly disrupt its use.”

Del Rosso talks about how denial in his hometown perpetuated racism and antisemitism here

Toward a better understanding of a rising China  

In “The Dragon Roars Back” (Stanford University Press, 2022), Suisheng Zhao, one of the world’s most influential scholars on China’s international affairs, reminds readers that the People’s Republic’s foreign policy has been shaped and refashioned by three leaders—Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Xi Jinping. Each of them pursued security, prosperity and power in transformational ways that often perplexed the international foreign policy establishment.

Suisheng Zhao

A better understanding of how these leaders perceived the world is critical to assessing how Xi Jinping is likely to lead China as it roars back. As Christopher R. Hill, former dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies and former assistant secretary of state for East Asia/Pacific Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, puts it: “China is indeed roaring back, and the issue of how the West responds will shape the policy landscape for decades to come. We need to understand China’s policy history far better than we do, and Zhao’s scholarship puts all who read this on a far better course to do so.”

Zhao’s expertise has been cultivated over several decades. The author of nine books and monographs on China, he’s the founding editor of the Journal of Contemporary China and director of the Korbel School’s Center for China-U.S. Cooperation.


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