Review: Hollywood Hates Hitler!

Yogerst, Chris. Hollywood Hates Hitler! Jew-Baiting, Anti-Nazism, and the Senate Investigation into Warmongering in Motion Pictures. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2020. 234pp. $25.00 Paperback.

Chris Yogerst’s Hollywood Hates Hitler! Jew-Baiting, Anti-Nazism, and the Senate Investigation into Warmongering in Motion Pictures examines the 1941 Senate investigation and hearings over alleged warmongering by Hollywood leading up to America’s entrance into World War II.  Studying the political climate leading up to the hearings and surrounding the investigations, Yogerst highlights the role of partisan politics in shaping the debate over entry into the war months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  In particular, the book juxtaposes members of the Senate who were part of the isolationist America First party with leaders of Hollywood studios, many of whom were Jewish and supported the war effort. Yogerst discusses questions of propaganda and belonging which particularly affected Hollywood, where many of the targets were Jewish. Yogerst shows how the investigation and hearings revealed a xenophobic undercurrent in American politics, questioning whether immigrants, particularly Jewish immigrants, could belong in the United States as equal citizens.

Dividing the book into five sections, Yogerst begins with Charles Lindbergh’s infamous 1940 speech in Des Moines, Iowa, for the America First Committee, and his subsequent lesser-known speeches in Hollywood on the same topic. These speeches were part of what led to the 1941 Senate investigation, since the America First Committee included leaders of the investigation. Lindbergh, and other members of America First believed that Jews controlled the media and were dangerous to US society through their ability to manipulate the public. Yogerst explains how Jews and Hollywood, particularly studio heads like Harry Warner of Warner Brothers responded to the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s, up through the summer of 1941. Their response included the release of movies such as Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), The Mortal Storm (1940), and The Man I Married (1940).  As a result of the America First Committee’s agitation, the head of the New York branch of America First, journalist John Flynn drafted Senate Resolution 152, sponsored by Senator Gerald Nye (R-ND), calling for an investigation into warmongering by Hollywood. The Interstate Commerce Committee formed a subcommittee to discuss the resolution, which was composed of Gerald Nye, D. Worth Clark (D-ID), Bennet Champ Clark (D-MO), Charles W Tobey (R-NH), C. Wyland Brooks (R-IL), and Ernest W. McFarland (D-AZ), at least two of whom were members of America First (xvii). Yogerst’s review of these discussions is amongst his most significant contributions as he focuses on how the Senate subcommittee and its investigation created a conception of “the American people” that excluded Hollywood, and in particular, Jewish Americans. 

The next section details the call for the Senate investigation and the political moment in which the investigation begins. Here, Yogerst highlights the context of American partisanship in 1941 as between Isolationists and those who wanted to join the war against the Nazis, and the studies of media that contributed to this political environment beginning in 1936. 

The next three sections follow the subcommittee investigation, first examining the evidence presented by the senators at the hearings; then that of the media moguls at the hearings, including, among others, Harry Warner and Jack Warner from Warner Brothers and Darryl Zanuck from Twentieth Century Fox; and finally, the testimony of journalists to the subcommittee and the accounts of those who wrote about the investigation.  The senators’ evidence, Yogerst notes, consisted mostly of summaries of movies based on reviews, without them seeing it themselves, with some letters that supported their conclusions. The moguls, in a rare united front, argued about the value of these movies in encouraging patriotism and awareness of what was going on in Europe. 

Yogerst situates this book into a debate on the question of Hollywood (and Jewish) actions to fight the Nazis in the years before World War II. Historians have explored Hollywood’s contribution to the war effort through its anti-Nazi campaigns in the context of World War II, politics, and anti-Semitism (xx-xxi). Peculiarly, as Yogerst notes, the episode of the 1941 Senate investigation and hearings, though mentioned by historians, such as Larry Ceplair and Steve Englund, Bernard F. Dick, Clayton R. Koppes, Donald T. Critchlow, David Welky, and Steven Carr, is not often explored in any detail (xx-xxi). The resulting question, about historical memory and the perception of Jews in the US through the lens of the debate on Hollywood and propaganda is the central theme of this book, supported by Yogerst’s examination of the way in which propaganda, anti-Semitism, anti-Fascist, American immigrant identity collided in the Senate chamber.

Yogerst concludes the book with an examination of the impact of the hearings and investigation, arguing that despite its overshadowing by the McCarthy hearings, the hearings in 1941 indicate correlations between prejudice and flourishing of national platforms that allow them. A few short years later, Hollywood would once again come under investigation for similar issues during the McCarthy hearings and before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (“HUAC”).  This leads Yogerst to questions of memory, attitudes, and the change in the nation that had occurred with the start of the Cold War. He questions the historical narrative of these investigations, asking why this event has been overlooked by many historians and even by the participants in this drama themselves. Yogerst noted that most of the major players in this drama, including the Warner Brothers, Darryl Zanuck and members of the Senate, chose to ignore this episode when writing their memoirs, though they write about their experience with the HUAC 10 years later. 

Yogerst’s conclusion dwells on continuity and proximity to events, agendas and what people choose to remember, reminding people of the struggles between what actually happened and how those events are remembered. Hollywood and the members of the Senate forget this moment.  Many historians briefly touch upon it. Yogerst chooses to make this moment front and center to emphasize that prejudice reflects questions of identity and to remind the reader that as seen in this episode, prejudice often rises, with some people finding platforms to support it, while others find platforms to combat it – and the media plays an important role in pushing the story forward.  

Nicole Siegel
Fordham University

Nicole Siegel is a PhD Candidate at Fordham University studying American Jewish History.

Review: Knowing About Genocide

Savelsberg, Joachim J. Knowing About Genocide: Armenian Suffering and Epistemic Struggles. Oakland: University of California Press, 2021. 264pp. $34.95 Paperback.

“A Meaning Which Overflows the Object’s Use”: Joachim J. Savelsberg’s Knowing About Genocide

In Knowing About Genocide: Armenian Suffering and Epistemic Struggles, Joachim J. Savelsberg (2021) explicates what contemporary Turkish media has derogatorily identified as a “recognition virus” vis-à-vis the Armenian genocide enacted in the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century (101). To do so, he assumes the role of facilitator, assembling a much-needed dialogue between the sociology of knowledge and the historiography of collective memory and trauma in genocidal contexts. Savelsberg positions the act (or refusal) of genocide recognition as central to his study; he is specifically concerned with the internal and collective processes through which recognition of the Armenian genocide is performed by Armenians, Turks, and diasporic actors at the micro and macro levels. Using the Armenian genocide as a tool, Savelsberg prods the joints of this interdisciplinary discourse. Prioritizing group conflict over unity, the instability of collective knowledge, and epistemic power imbalances, Savelsberg exposes new perspectives on traditional sociological concepts (3). His own positionality as a German born in the post-WWII generation affords him sensitivity in navigating the mnemonic complexities of genocide knowledge and substantiates his reliance on analogical bridging central to his rhetorical approach.

Savelsberg’s agenda is multi-faceted and hard to summarize. In his view, the sociology of genocide knowledge is inherently linked to the construction of ethnic and national identity. Savelsberg explores how Armenian consciousness has metamorphosed from denial to acknowledgement while Turkish cultural memory has followed the inverted path. He claims that temporal distance, cultural processing, and independence from the Soviet Union has allowed Armenians to caulk intergenerational knowledge gaps and transcend their victim identity through recognition. Savelsberg then unpacks how the Turks, hoping to both cleanse their historical narrative of incriminating evidence and reconcile their own traumas (successive losses in the Ottoman-Russian and Balkan Wars followed by a fight for independence) seek national legitimacy through genocide denial. The Armenian-Turkish split is subsequently extended to the diaspora. This, in turn, demonstrates how international context and power dynamics necessarily color national epistemologies, particularly in the contemporary age of “human rights hegemony” (186).

Throughout the book, Savelsberg sidesteps notions of objective truth and evidence so fetishized by historical research. In plaiting analyses of sources like memoirs, media representations, interviews, ethnographic studies, and diary entries taken from myriad sociocultural positionalities and time periods, Savelsberg progressively decouples the Armenian genocide from temporal, spatial, and cultural fixity. Offering sweeping interpretations by synthesizing disparate studies, Savelsberg effectively exemplifies one of his main theses: while collective memory is constructed and sedimented into knowledge repertoires, such sedimentation remains vulnerable to coeval turbulence (208) necessarily stirred by what Maurice Halbwachs terms “presentism” (55).

As a sociologist, Savelsberg demonstrates how the simultaneity of multiple epistemic realities challenges positivist understandings of knowledge formation. In doing so, he situates knowledge about the Armenian genocide and its application by Armenians, Turks, and their diasporic communities as always “in the process of becoming,” (McKemmish 1994, 202), constantly shifting through time and space. Repeatedly evoking instances of what he identifies as “analogical bridging,” specifically the processes through which both the Armenians and Turks conflate Armenian genocide memory with that of the Holocaust, Savelsberg underscores this “process of becoming.” A particularly astonishing example serves as an emblem of this motif: Savelsberg introduces the Turkish word soykirim as applying to “both the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide, suggesting an equalization of both events” (215) in the collective conscience of contemporary Turkish denialists who attempt to dilute Turkish wrongdoing by upholding asynchronous European culpability. 

Savelsberg’s incorporation of contemporary developments in the sociology of Armenian genocide knowledge also injects “presentism” into the past and swells the Armenian genocide’s semantic radius. Just as the French Constitutional Council’s decision in 2012 not to criminalize genocide denial was believed by many prominent French Armenians to be indicative of broader political, economic, and international interests (159), the United States’ Griswold v. Driscoll defendants were primarily interested in “free speech issues, not in a statement about the Armenian genocide,” (176). By demonstrating how particular historical events are inevitably refracted into matters of universal and tangential importance, Savelsberg molds the Armenian genocide from a century old artifact into a cultural signifier. Ultimately, he discusses the sociology of Armenian genocide knowledge as a case study through which he examines how “the applicability of [the sociology of knowledge] to the social and cultural processing of mass violence” contributes to and is influenced by shifting trends in human rights epistemology on a broader scale (6).

In a contemporary sociopolitical climate that breeds essentialism, often reflected in academic scholarship, Savelsberg’s application of the sociology of knowledge approach is particularly refreshing in that it adamantly refuses to reify (the Armenian) genocide. As Roland Barthes argues in The Semiotic Challenge (1988), “there is always a meaning which overflows the object’s use,” (182). Indeed, when handled by Savelsberg, the Armenian genocide overflows its isolated importance, becoming a metaphysical record of the ever-changing international consciousness. 

To help tether the reader to the confines of the book, Savelsberg presents the “epistemic circle” (5). This successful mnemonic device makes visible the intermixing of everyday interactions among the masses and epistemic manipulation by “knowledge entrepreneurs” that constitutes knowledge formation. However, while Savelsberg effectively addresses the epistemic power of “knowledge entrepreneurs,” such as heads of government or organizations, at the macro level, he often gets carried away by this broad scope and fails to illuminate the day-to-day interactions, inner reflections, and stratified experiences of the ordinary people affected most by the Armenian Genocide. Savelsberg chooses to analyze sources that center the perspectives of government elites, intellectuals, and privileged Westerners, ignoring how knowledge is often mediated by factors such as gender, age, class, and rural-versus-urban. When outlining the role of rituals in constructing genocide knowledge, for example, he dedicates ten pages to a nationwide Armenian festival cycle attended by George Clooney and David Ignatius while spending only one paragraph discussing the “local rituals that supplement[ed] grand national events,” (128). The absence of intersectionality and bottom-up historiography in the book sometimes renders Savelsberg’s analysis biased.  

Despite this oversight, Knowing About Genocide impressively manages to pin down the sociology of Armenian genocide knowledge while simultaneously overflowing its specificity. To an unpracticed reader, the cadence of this discourse is rapid: a map of terminology begging for a legend. The book is best suited for students or scholars in the fields of memory studies, sociology, genocide studies, anthropology, and history who seek to contextualize the ways in which memory of the past is processed and honed in service of contemporary ethnic and national interests. The book will also interest readers of the general public who hope to better understand how issues of “fake news” and conflicting epistemic narratives develop and undermine contemporary mutual understanding. By establishing how knowledge repertoires are socioculturally constructed, Saveslberg persuasively contextualizes what Karl Mannheim (1954), founder of the sociology of knowledge, calls “talking past each other”: for members of different social groups, argues Mannheim, a concrete issue has “a more or less different meaning because it grows out of the whole of their respective frames of reference,” (251). It is only by recognizing these frames of reference, as Savelsberg encourages his readers to do, that challenges to contemporary genocide denial can be imagined.   

Emily Benoff

University of California, Los Angeles

Emily Benoff is a Candidate for the Masters in Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. She specializes in archival studies, with research interests in critical archival theory, community archives, and the relationship(s) between archives and place. 


Barthes, Roland. The Semiotic Challenge. New York: Hill & Wang, 1988.

Mannheim, K(1954). Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge. Harcourt, Brace, & Co., Inc.

McKemmish, Sue. “Are Records Ever Actual?” In The Records Continuum: Ian Maclean and Australian Archives First Fifty Years, edited by Sue McKemmish and Michael Piggot, 187-203. Clayton: Ancora Press, 1994.

Savelsberg, Joachim J. Knowing About Genocide: Armenian Suffering and Epistemic Struggles. Oakland: University of California Press. 2021.

Call for External Reviewers (2022)

We are delighted to announce that we are extending our call for external reviewers!

The Past Tense Editorial Board relies on external reviewers for our anonymous peer review process. The feedback we receive from reviewers is instrumental in determining the acceptance of articles for publication.

The majority of external review work will take place between February and March of 2022.

More information on the role can be found here:

If you are interested in applying, please complete the form available at

Please submit your application by January 24th, 2022.

Update from the Editors

Greetings fellow historians! Past Tense Graduate Review of History has concluded its submissions period for the Summer 2022 edition and our editors are hard at work reviewing your fantastic articles, commentaries, and reviews. We hope to conclude our editorial review by the end of November and will reach out to you in the beginning of December with an update on the review process! Thank you for your interest in Past Tense!

If you missed our 2022 deadline but would like to work with us, please consider pitching book reviews and critical commentaries – short essays of 1000-1500 words on current debates in history writing or reflections on the archives, teaching, or any other part of our profession – for our Web platform Past Tense Online ( We are happy to work with you on your pitch and to reach out to publishers for review copies of books. 

Reach out to us at!


Sid Sridhar

Co-Editor, Past Tense GRH

Volume 9 Now Available!

We are thrilled to share the ninth volume of Past Tense Graduate Review of History.

Volume 9 features two articles that raise thought-provoking questions about the connections between commerce, colonialism, and the marginalization of women and children. Ruby Guyot’s article examines a range of tourist guidebooks written for white American tourists travelling to Cuba in the Interwar years. Guyot’s thoughtful analysis of these guidebooks draws out the role of American imperialism in the 1920s in the construction of Cuba as the “brothel of the Caribbean.” Robert Olajos’ award-winning article follows the fascinating story of the “Indian day-school” on Bear Island as it adapted to the Teme-Augama Anishnabai’s seasonal way of life. Through an in-depth study of the Bear Island Day School archive, Olajos crafts a subtle and powerful argument about the “nomadic colonialism” of settler societies and colonial governments in northern Canada, and its role in the destruction of the seasonal mobility of the Anishnaabeg. 

Volume 9 also includes a critical commentary by Ari Finnsson on the question of “normality” emergent in our two-year struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, meditating on Walter Benjamin’s conception of temporality and the responsibilities of historians working in a moment of flux. We are also pleased to feature three excellent book reviews by Alexander James Collin, Aaron Molnar, and Connor Thompson.

These pieces draw on a diverse array of disciplines and methodologies, raising a number of thoughtful questions about the ways that we remember, construct, and litigate the past. We encourage you to engage critically with these questions, and welcome your thoughts and feedback on this issue of Past Tense.

Co-Editors Nastasha Sartore and Siddharth Sridhar would like to give special thanks to their team of editors, which includes associate editors Graeme Sutherland and Ben Holt, and layout editor Hannah Cooley. This issue would not be have been possible without their efforts and the contributions of our graduate peer reviewers, faculty reviewers, and copy editors.

Review: The Brethren

McConville, Brendan. The Brethren: A Story of Faith and Conspiracy in Revolutionary America. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2021. 304 pp. $29.95 Hardback.

As historians seek to uncover the diverse voices of the American Revolution, many have turned their attention to the role of religious identity in the American war for independence. While scholars of American religion have identified the Great Awakening as a source of revolutionary sentiment among colonists, few have addressed the differences between different Christian traditions, especially among lower-class farmers.

Brendan McConville complicates our narrative of Christianity in early America with his study The Brethren: A Story of Faith and Conspiracy in Revolutionary America. McConville focuses on the yeomanry of coastal colonial North Carolina and the murderous conspiracy against a revolutionary government rule that went against the farmer’s religious values. These yeoman farmers saw their new American leaders seeking aid from the Catholic French and practicing a form of Christianity influenced by the Enlightenment, which removed mysticism from Scripture. As revolutionary leaders in North Carolina began allying themselves with the “heretical” Catholics and publicly questioning the legitimacy of the Bible, they became targets for protestant farmers. These farmers formed the “Brethren” and conspired against the state government. McConville argues that the Brethren’s coalition reflected how the understanding of liberty evolved from a moral pursuit into a strictly political one during the American Revolution.

McConville combs through colonial legal records and newspapers to piece together the experiences of the yeoman farmers and their beliefs, focusing on their perspective  rather than the rich political leaders of North Carolina. While many historians consider the zealous practices of Christianity at this time to either be overstated or isolated to a few communities, McConville reveals that these groups were a force large enough to inspire fear in local political leaders. Additionally, these men actively shaped local politics by expressing their beliefs and threatening violence. Analyzing this group of North Carolina farmers through the lens of politics and religion reveals a more complicated story about the founding of the United States.

McConville tells the story of the Brethren through ten short chapters. The first five contextualize the growing distress of ordinary farmers and their suspicion of revolutionary leadership. Due to a crashing economy and the individualization of religion, the yeomanry became sensitive to the social changes brought by the revolution. Growing republican sentiments and compulsory military service challenged the lifestyle of small farmers. The establishment of the Fifth Congress, which consisted of men with “heretical” beliefs, irritated an already unstable society. Destabilized by the war and a new government, North Carolina became contentious and unstable.

In the last five chapters, McConville traces the rise and fall of the Brethren. Examining depositions, legal petitions, and personal papers, McConville documents how the Brethren quickly gained followers on the eastern side of North Carolina. In 1777, their conspiracy gained traction among other yeoman farmers and became a growing concern for political leaders. The author highlights the significance of the Brethren’s uprising in chapter six. He contends that “they created the preconditions for a clash over the meaning of the Revolution itself in the summer of 1777 ” (126). Quickly after their rise, the Brethren reached the turning point of their conspiracy. In a plot to murder North Carolina delegates, John Lewellen planned a slave uprising as a diversion. The small number of yeomen farmers who relied on slave labour and greatly feared retaliation by enslaved individuals, went to the authorities and warned them about the plan. McConville proposes that this event reveals the yeoman farmers’ dedication to the racial hierarchy of their society, even above their religious convictions.

The threat of a slave rebellion was the downfall of the conspiracy, resulting in the swift punishment and dissolution of the Brethren. Lewellen was captured by the North Carolina militia and released on parole in 1777. The author argues that through the punishment of the yeomanry, North Carolina established a government based on values of the enlightenment and pushed its inhabitants to adopt “American” identity. Citizens of the state were to accept a separation between their religious values and the state. Disobedience would no longer be tolerated and patriotism was expected. In the end, he concludes that colonial culture was much more varied than historians have suggested, and that the Brethren serve as an example of how Protestantism complicated the development of a new nation.[1]

McConville’s study is the first to uncover the history of the Brethren, bringing this fascinating story to light. McConville contributes to the historiography of religion in colonial North Carolina, which has focused mostly on other protestant traditions such as the Quakers and the Moravians. Although the author is treading on new territory with neglected sources, his analysis only briefly mentions race and hardly discusses women at all. A budding historian may see an opportunity to elaborate on this interesting event through these lenses. If  scholars consider the experiences of farmer’s wives, we would likely see a complicated response to the rebellion. Women may have supported the Brethren when the war threatened to force their husbands and sons to enlist, but some may have been discontent with their husbands participating in violent activities that could endanger their families. By analyzing the experiences of women, we may see a more complex story of the Brethren.

The Brethren is a great example of how scholars can use sparse sources and some imagination to craft a compelling narrative and argument. As McConville shows, there are plenty of hidden stories in the archives.

Savannah Flanagan

Virginia Tech

Savannah Flanagan is a graduate student in the history department at Virginia Tech. She is currently researching Moravian Women in the 18th century North Carolina Piedmont. Follow Savannah on Twitter @savflanagan.

[1] Claude Van Tyne, The Loyalists in the American Revolution (New York: Peter Smith, 1929); Gerald W. Thomas, Rebels and King’s Men: Bertie County in the Revolutionary War (Raleigh, N.C.: Office of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 2013); Jeffrey J. Crow, “Tory Plots and Anglican Loyalty : The Llewelyn Conspiracy of 1777,” North Carolina Historical Review 55, No. 1 (Jan. 1978).

Review: Schooling the System

Aladejebi, Funké. Schooling the System: A History of Black Women Teachers. Rethinking Canada in the World 8. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2021. 304pp. $37.95. Pbk.

Funké Aladejebi’s Schooling the System: A History of Black Women Teachers offers much-needed insight into the world of black female educators in Canada from 1940-80. Aladejebi addresses a gap within not only African Canadian historiography, but the history of education in Canada as well. Schooling the System also provides a striking example of a thorough and thoughtful approach to oral history. By practicing what she describes as “historical listening,” Aladejebi captures the complexities of black female educators’ experiences and the ways in which gender, race, and class informed their stories (11). She also applies a spatial analysis “to understand how black geographic subjects produce space within the context of domination and objectification” (8).

Each chapter begins with an oral history that frames the collective experiences explored in each historical period. Referring to the interviews as “oral herstories,” Aladejebi considers the interviewees as “engaged knowledge producers who made deliberate and conscious choices about the stories they described during the interview process” (9). Her approach to oral history as “insider-outsider” is commendable; rather than assume shared knowledge or experiences as a black female educator herself, Aladejebi built working relationships with each of her twenty-six participants before, during, and after the interview process, meaning that the stories told in Schooling the System centres these women’s agency as they “made deliberate choices to reclaim their dignity and selfhood” (13). 

In chapter one, Aladejebi reviews the period between 1940 and 1960, offering one of the best summaries I have read to date of the history of black education in Canada. Aladejebi’s attentive history lays a foundation in this chapter that is essential to understanding how the education system created and reinforced racial segregation. These early historical experiences “created a system of subordination” that kept blacks in the margins “and continued to characterize their lived experiences into the twentieth century” (20). 

Chapter two explores a period when many black immigrants from the Caribbean arrived in Ontario from 1960-80. Aladejebi asserts, “The forms of racism that faced the black populations beginning in the seventeenth century were simply transformed into twentieth-century state programs that continued to treat African descended peoples as occupying spaces outside of the Canadian nation” (54). This chapter traces the ways in which inherited British and French ideals surrounding blackness meant that black women educators often taught in predominately black areas due to their foreign appearance and “othered” status.  For the same reason, these women were also approached by white school administrators to teach in certain geographic areas because they “believed that because they were nonwhite they could better understand racially diverse student populations, some of whom were black” (54).

Chapter three shows how “othered” experiences placed black women educators as “outsiders-within” the educational system. One interviewee named Meyers pointed out that she lacked black role models, stating, “I was never taught by a black teacher. My whole teaching career. Never. I mean my whole schooling, I was never taught by a black person” (81). Aladejebi notes that the inclusion of black educators only “to satisfy minority mandates reflected a limited and ineffective form of institutional inclusion” (81). Still, black women educators preserved and tried to be the role models they never had. They used their unique place in the educational system to create “distinctive pedagogical approaches that were often reflective of their positions as outsiders-within” (84). One such example of this pedagogy is in interviewee Archer’s story. Archer organized multicultural events, encouraged students to bring traditional items to the classroom, and advocated for black content in the curriculum. As Aladejebi writes, “Archer used her pedagogy to transplant cultural and community knowledge,” which “blurred the lines between her professional occupation and community work.” (105). Aladejebi asserts that the efforts of black women educators to find “ways to combat historical erasures within the curriculum” was a deeply meaningful part of their professional practice (84). 

One interviee named Meyers pointed out that she lacked black role models, stating, “I was never taught by a black teacher. My whole teaching career. Never. I mean my whole schooling, I was never taught by a black person.”

The final two chapters look more deeply into the lives of black women educators through their activism and community involvement. Chapter four examines the lives of black women educators beyond the walls of the classroom. As black militancy grew in the United States, black Canadians began to question their place in Canadian identity. Black activism “shared ideas, organizations, and people” across the border but also demonstrated a distinctively black Canadian political consciousness (114). As Aladejebi writes, “Feeling a sense of alienation from traditional concepts of Canadian identity, black Canadians increased their political activism affirming a heightened consciousness about the black of black bodies in Canadian citizenry” (114). Here, Aladejebi’s contribution makes a big impact in a highly underrepresented historical period. The influences of the US civil rights movement in Canada have not been well-documented, and Schooling the System begins to fill the historiographical gap. 

Continuing the discussion of activism, Chapter five follows black women’s involvement in Canada’s women’s liberation movement in the 1970s and 1980s. In this chapter, Aladejebi “describes the ways in which black women understood themselves as occupying in-between spaces where they built alliances, borrowed discourses, and strengthened identities unique to their personal experiences” (146). This excerpt in particular reiterates the importance of Aladejebi’s contributions; through a spatial lens, she illuminates how both race and gender placed black women in an “in-between” space, and how their occupation of this space “disrupted national narratives of European citizenship and nationhood” (7). Ultimately, black women educators contributed greatly to transforming the education system into a more inclusive space for all.

Within Ontario’s school systems, black female educators “schooled the system” by teaching Africentric content and creating inclusive and equitable policies so that education was accessible to all. As activists, they fought to change historically entrenched ideas around what it meant to be Canadian. In placing black female educators’ voices at the forefront of the narrative, Aladejebi unravels a compelling and crucial history of not only black education in Ontario, but of the broader Canadian historical context as well. This work is a timely intervention into a stale historiography and should quickly find its place as a critical, if not canonical, contribution to African Canadian history.

Stefanie R. Slaunwhite, University of New Brunswick

Stefanie R. Slaunwhite holds a B.A. and an M.A. in Atlantic Canada Studies from Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. She is currently a PhD student in History at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton under the supervision of Dr. Sasha Mullally. 

You can find more information about Schooling the System on the McGill-Queen’s University Press website. For more on Dr. Funké Aladejebi, you can visit her website.

Past Tense Summer 2022 Call for Papers

Are you an MA or first- or second-year PhD student looking for your first publication? We invite you to submit your work for the Summer 2022 issue of Past Tense Graduate Review of History.

Past Tense is a peer-reviewed journal run by the graduate students of the Department of History at the University of Toronto. Since publishing its first issue in 2012, Past Tense has been dedicated to providing early career academics experience with anonymous peer-review processes and showcasing high-quality graduate student work. Although subjects must be historical, we welcome articles focused on a broad geographic and chronological range.

We accept original research articles (20-30 double spaced pages), book reviews of recent publications (approximately 700-1000 words), and critical commentaries on issues in the field of history (about 1500 words). The deadline for submissions is November 1st, 2021.

Please review our Submissions page for more information on the types of submissions we accept. Information on style and format requirements can be found on the For Authors and Style Guide pages of our website.

Download a PDF version of the 2022 Call for Papers.

Review: Taming Cannabis

Guba, David A., Jr. Taming Cannabis: Drugs and Empire in Nineteenth-Century France. Intoxicating Histories 1. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2020. 384pp. $37.95. Pbk.  

Faced with persistent homelessness, pervasive crime, and dogged Algerian resistance, why have North American governors, the Philippine state, and the French Empire pinned their troubles on drugs? Because drugs create a dividing line between us and them. 

Taming Cannabis: Drugs and Empire in Nineteenth-Century France is the brilliant first book in Intoxicating History, a new series published by McGill-Queen’s University Press. Covering the period between 1798 and 1870, author David A. Guba, Jr. shows how France used the bogeyman of hashish to help conquer Algeria and murder large segments of its population. Guba argues that France accomplished this by othering Arab Algerians and indigenous Amazigh peoples and depicting them as hashish-crazed Muslim extremists. 

In Guba’s first chapter, we learn the differences between the “civilized” Cannabis sativa, used to make the rigging of Europe’s great fleets, and the “oriental” and intoxicating Cannabis indica, used to turn “natives” into madmen. This difference is even reflected in the nomenclature: indica means Indian, signifying the “Oriental.” 

In the second chapter, Guba sets the historical record straight about Napoleon’s conquest of Eqypt in 1798, demonstrating that he did not ban cannabis consumption because his troops were becoming indolent. Instead, Guba writes, Napoleon’s replacement banned it at the request of Cairo’s Sunni Muslim elite. 

Chapter 4 describes efforts by French scientists to find a cure for cholera using cannabis. These experiments failed but the drug would prove quite the analgesic. In Chapter 5, we learn that hashish is later deemed of no medical use. Guba also introduces us here to Charles Baudelaire’s opinions on the drug, which he called “satanic.” Still, it did not stop the poet from indulging at the Club des Hachichins in Paris. 

The sixth chapter finally shifts focus to Algeria. Following the invasion of 1830, Algerian indulgence in hashish became the explanation for all acts of resistance or violence by the subject population. Officers, doctors, and pharmacists with the French Armée d’Afrique published reports of hashish consumption “as a source of Oriental deviancy, barbarism, and resistance to civilization” (192).

Hashish, according to one French artillery captain, caused “tyrannical despotism,” “sexual deviancy,” and “mass delirium and violence” among Algerian locals (192). A military pharmacist argued it caused pederasty, high rates of insanity, a “child-like and irrational mentality, and a propensity for physical violence and pain, all portrayed as innate Oriental anti-virtues produced by the intoxication of hashish” (199). 

The most fascinating part of the book, though, is its treatment of the Myth of the Hachichins in chapter 3. Guba describes how contemporary French intellectuals traced “hashish-ism” back to the medieval – and unlikely – story of hashish-eating “Islamic Assassins” from the twelfth century. Today, we know that the “Assassins” existed but their great feats of suicidal derring-do were not thanks to hashish. This tale was popularized by Marco Polo, and transformed into myth, a story as likely as Scheherazade’s “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.” 

But in 1809, French Orientalist Antoine Isaac Silvestre de Sacy declared that he had proof of this mythical connection, citing a single Syrian text from the thirteenth century whose author described the Assassins as “hachichins.” (Assassin and hachichin rhyme in French.) Guba stresses that this was de Sacy’s only evidence for his claim, and that more recent scholars like Marshall Hodgson, Bernard Lewis, and Farhad Daftary have since pointed out that “hachichin” was a common insult for low-born and irreligious outcasts at the time, used especially by Sunnis describing adherents of other strands of Islam, like the Ismaili Assassins. Guba argues that this failure to acknowledge these complexities “transformed biased anecdotes and folktales about hashish and the Nizari Ismailis into facts of history” (95). 

Though the hashish-eating Assassins story has been disproved, the myth sadly lives on. In 2015, French ethno-psychiatrist Tobie Nathan told L’Express newspaper that the Assassins consumed hashish to recruit “suicide bombers” and were “the inventors of modern terrorism,” leading directly to the suicide attacks of today (85). Following the November 2015 ISIS attacks in Paris, the media referred to ringleaders Salah and Brahim Abdeslam as “the Joint Brothers,” in reference to their alleged cannabis addictions (45). After Taming Cannabis was published, a French Muslim man named Kobili Traoré was acquitted for the brutal, antisemitic murder of Sarah Halimi. Why was he acquitted? Traoré was too high on hashish to know what he was doing.  

Meanwhile, Guba reminds us that France consumes the most cannabis in the European Union, while maintaining its strictest anti-cannabis laws. Today, Black and Arab Parisians are six to eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. Arabs and Muslims are more likely to be stopped for random checks. And although Muslims make up only eight per cent of French society, they are 50 per cent of its prisoners, in large part thanks to drug laws (4). 

And the myth extends beyond France. Guba argues that Harry J. Anslinger, founder of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics and American drug warrior extraordinaire, also drew the link between the Assassins and cannabis, and brought the hammer down on American Blacks and Chicanos. 

Guba’s book is extensively documented, including materials from the French Archives and the Overseas French Archives. With that said, there are some issues with Guba’s narrative, though none should take away from the work’s importance, nor do they challenge its accuracy. 

Guba spends much of the first chapter explaining how Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica are the same species simply grown in different terroirs, and therefore should not have been differentiated by French taxonomists into separate categories – one western and industrious, the other oriental and lazy. 

But he takes the argument too far. As Guba notes, even today many cannabis users believe the branches are separate species (I did.) They look different, as Guba also notes, and without being altered, indica causes intoxication much more easily than sativa does.  

I also do not understand why Guba buries the scientific evidence that sativa and indica are the same species in an explanatory endnote on page 267. There, he notes that scientists at the University of British Columbia have discovered that sativa and indica (and ruderalis) are the same specie with the same genetics: “Therefore, one can argue that the indica versus sativa debate of today is a by-product of the nineteenth-century racial and civilizational division crafted by Europeans to differentiate themselves from ‘Orientals’” (267). I do not think that is right. Today, the debate about these differences is about the kind of high you are looking for. 

Another question is why Guba waited until page 92 to introduce Edward Said, since it is Said’s Orientalism that frames Guba’s theory. As Guba writes, Said directly pointed to de Sacy’s poor scholarship on the Assassins as a key orientalizing myth. It would seem pertinent to mention this at the beginning. 

Finally, Guba writes, rather anti-climactically, that despite the calls for anti-hashish regulations in French Africa, only two minor laws were passed, one in Egypt in 1800, and a second in Algeria in 1857. Neither were enforced. We do not find out when marijuana was finally prohibited in the French colonies or in France itself, although he does highlight that the current law was passed in 1970,. 

This is nevertheless an excellent book and a vital contribution to modern French history and the history of drugs. It explains how cannabis remains so contentious in a country – and a world – where it is so common. 

Dave Hazzan, York University

Dave Hazzan is a PhD (ABD) candidate in the Department of History at York University, specializing in drug history. You can find more information about David Guba’s book, Taming Cannabis, on the McGill-Queen’s University Press website.

New Podcast Alert: Off-Campus History

Off-Campus History, Logo by @nethkaria

Ever wonder what a historian would have to say about that movie, video game, or museum? Well, look no further! On each episode of Off-Campus History, join Louis Reed-Wood (PhD candidate at the University of Toronto) for a conversation with a fellow historian about a public representation of the area of history that they study. This representation might be a movie or TV show, a game, a museum or historic site, the school curriculum, a claim made by a politician, or something else entirely.

On the most recent episode of Off-Campus History, Louis delves into Hearts of Iron IV, a grand strategy video game set during World War Two, with Past Tense‘s very own Sid Sridhar! Together they discuss the game’s depiction and interpretation of the past, paying special attention to Hearts of Iron’s representation of the history of South and Southeast Asia.

You can find the show wherever you get your podcasts, and at Follow Louis and the show on Instagram @offcampushistory and on Facebook for episode announcements, pictures, and more. 

If you’re a historian (grad student, professor, or history professional) interested in being a guest on the podcast, you’re invited to get in touch with Louis! Contact him at offcampushistory[at]