Harvard University Press

Gambling was and is an economically and culturally important activity in many urban African American communities, and ‘numbers’ was from the mid-1920s a ‘full-blown craze’ in Harlem. It was a complicated method of gambling on a set of three numbers generated by an apparently incorruptible process. The numbers, posted each day by the New York Clearing House, a financial institution just a couple of blocks from Wall Street, related to arcane matters such as daily clearances between banks and the state of the Federal Reserve, but they were eagerly awaited, published in news-papers and deployed for quite different purposes. Numbers ‘bankers’ roamed the streets collecting small ‘investments’ from customers who then collected a return if their three numbers came up. Regular small bets from large numbers of people generated a lot of money, and successful numbers operators became rich. Numbers had a turnover in the tens of millions of dollars a year in Harlem and, remarkably, became the enterprise ‘with the largest number of employees and the highest turnover’ in that legendary part of the city.

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In 2016, Hillary Clinton received nearly three million more votes for president of the United States than Donald Trump. Despite this sizeable margin, Clinton was not elected. The reason was the electoral college, a method for picking presidents that emerged as an ‘eleventh-hour compromise’ at the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia in 1787 and that has never been abolished.

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Imagining Australia collects nineteen essays from a 2002 conference on Australian literature and culture at Harvard University. Of course, as the proceedings of a conference, it is on occasion hard work. There is something about conferences – the dedication of their audiences, perhaps, or the vulnerability of their speakers – that encourages a somewhat defensive formality. That said, almost every essay in this collection repays a reader’s investment with interest: in describing the history of Australian literary journals; offering a new direction for Australian pastoral poetry; providing surprising perspectives on popular Australian myths; or looking at how contemporary poets use form.

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John Keane is Australia’s leading scholar of democracy, with work that demonstrates an impressive command of global sources. Keane’s most widely cited book, The Life and Death of Democracy (2009), included new research on the origins of public assemblies in India many centuries before the familiar democracy of Greek city-states. Keane located the origins of democracy in non-European traditions, in part by tracing the linguistic origins of the concept.

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The papacy’s role in international affairs is often underestimated. A recent example is Pope Francis’s participation in the 2015 negotiations leading to a détente between Cuba and the United States. It helped, of course, that Barack Obama was president and that Raúl Castro had replaced his brother Fidel in Havana; but it was Francis, building on the work of his predecessors who had maintained continuous relations with the Castro regime, who brought the two sides together, and who persuaded the United States to drop its sanctions against Cuba.

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The import of this book is best summed up by pinching one of its section headings: ‘another Europe is possible’. In this other Europe, this better one, the ‘democratic deficit’ that has bedevilled the European project from the outset has finally found a satisfactory resolution. A dream? Not at all. For the authors of this book, it is a ‘realistic utopia’, fully achievable if the right measures are taken. All that is needed is an agreement on a treaty and the dismantling of a Trojan Horse. 

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South-eastern Europe is a region defined by ambiguity: with few clear geographic boundaries or consensus over its correct appellation, it is a palimpsest bearing the marks of Balkan, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, Ottoman, and central European cultures. As the identities of the region’s inhabitants have shifted across the centuries, their position within the European ...

The argument of James Simpson’s Permanent Revolution is that the emergence of liberalism as a cultural and political category in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was shaped by the ‘radically illiberal history of ...

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According to most accounts, the history of computing is a triumph of enterprise. This story starts in the 1950s and 1960s with commercial mainframe computers that, one stack of punch-cards at a time, assumed business tasks ranging from managing airline reservations to calculating betting odds ...

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Ian Tyrrell reviews Progressive New World by Marilyn Lake

Ian Tyrrell
Friday, 22 February 2019

In 1902, Australian feminist and social reformer Vida Goldstein met Theodore Roosevelt in the White House during her North American lecture tour. Marilyn Lake retells the story of their encounter in her important new book. Seizing Goldstein’s hand in a vice-like grip, the president exclaimed: ‘delighted to meet you’. Australasian social and economic reforms attracted Roosevelt and other Americans ...

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