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Cornell University Press

We often talk about refugees in terms of crisis: ‘unprecedented’ floods of thousands, waves of humanity displaced and now knocking at the door somewhere else. The scale can indeed be staggering. World War II displaced perhaps two hundred million people (one in every ten), worldwide. Figures like this are almost paralysing. How to solve a crisis of this scale, let alone attend to any one refugee’s needs? The experiences of ordinary people, the personal dimensions, are often lost. How do you find the individual in those millions? This is what Ruth Balint does so deftly in Destination Elsewhere: conveys the immense scale of the postwar refugee crisis, but also sketches faces, personalities, and the triumphs, hardships, and failings of individuals. It is a history that feels very human.

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Comparison, when it comes to historical study, is rarely devoid of ambition. The aim is to identify patterns that are global in their significance and to overcome the tendency to see a unique trajectory for particular places or nations. Yet such work frequently founders when it becomes apparent that the author’s knowledge of alternative cases is thin or that the claim to comparison is made to hide a focus that is in fact quite narrow. Not so in this co-authored book, which builds upon its three authors’ areas of expertise – the Anglosphere (Martin Crotty), Asia (Neil J. Diamant), and Europe (Mark Edele) – to deliver a compelling argument about veteran benefits in the twentieth century.

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A Future History of Water by Andrea Ballestero & Anthropogenic Rivers by Jerome Whitington

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October 2019, no. 415

This June I attended a major Aboriginal fire-management workshop in Barmah National Park on Yorta Yorta woka, or Country. Camping on the floodplain of Dhungala – the Murray River – the participants’ discussions of bushfire led repeatedly back to another elemental force: walla, or water. As several elders explained, the flammability of the surrounding red gum forest is inextricably linked to the industrial regulation of the river’s movements. Anthropogenic infrastructures such as Lake Dartmouth have turned the forest’s wetting regime ‘upside down’, repurposing a millennia-old ecological pattern to capture spring floods and create summer flows. One perverse outcome, as Yorta Yorta man Corey Walker said, is that holidaymakers experience the river as rich in water. When urbanites encounter news reports of plunder in the wider Murray–Darling Basin, the channelling of its vitality into irrigation, they think back to summer breaks and long Invasion Day weekends enjoying a generous current, likely unaware that those flows were a gift from water authorities sending a strategic pulse through the system.

 

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Plagiarism, like death, taxes, and hangovers, will always be with us. Tackling the problem historically, anthropologist Susan Blum demonstrates how this scourge has traditionally infested selective entry tests like fleas on rats. Her fascinating exposé of the ingenious techniques used to conceal plagiarism during the imperial Chinese court’s brain-bending entrance exams, for example, demonstrates that nothing has changed. Yet while Blum’s historical perspective prevents her from obsessively blaming ‘today’s youth’, she nevertheless acknowledges plagiarism’s increasing prevalence.

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In September 1857, after twenty-one years of marriage, Charles Dickens began the eight-month long process of separating himself from his wife, Catherine. At forty-two years of age, Catherine had given birth to ten children and managed Dickens’s large household. Until the mid 1850s she and Dickens seemed to enjoy a happy partnership, yet by 1858 Catherine was exiled from the family home and cut off from all but one of her children.

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Racism in Mind edited by Michael P. Levine and Tamas Pataki

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August 2004, no. 263

The anthropologists of some future galactic civilisation, sifting through the remains of human life on earth, will find much to puzzle them, but nothing more so than the propensity of supposedly rational creatures to denigrate, hate or even murder those who are perceived to be different in race. How should we understand racism? Where does it come from, and how can it be eradicated? The editors of this book have assembled an impressive collection of philosophers and psychologists to tackle these questions. Their wide-ranging and often conflicting answers do not make racism less puzzling, but, like all good philosophical investigations, this book has the effect of making the reader puzzle more profoundly.

The editors took a lot of pains with this collection. They ensured that it would be accessible to general readers, as well as scholars. The introduction, by Tamas Pataki, is particularly helpful in providing a framework for the discussion. The editors encouraged contributors to read and comment on each other’s work. The result is a discourse in which participants with different approaches and perspectives cooperate to tackle a matter of serious concern.

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‘He was the only one. He was the only man to have committed suicide in the town’s seventeenth-century history.’ Thus Donna Merwick invites us into this sad and instructive tale about the colonial Dutch world of North America.

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