Book giveaways!

It finally feels like spring! We’re celebrating the season by hosting Goodreads giveaways for two new titles from our spring catalog. Check ‘em out below, and enter to win a copy of one—or both!

A powerful examination of the portrayal of black men in popular culture

Illegible Black Masculinities
by Mark Anthony Neal

Released April 22, 2013

“[N]o one but Neal would manage to produce a theory of black masculinity capable of explaining the smoothness of Luther Vandross, the cosmopolitan genius of Jay-Z, the enigma of Leroy from Fame, and the sheer brute force of Snoop from The Wire. Genius.“—Jack Halberstam, author of Gaga Feminism

2 copies available. Giveaway ends on May 10, 2013. Enter to win!


A creative reinvestigation of murder, insurance fraud, and a Supreme Court ruling

The Case of the Cowboy, the Cigarmaker, and the Love Letter
by Marianne Wesson

Releases May 24, 2013

“Known for her legal thrillers, University of Colorado law professor Wesson employs her expertise to great effect in this exhaustive study… [A] true crime drama that’s well researched, easy to read, and oddly compelling.”
Publishers Weekly

3 copies available. Giveaway ends on May 24, 2013. Enter to win!

Good luck, and spread the word!

Words do matter in the immigration debate

Ediberto Román and Bobby Joe Bracy

[This post originally appeared on the Latinovations blog. Read it here.]

After decades of inaction, this week’s unveiling of the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” immigration proposal suggests that Congress may finally be prepared to reform our immigration system. It is of no surprise that this renewed vigor comes on the heels of a presidential election where an overwhelming majority of Hispanic voters rejected the Republican solution was self-deportation. Yet, despite this crucial and potentially transformative moment, Republican leaders, such as Senator John McCain, one of the Group of Eight, has continued to use of ‘illegal immigrant’ when addressing the subjects of reform. He and many other Republicans who oppose immigration reform continue to use the more provocative yet inaccurate term–“illegal alien”(a term still used by the federal immigration agency, ICE). Conservative Senator Jeff Sessions for his part derided the Gang of Eight’s efforts as “making nearly impossible for ICE officials to distinguish between ‘illegal immigrants’ eligible for legal status and those simply asserting they are amnesty eligible.”

Notwithstanding the insistence to label human beings as “illegal” merely because they have committed what under federal law is a misdemeanor, other important avenues of communication and education are beginning to change the heretofore tone of the debate. Just over a week ago the Associated Press (AP) came to a decision that has gone virtually unnoticed in legal and political circles. Yet the decision was profound. The AP “no longer sanctions the term ‘illegal immigrant’ or the use of ‘illegal’ to describe a person. Instead, it tells users that “illegal” should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.”

A week later, USA Today made a similar decision to refrain from using the term, concluding that: “the term illegal immigration is acceptable, but do not label people as illegal immigrants, except in direct quotes. Undocumented immigrant, undocumented worker and unauthorized immigrant are acceptable terms — depending on accuracy, clarity and context… Do not use illegal or illegals as a noun. It is considered pejorative by most immigrants.”

While Fox News subsequently accused the AP of trying to influence immigration debate, the fact is the AP and the USA Today decisions were sound on several fronts, not the least of which is the accurate use of the English language as well as the legal and social impact of a discrediting imprecise term such as “illegal immigrant.”

Legal scholars have long recognized the inappropriateness of the use of the term. University of California, at Davis, Dean Kevin Johnson, for instance, observes: The most damning terminology for noncitizens is “illegal alien…‘Illegal aliens’ is a pejorative term that implies criminality, thereby suggesting that the persons who fall in this category deserve punishment, not legal protection.” Johnson further notes, “The illegal alien label…suffers from inaccuracies and inadequacies at several levels. [In fact,] many nuances of immigration law make it extremely difficult to distinguish between an ‘illegal’ and a ‘legal’ alien.”

Leading linguists agree, and last year a group of 24 scholars criticized the Associated Press’ previous assertion that the term “illegal immigrant” was accurate and neutral. These experts noted: “This misleading construction of illegality is tied to the circulation of troublesome stereotypes about the migration status of different ethnoracial groups. Specifically, assessments of illegality are often associated with unreliable signs of one’s migration status, such as language, religion, and physical appearance. These presumptions lead not only to law enforcers’ regular misidentification of people’s migration status based on wrongful assumptions about ethnolinguistic markers, but also to the broader public stigmatization of those markers.”

As the leading law dictionary, Black’s makes clear, no person, including an alien, is “illegal.” The word “illegal” is an adjective, or “a word … typically serving as a modifier of a noun to denote a quality of the thing named.” Thus, no person, including an alien, is illegal. Accordingly, an alien is “a person resident in one country, but owing allegiance to another.” In other words, our laws regulate the legality of the “conduct” of persons, but do not attempt to classify human beings in such a manner. We do not, for instance, classify a seven year old that steals something as an “illegal child.” Such a label would not only be deemed absurd, but also morally bankrupt. Our laws have never gone as far as to make the persons involved “illegal.” The idea that a person might be “illegal” is thus not only inhumane; it is also grammatically inaccurate, as well as legally incoherent. There are simply no laws adequately governing the issue of “illegal personhood.” As Johnson points out, although “alien” appears repeatedly in the Immigration and Nationality Act, the term “illegal alien” is not once defined.

In sum, substances and other objects can be illegal, and conduct can be illegal—but a person cannot. As Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel aptly noted years ago, “No human being is illegal.”

The AP’s decision is couched in bedrock ethical and professional concerns about accuracy in reporting. As AP’s Kathleen Carroll explains…”Will the new guidance make it harder for writers? Perhaps just a bit at first. But while labels may be more facile, they are not accurate.”

Social justice and civil rights advocates have long fought similar battles over truth and accuracy, which is not an easy battle when facility makes ignorance so appealing. As the AP now calls for: Specify wherever possible how someone entered the country illegally and from where. Crossed the border? Overstayed a visa? What nationality?

In other words: do your homework, and describe the action or conduct that is illegal.

The decision is the only fit response to critics who dismiss this issue as “political correctness” or “censorship.” The aim evidently was not to “censor” ideas or speech, but to be critical of terms that bury a great deal of important information. In almost any context, these questions are not only significant for reporting, but legally significant. People’s rights are in the balance. As a federal court recently observed in U.S. v. Cruz-Padilla, where the court held that the defendant was entitled to a new trial because the prosecution relied on the term “illegal alien” in their closing arguments in front of a jury. Citing the Supreme Court’s earlier decisions (holding that the Constitution’s “due process” clause prohibits the use of “racially biased prosecutorial arguments”), the Cruz-Padilla Court characterized the “improper” use of the term “illegal alien” as a “foul.”

Law and psychology experts likewise have long recognized, markers or labels, especially politically loaded negative labels, have the ability to shape public policy and laws. Such labels help shape what is described as implicit bias, or mental shortcuts that allow us to make negative associations of groups that are undeserving of such negative categorizations. Stereotypes, for instance, allow society to use mental shortcuts, or schema, to associate individuals with a discrediting quality. These discrediting qualities in turn make it easier for policy makers to enact laws that seek to protect us from those with such qualities.

Sadly, history is replete with such efforts. For instance, one of the first and easiest ways for the Third Reich to enact its laws and policies was to stigmatize the Jewish community with similar discrediting qualities. These efforts paved the way to pass laws and enact horrific policies to allegedly protect society from these dangerous contagions. The use of the label illegal alien has a similar social effect. It has labeled a group of persons, who under our criminal and immigration laws have committed typically nothing more than a misdemeanor, as a group of hardened criminals that we should fear and exclude. As more and more Americans are realizing, and opinion polls reflect such realization, this label conflicts with reality.

With the recent announcements by the AP and the USA Today, we hopefully begin a path of engaging in narratives based on accurate depictions, and not stigmatizing labels. No longer is it ethical or responsible to use the discrediting marker “an illegal human being”—if indeed it ever was.

Ediberto Román is a nationally-acclaimed scholar and an award-winning educator with broad teaching interests and an extensive scholarship portfolio. He is the author of several books, including Citizenship and Its Exclusions: Classical, Constitutional, and Critical Race Perspectives (NYU Press, 2010) and Those Damn Immigrants: America’s Hysteria Over Immigration (NYU Press, 2013).

Bobby Joe Bracy is a law student at Florida International University and an immigrant rights advocate. He is currently a research assistant for Ediberto Román, and the President of the National Lawyers Guild at FIU Law.

All Tomorrow’s Parties

Peter Coviello’s new book, Tomorrow’s Parties, launches an innovative (and often
unexpected) exploration of nineteenth-century American sexuality through the lens of literature. Here, we talk with him about Joseph Smith, the Velvet Underground, and how he came about his cover image. 

NYU Press: Tell us a bit about your book.

Peter Coviello: Tomorrow’s Parties considers the strange forms pleasure, desire, and carnality could take in the writing of the American nineteenth century, just before these aspects of sex came to be reassembled under the sign of something called “sexuality.” It looks closely at imaginings of erotic life that can seem, to modern eyes, weird and unlikely, hard even to recognize as sex at all.

So I’m interested – when I’m reading Henry James or Harriet Jacobs or Joseph Smith – in
what a modern notion of sexuality might prevent us from seeing clearly, might mute or distort. In this way I think of the book as in dialogue not only with scholarship about sex in the American nineteenth century but with new queer work that worries over the adequacy of “sexuality” itself as a cherished bit of conceptual terminology. It’s my sense that a lot of us doing queer work today are wondering afresh at the misapprehending, sometimes colonizing tendencies of “sexuality” even in its queerest registers; so Tomorrow’s Parties tries to tell a story about how the emergence of that sexuality came to happen, and at what cost.

NYUP: Why the title, Tomorrow’s Parties? Are you a Velvet Underground

PC: I am. So there’s that. I also found a curious commonality across a lot
of the writers I was reading: a tendency to transform their own uneasiness with the
cramped, narrowing conceptual languages of erotic life that were available to them
into this ardent, yearning investment in futurity, and what might be possible there.
Again and again I encountered authors who, when gripped by one or another kind
of sensual intensity or bodily captivation, would begin dreaming of the future, of
some as yet unripened set of conditions under which those pleasures might find for
themselves a different kind of legibility, and perhaps even a way of living them out
in concert with a range of other people. The more I thought about that – and I do a
lot of my thinking surrounded by music – the more the phrase “tomorrow’s parties”
became inevitable.

NYUP: How did you find such a captivating image for the cover?

PC: This would’ve been in Brooklyn, I’m guessing, in the early 2000s. I was being led around a mazy gallery and feeling, I confess, a little out of my depth. Then I turned a corner and found myself abruptly transported.

Julie Heffernan’s paintings are strange without being surreal, classical but not imitative, painterly without being ironic. You look at them and feel unnerved, as though you’re seeing not a deft citation of classical style but that style as appraised
at a somehow estranging distance. There’s an eerie kind of rupture being staged in Self-Portrait in the Bedroom by the central figure – painted in outblown nonrealist extravagance – but of what? And by what? Of the antique Tintoretto-esque framing gestures by a present, or a future, that confounds it? Of an inherited order by all that fractures it: bodiliness, imagination, their pairing in sex?

Tomorrow’s Parties is about rupture: about all that might be lost – all the
extravagant ways of imagining the very parameters of sex – with the ascent of
modern languages of sexuality and sexual identity. So when my great editor Eric
Zinner asked about images for the cover, I didn’t hesitate: I could think of no image
that performed that interplay between capture and excess, legibility and erotic
obliquity, more beautifully than Heffernan’s. I’m delighted to have it for the book

Peter Coviello is Professor of English at Bowdoin College, where he specializes in nineteenth-century American literature and queer studies, and where he has served as Chair of the departments of English, Africana Studies, and Gay and Lesbian Studies. His book, Tomorrow’s Parties: Sex and the Untimely in Ninteenth-Century America is out now from NYU Press.

Digital journalism and the end of church and state

—Michael Serazio

For generations of journalists, the separation of “church and state” referred not just to First Amendment protections for secular Americans. It was also the metaphorical way of phrasing an enduring ideal: that the business side of a news outlet would not encroach on the autonomy of the editorial side.

For advertisers, however, this was always an uneasy bargain. Audiences, they’ve long known, fundamentally mistrust advertising. For this reason, as I show in my new book, Your Ad Here, advertising often gets created to blend in, “guerrilla-style,” with contexts that don’t look like advertising.

In the case of newspapers, this explained those full-page “articles” written by a brand or marketer that affected the appearance of editorial content without the pretense of objectivity about the subject. Given the choice, the marketer surely wouldn’t have opted for “Advertisement” to run in small letters atop the piece, as it usually did – the newspaper’s equivalent of handling such content with Hazmat gloves.

Alas, newspapers have been in steady decline for the better part of a decade, as audiences consume more and more content through online sources. And, as the New York Times reported this week, a new set of norms for handling that sponsored material may well be taking shape.

It turns out that press venues both new and old – including The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, and Buzzfeed – have increasingly been accommodating brand-backed articles or, as I call it, “advertainment.” Because advertisers are discovering online – as they long knew of their print-based output – that banner ads are often annoying, irrelevant, and ineffective, alternatives must be considered.

“It is, in fact, content,” defended one representative at Forbes Media, which has experimented with these partnerships. “It’s not advertising.” One of the hallmarks of guerrilla marketing is precisely that self-effacement of the sales component in favor of something more desirable: here, journalistic reportage.

But for either the advertiser or the press representative to pretend that being “indistinguishable” is not their goal here – well, I’ve got a nice bridge connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan that they might be interested in buying.  Perhaps their reporters could do a “sponsored story” helping me make the sale.

Michael Serazio is Assistant Professor of Communication at Fairfield University and the author of Your Ad Here: The Cool Sell of Guerrilla Marketing (NYU Press, 2013). You can follow him on Twitter @michaelserazio.

Defining the “cool sell”

Newsflash, Internet friends and media lovers!
Your Ad Here, a new addition to our stellar Postmillenial Pop series, publishes this Friday, April 5.

The book explores the rise of guerrilla marketing (think: covert, even creepy, commercial persuasion)—and what author Michael Serazio calls the “cool sell” approach, defined for us below.

cool sell
noun, verb, pranks, stunts

  1. A way to cut through the clutter of competing information.  
  2. By definition, an allusion to McLuhan. 
  3. A financial model that could save/destroy the media industries. 
  4. The reason Heineken paid $45 million to get in the hands of James Bond. 
  5. As Kalle Lasn suggested, the opiate of our time. 
  6. How Pabst Blue Ribbon hooked the hipsterati. 
  7. Corporate street art and branded flash mobs. 
  8. Why your buzz agent friends might sell you out for a free sample. 
  9. Manufacturing authenticity; AstroTurfing the grassroots. 
  10. Scheming memes for your tweets and status updates. 
  11. The pretense of populism that comes with “going viral.” 
  12. How Blair Witch became the most profitable movie ever. 
  13. Rethinking the medium itself used for advertising. 
  14. A new book from NYU Press available April 5.

NYU Press celebrates Black History Month!

February marks the month-long celebration of the history, influences, and contributions of African American people and culture. To honor Black History Month this year, we’re offering 20% off some of our favorite books in African American studies and history. (Check out the full list, with discounted prices, here.)

The offer ends on February 28, 2013, but not the celebration! This spring, we’re publishing titles in African American studies that are sure to become classics. Take a sneak peek at the forthcoming books below.

In Ghosts of Jim Crow, F. Michael Higginbotham convincingly argues that America remains far away from the  imagined utopia of a post-racial society. Using history as a roadmap, Higginbotham arrives at a provocative solution for ridding the nation of Jim Crow’s ghost, suggesting that legal and political reform can successfully create a post-racial America, but only if it inspires whites and blacks to significantly alter behaviors and attitudes.

» READ: The book’s introduction.

Mark Anthony Neal’s Looking for Leroy is an engaging and provocative analysis of the complex ways in which black masculinity has been read and misread through contemporary American popular culture. In examining figures such as hip-hop artist Jay-Z, the late vocalist Luther Vandross, and characters from the HBO series The Wire, among others, Neal demonstrates how distinct representations of black masculinity can break the links in the public imagination that create antagonism toward black men.

» READ: Love in the Stacks: Some Thoughts on Black History Month” (Huffington Post)

In We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement, renowned scholar-activist Akinyele Umoja persuasively argues that armed resistance was critical to the efficacy of the southern freedom struggle and the dismantling of segregation. He challenges long-held beliefs about the role of nonviolence within the civil rights movement and uncovers the hidden narratives of Mississippi’s black armed resistance groups.

» VIEW: “
Dr. Akinyele Umoja On Alfred ‘Skip’ Robinson

Stay tuned for more on these titles, and more, throughout Black History Month!

New-model publishing at MLA

—Monica McCormick

In January, I went to the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association (MLA) for the first time. It was an illuminating and energizing few days. In my job as head of NYU’s digital publishing office, a joint effort of NYU Libraries and NYU Press, I help to develop and implement strategies for engaging with scholars who produce new-model publications. For the Press, these strategies are central to our shift, now well underway, from being solely a print-book publisher to becoming a publisher of scholarship in a variety of forms and media.

So I have paid attention to the growing emphasis at MLA (as well as at academic conferences across the disciplines) in the digital humanities (DH). Notoriously tricky to define in brief, DH is a wide-ranging field that includes scholars who employ computational methods to study traditional evidence like literary texts, historical data, and cultural artifacts, and those who use humanistic methods to understand digital media and culture. This work results not only in print and digital books or journals, but also in databases, digital archives, online maps, complex visualizations, and more.

via @robincamille

Some of the highest-profile events at MLA were focused on DH, including a presidential forum, Avenues of Access: Digital Humanities and the Future of Scholarly Communication, immediately preceded by a panel on The Dark Side of Digital Humanities that engendered considerable debate on Twitter even as it occurred. These two could be read as the ends of the continuum of arguments about DH – its potential and its risks.

During my time at the DH and scholarly communication sessions, I focused on how publishers might find new ways of engaging with such work. The takeaways: We see not only tremendous variety in publishing modes and formats (text, audio, video, games, and combinations of those) but also shared concerns about how to assess, share, cite and preserve these new publication types for future scholars. Whatever we at NYU Press build and however we distribute it, we’ll have to grapple with these issues.

The panel I was on, “Beyond the PDF: Experiments in Open Access Scholarly Publishing,” presented five different publishing projects that rely on technology as diverse as listservs, blogging platforms, and purpose-built software to publish scholarship. I discussed MediaCommons, the NYU-supported digital scholarly network, and our focus not only on providing access to the content but also on tools for collaboration and engagement with it. Though each panelist’s projects had different emphases, we are all working on how to peer review new-model publications and how to demonstrate the quality and impact of this work so that it can be evaluated for tenure and promotion.

Another key theme was the relationship between work that appears online, then in print, and perhaps back to online, addressed in the panel Rewards and Challenges of Serial Scholarship. A generative example is Debates in Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew Gold of CUNY and published by Douglas Armato, director of the University of Minnesota Press. The two of them first met via Twitter, where they were part of the same loose network of folks discussing DH. At MLA 2011, they hatched the idea for this book, which assembles a series of essays, many of which originated as blog posts. The print book was published only a year later, in time for MLA 2012, following a peer-review process where the contributors read and commented on each other’s work and the Press solicited its usual reviews. Then, at this year’s MLA, they released an interactive open-access online edition. Readers’ engagement with the material online is expected to lead to a new print edition in due course. Everything about this project, from its genesis online, through its editorial development and review, to the mix of publication types, strikes me as helpful for thinking through what new-model publishing requires.

As NYU Press moves forward with new-model publishing, we will look for projects that help us to learn new skills and engage with scholars and their audiences in innovative ways, as we maintain our emphasis on quality, cutting-edge scholarship. What I saw at MLA underlines my conviction that the future of scholarly publishing will not force us into binary choices (print vs. digital, paid vs. free, “traditional” vs. “experimental”) but will, rather, require us to balance many possibilities.

Monica McCormick is the Program Officer for Digital Scholarly Publishing at New York University. Read an interview with Monica, from The Chronicle of Higher Education, here. You can also find her on Twitter @moncia.

February theme of the month: Unconventional love

Has Valentine’s Day and its sappy accounts of saccharine romance got you down? Don’t worry–the folks at NYU Press are here to offer alternative accounts of love and relationships!

Michael Cobb takes on the idea of the relationship itself in his work Single, which examines the discourses surrounding “singleness” in film, art, theory, literature, and, through his analysis of HBO’s Big Love, even television. His provocative argument challenges the notion that being in a couple is required (or even desirable) for engaging with society, and offers an alternative perspective on being without a partner. Being single, it appears, might not be so bad after all.

But if you still have relationships on your mind, then you may want to check out David Shumway’s Modern Love, which traces the development of a new language of “intimacy” over the course of the twentieth century. Shumway theorizes that when marriage lost its institutional powers of controlling and distributing property, new conceptions of and ways of talking about love had to be attached to it–all of which can be squarely located in just about every Woody Allen film ever made. Tracing the shift in emphasis (but not mere replacement) from “romance” to “intimacy” through advice columns, self-help books, Hollywood screwball comedies, and a variety of other texts, Shumway offers a meditation on what it means to love in the modern age.

While Shumway offers an account for twentieth-century love, we might wonder: what does love in the twenty-first century look like? In Love and Empire, Felicity Amaya Schaeffer examines the oddities of cybermarriage and internet romance, particularly their roles in the relationship between Latin America and the United States. Tracking the global trajectory of the twenty-first-century commercialization of intimacy, Schaeffer finds Latin American women fashion themselves through the lens of the erotic to transform themselves into ideal citizens of both their home countries and the United States. These stories not only offer us glimpses into the relationships between contemporary individuals, but also a look at the convoluted relationship between Latin America and the United States.

Offering an alternative look at marriage and traditional concepts of love and intimacy is José Esteban Muñoz, who argues in Cruising Utopia that pragmatic, assimilationist concerns such as marriage only put a halt to the radical and future-bound agenda of the LGBTQ community. Through looking to the past and examining works in queer (and not so queer) archives, Muñoz paves a way to the radical and hopeful future, one where the newly-invigorated LGBTQ community can stop being stifled by pragmatic concerns of the present and instead continue on its radically future-bound course.

These works offer a starting point for books, events and articles we will highlight throughout the month. Look forward to updates here on our blog and our Tumblr!

Dads are parents, too

—Gayle Kaufman

In a recent Atlantic piece, Alexis Coe writes about different expectations of and reactions to mothers and fathers. On the one hand, people expect “very involved” fathers to do less than “very involved” mothers. On the other hand, when fathers do the same thing as mothers they are praised, while mothers remain invisible. Coe argues for people to react to involved fathers in a way that “is not judgmental or evaluative, but still positive.”

“Look! There in the playground, with the stroller and diaper bag! It’s Superdad!”

While I agree that fathers should be as involved as mothers and engage in all aspects of parenting, I don’t have a problem with praising the actions of involved dads. Being evaluative means considering the value or worth of something. In this case, fathers who take care of their children are engaging in a very worthwhile activity. To be fair, mothers do much of the valuable work of caregiving. In an ideal world, we might not speak of “mothers” and “fathers” but of “parents”—and we might praise all parents for the important work they do. But we are not quite there yet.

Coe suggests that when people react in the wrong way (perhaps in the form of misguided praise), gender differences, rather than equity, will be encouraged. She gives the example of parents avoiding calling their daughters “pretty” or “dolls.” But the other side of this is that parents instead call their daughters “smart.” While we might not want to flip it completely by calling sons “dolls,” we should encourage more nurturing behaviors in boys and men.

Consider how much we praise women who succeed in business and politics. Think Madeleine Albright, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Sheryl Sandberg. Men in similar positions don’t receive as much attention. My point is that we want more women in business and politics and we react (mostly) favorably when they get there. I think it’s okay if we do the same for men.

I don’t want to overblow this issue. I’m sure Coe and I would agree on a lot. I just think there’s room for superdads.

Gayle Kaufman is Professor of Sociology at Davidson College and a 2012-13 Fulbright Scholar. She is author of Superdads: How Fathers Balance Work and Family in the 21st Century (NYU Press, June 2013).

Introduction to Spreadable Media

At long last, Spreadable Media by Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green has published!

This week marked the book’s debut, along with the final roll out of web exclusive essays, all available in the enhanced online component to the book. Written by a range of contributors, from media scholars to game designers, the essays expand upon the core ideas outlined in Spreadable Media. Read them here.

To wrap up the week, we’re also featuring the full introduction to Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture for free (in the name of spreadability). Read it below. And remember to spread!

Introduction to Spreadable Media

Waiting for democracy

—Andrew Guthrie Ferguson

Last November, thousands of citizens waited for hours outside polling places to cast their ballots in the presidential election. When asked why they were willing to wait, most answered in the emphatic language of democratic pride. It is our duty. It is our right. It is our calling as citizens. We are proud to.

Every day in courthouses across America, there are other lines of waiting citizens—lines for jury duty. There are lines to get into the courthouse, lines to check in, lines before you head to the courtroom for jury selection. Yet, if you ask those jurors why they were willing to wait, the language is less emphatic, less proud.

Why do we think of voting as something more connected to our democratic identity?  Why of the twin political rights of voting and jury service—the two markers of full political citizenship—do we value the right to vote more? The answer is that we misunderstand the value and values of jury service to democracy.

Why Jury Duty Matters sets out to reframe the debate by showing the importance of jury service to our democracy. To understand the value of jury service you need to understand its history, its constitutional connection, and its personal relevance to citizenship.

First, the history of the jury is the history of America. The right to a jury trial came over on the first boats to America. Jury protections can be found in the charters that founded the Jamestown and Plymouth colonies. Juries were instituted in the constitutions of each of the Thirteen Colonies and each of the new States. In fact, the denial of the right to a jury trial made it into the Declaration of Independence as one of the grievances of the colonists, helping to spark the Revolutionary War. Not surprisingly then, the right to a criminal jury trial is the only right that makes an appearance in both the original text of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights—under Article III and the Sixth Amendment, respectively. Further, you also have the Seventh Amendment’s right to a civil jury and the Fifth Amendment’s right to a Grand Jury.

Then, as America democratized and diversified, the jury was central to the battle for equality. The civil rights movement in the South began by challenging exclusions from jury service. The right to serve as a juror was a badge of citizenship—symbolizing equality. The women’s suffrage movement (both before and well after the Nineteenth Amendment) also involved a particular emphasis on the right to serve as jurors. Equality meant voting and having the right to jury service. Today, paralleling the progress of the various civil rights movements, jurors represent a fair cross section of society, a living symbol of equality in law.

This constitutional history is real, yet most people do not appreciate it when it comes to jury service. Jury duty is the one time where constitutional history and constitutional theory become immediately relevant, because you—the citizen—are a constitutional actor. We—the people—must act, and Why Jury Duty Matters explores why you should accept the call as a constitutional actor.

Second, the jury is a teaching moment where constitutional values come alive in practice. Participation, deliberation, fairness, equality, accountability, liberty, dissent, and the common good—these are constitutional values, and they are embedded in jury service. While voting is one form of participation, jury service is an even more fundamental contribution. It requires working through those other principles, applying due process rules to achieve fairness, deliberating with others, dissenting with tolerance, and practicing equality in a microcosm of one-person, one-vote democracy in the jury room.

These values are also values that we see in other areas of our democratic practice. But in jury service the lessons are longer, the questions deeper, and the practice harder. It is for that reason that Alexis de Tocqueville likened juries to free public schools, always open to teach the civic skills of democracy.

Finally, jury service is personally meaningful. It is the one day that you are required to act like a constitutional citizen. The argument in this book is that you should treat that jury summons like a constitutional invitation. You get to experience it for a day, or more, and hopefully learn a thing or two about your country and the Constitution.

Jury duty is Constitution duty. It is a way for citizens, ordinary folks, to connect to the constitutional principles that guide this nation. Most people see jury duty as a service they do for the court system or for the defendant or parties. But in truth, jury duty is also for the citizen. Jury duty provides constitutional lessons necessary for democracy.

So the next time you are waiting on jury duty, remember you are waiting for democracy. It is just as important as your vote.

Andrew Guthrie Ferguson is Professor of Law at the David A. Clarke School of Law at the University of the District of Columbia. He is co-author of Youth Justice in America and author of Why Jury Duty Matters: A Citizen’s Guide to Constitutional Action.

NYU Press award-winning book designs!

We are so excited to announce that the NYU Press has won three design awards in the 2013 New York Book Show!

Sponsored by the Bookbinders’ Guild of New York, the New York Book Show celebrates excellence in book design and production. The event is a North American competition, with only five awards given per entry category. Thus, we have some prestigious company, including Alfred A. Knopf, McGraw Hill, Oxford University Press, Penguin, Princeton University Press, Random House, and the Smithsonian Institution.

Congratulations to our design team! Here are the winning book designs:

Winner in Scholarly/Professional Book Design
Designer: (our very own) Adam Bohannon

Winner in Scholarly/Professional Cover Design
Designer: Charles B. Hames (also from NYU Press)

Winner in Scholarly/Professional Book Set Design
Designer: Kathleen Szawiola