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Body and Nation: The Global Realm of U.S. Body Politics in the Twentieth Century.

Body and Nation: The Global Realm of U.S. Body Politics in the Twentieth Century, edited by Emily S. Rosenberg and Shanon Fitzpatrick. Durham, Duke University Press, 2014. viii, 331 pp. $94.95 US (cloth), $26.95 US (paper).

The essays collected in Body and Nation approach twentieth-century depictions of bodies within the United States through a transnational lens. The relationship of the human body to the body politic has emerged in recent decades as a prominent node of historical and interdisciplinary analyses of national identity, and this volume provides a necessary but often-overlooked global context for US discourses of the body. Exploring the ways in which US body politics have been translated and refracted through political, military, and media engagements abroad, as well as the ways in which US national identity has been defined over and against the bodies of alien others, the essays illustrate the transnational vectors along which twentieth-century representations of bodies have moved.

Along with an introduction and epilogue by the editors, Body and Nation contains twelve essays, ten of which have not been previously published. The essays are arranged simply in chronological order, although they focus broadly on three themes articulated in the introduction: the challenges of defining a national body in an age of imperialism and global migration; the relationship of the body to discourses of national security; and the depiction of the modern, national body in transnational mass media. Most if not all of the essays take up more than one of these themes. For example, the first essay in the collection, Paul A. Kramer's study of US military and domestic understandings of prostitution during the Philippine-American War, addresses the perceived dangers that the prostitute body presented to the US empire, to American military forces, and to the domestic nation and its citizens. The presence of regulated prostitution in the US-occupied Philippines only came to the attention of the American public through the efforts of journalists in the anti-colonialist, social purity, and suffragist presses, who saw in the practice a risk of miscegenation and immigration that would pollute the US population, disease that would weaken the US military, and sexual license that would soil US morality, among other concerns. Kramer's essay deftly establishes the myriad ways in which discourses of disease penetrating the body are intermingled with those of foreign customs and institutions invading the nation and empire, a focus thoughtfully mirrored in the final essay of the collection, Kristina Shull's history of the Mariel Boatlift from Cuba to Key West in 1980, following which fears regarding security, disease, and sexual deviance helped to give rise to the modern US immigration detention system.

With the final central essay covering the period between 1980 and 1983, Body and Nation does emphasize the early and mid-twentieth century more than the closing decades of the era, although Natalie Molina's essay on public health and immigration, which begins by examining a 1916 typhus outbreak in Los Angeles County and the health screenings required of participants in the mid-century guest worker Bracero Program, concludes with a discussion of medical deportations in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Rosenberg and Fitzpatrick's epilogue also extends the time frame of the collection beyond the early 1980s by drawing attention to the erased and disappeared bodies of US foreign policy, from the victims of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the victims of torture during the Cold War and the contemporary War on Terror. But despite the inevitable gaps in time periods and topics covered,

Body and Nation does feature an impressively diverse range of topics, inter-mingling essays on the geopolitics of body and nation in immigration policy, military efforts, and foreign relations with studies examining American and transnational biopolitics in popular culture, media, and sports, including Janet M. Davis' discussion of the circus as an institution of wholesome corporeal and moral development in the early twentieth century, and Mary Ting Yi Lui's history of Korean American Olympic diver Sammy Lee's work as a goodwill ambassador to Asia during the early years of the Cold War.

This is a well-edited, engaging collection of essays that would be a valuable addition to upper-level or graduate courses in US history or American studies, or in related interdisciplinary fields such as women's and gender studies or critical race studies. The essays in Body and Nation assume a reader who is at least broadly familiar with contemporary approaches to the body, so the volume would not serve well to provide an introduction to theories of the body; however, the essays are also not intensively theoretical and will be readily approachable for scholars and students from fields outside of history and body studies. Body and Nation offers a complex and varied history of body politics in the twentieth-century United States, but together the essays present a compelling argument that our understandings of modern American bodies have always been inescapably and necessarily transnational.


Kristin E. Pitt, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
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Author:Pitt, Kristin E.
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2016
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