City People: Black Baltimore in the Photographs of John Clark Mayden

by eea | Friday, October 18, 2019 - 12:00 PM

It began with a visit, on a calm December day, to a spacious, sunlit farmhouse on the edge of Leakin Park. There I encountered for the first time John Clark Mayden’s Baltimore “street portraits”—photographs set worlds away from that peaceful location … or so you might think.

I was there with Dr. Lawrence Jackson, Bloomberg Professor of History and English at Johns Hopkins, but also a Baltimore native and family friend of the Maydens. We gathered around the dining room table as John turned over his black-and-white prints one by one—a stunning display of luscious tones and deeply satisfying compositions that somehow suggest both spontaneity and thoughtful arrangement.

But, to be honest, my first impressions did not focus on these technical achievements. What I noticed first—more of a feeling than an observation, really—was the pop of connection. Through the interface of the photograph, I saw my fellow citizens, mostly Black, often framed by the doorways and windows of Baltimore’s iconic rowhouses, looking back at me with the full force of their gazes, or going about their business despite my presence. Whatever was happening in any given image, the photographer had opened a passageway through time, space, and race....Read More

Killing for the Republic: What is the Most Important Takeaway?

by eea | Thursday, October 17, 2019 - 12:00 PM

For thousands of years, people have written about the Roman Republic, how it achieved its empire, and why it collapsed. Scholars of each generation have specialized in different aspects of Rome’s republic. Modern scholars tend to focus on laws, institutions, power structures, and the geographical and historical circumstances that made the Roman Republic so successful. In the writing of my book, Killing for the Republic: Citizen-Soldiers and the Roman Way of War , I was indebted to these scholars, many of whom knew far more about their particular topic than I do. However, I have also noticed that it is currently out of fashion to consider the spiritual and moral fabric that bound the Roman Republic together.

This is perhaps part of a broader trend that downplays the public life of the spirit. Eric Voegelin opened his epic, eight-volume History of Political Ideas with the conviction that beliefs create a political people. Political units are evoked when convictions are articulated in language and linguistic symbols. In a modern age obsessed with legal systems, formal declarations, and political institutions, Voegelin argued that such things were secondary. Ideas make laws; myths create nations. A constitutional order does...Read More

The Ethics of Being Collected

by eea | Wednesday, October 16, 2019 - 3:00 PM

When I was writing The Collectors of Lost Souls (2008), the picaresque yet tragic story of investigations of the lethal neurological disorder called kuru, the ethics of this scientific enterprise were much on my mind. As the narrative began to cohere and gather force, however, the dramatic elements and episodic intensity of the disease’s history and the Fore people’s responses to their mysterious affliction took over the book, subordinating any moral tale. The story was a remarkable one, a disturbing one, combining a brain disease previously unknown to medical science, first contact between whites and a remote tribe during the 1950s in the highlands of New Guinea, the threat of extinction of the Fore people, sorcery allegations, cannibalism, slow viruses, infectious proteins, mad cows, two Nobel Prizes in physiology or medicine, and the conviction of the lead scientist, American D. Carleton Gajdusek, for his sexual molestation of an adolescent boy. Altogether, it was a story one couldn’t make up – indeed, there were times when I wondered whether readers would ever believe it. So, while the emphasis on the ethics of research relationships continued to pervade the narrative, the sheer weirdness, even malignity, of the story...Read More

Republic of Numbers: Genesis of the Book

by eea | Friday, October 11, 2019 - 12:00 PM

In 2014 Johns Hopkins Press editor Vince Burke suggested to me an intriguing idea for a unique book on the history of American mathematics. He proposed that I scan the history of the nation, and for each decade find an event of mathematical significance. The wider history of the decade (social, political, economic, military) could then be spun out from this mathematical episode. The book would consist of a series of decade by decade chapters. Vince envisioned this book to be welcoming to the general reader, not a dense scholarly monograph.

I found an ideal mix of constraint and freedom in working on a book that had been suggested by someone else. Right from the beginning there was a structure to my efforts that kept me from aimless wandering. But if it didn’t work out, well, it wasn’t my idea. I could it blame it on Vince and walk away without regrets. Initially I could view the task as a mere technical exercise in historical research: let’s see what can be said about American mathematics in the 1830s, the 1840s, the 1850s, etc. I must admit, however, that at some point I became fully invested in the project,...Read More

Baltimore Lives

by eea | Thursday, October 10, 2019 - 2:00 PM

Photography is my passion and I enjoy the process of bringing stories to life. With each facial expression, setting, or environment in the picture, there is a personal or communal untold story to be shared. The pictures in Baltimore Lives give life to the diverse and complex African-American culture of many people in Baltimore City.

These pictures depict details of urban black people in ordinary life. The images are not meant to demean or stereotype. Warm tone papers and sepia tone uncover their dignity. The lives of many of my subjects are captured going about their daily activities.

Media portrayals of Baltimore center on violence, poor housing, and education. While many of these components are Baltimore’s reality, they don’t represent Baltimore at its core. As people view my photographs, I hope the pictures give the viewers a deeper glimpse and appreciation for African-American life in Baltimore.

I grew up in West Baltimore and attended Union Baptist Church, a civil rights advocacy church. I was heavily influenced by the voting rights and desegregation activities that were spreading throughout the city.

In 1970, two years after the assassinations of Martin Luther King., Jr., and Robert...Read More