Academics & Research / Summer 2018

Shelf Discovery: Great reading from the DU community

Whether you read for pleasure or edification or both; whether you thumb through a hardcover or swipe through a device, you’re no doubt in the market for new titles to enjoy. The University of Denver’s community of writers is happy to oblige, producing good reads that raise questions and change perspectives.


Role Playing With the First First Ladies

From the very beginning, the job came with no description — but plenty of demands.

It was up to the first first ladies — Martha, Abigail and Dolley—to define the new role of presidential Mrs. in a way befitting a fledgling nation sour on royalty and sweet on the common touch.

How these pioneering women did so is the subject of a new book by historian Jeanne Abrams, professor with University Libraries and DU’s Center for Judaic Studies. In “First Ladies of the Republic: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, and the Creation of an Iconic American Role” (New York University Press, 2018), Abrams reminds readers that though the presidents’ spouses couldn’t vote, they were nonetheless subjected to relentless scrutiny from voters and the political opposition, who monitored everything from wardrobe choices to furniture selection.

The book is already a hit with critics. As Library Journal noted, “Abrams provides a much-needed new approach to understanding the significance of the position that Martha Washington (1731–1802), Abigail Adams (1744–1818), and Madison once occupied. [She] gives life to Martha, Abigail, and Dolley, illuminating the importance of their position to American history.”

The founding first ladies are no strangers to Abrams, who introduced readers to their aches, pains and fortitude in the award-winning “Revolutionary Medicine: The Founding Fathers and Mothers in Sickness and in Health” (NYU Press, 2013). In fact, Abrams’ reputation for producing outstanding histories about the nation’s early years earned her an invitation to speak at a March event at the National Archives in Washington — which she calls “a dream venue for a historian/archivist.”


Making the Case for Incoherence

Some years after the 2008 financial crisis, economists and other experts came to the conclusion that the resulting market turmoil and debt emergency, however devastating for individual states and citizens, had little effect on global financial governance and developmental finance.

Not so fast, argues Ilene Grabel, professor of international finance at DU’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. In “When Things Don’t Fall Apart: Global Financial Governance and Developmental Finance in an Age of Productive Incoherence” (MIT Press, 2017), Grabel holds that the global crisis triggered a host of ad-hoc responses that are just now playing out in emerging and developing economies.

And that may well be a good thing, Grabel contends, suggesting that the inconsistent responses and resulting incoherence are actually productive. After all, they allow for a level of experimentation in the design of institutions and policies that could foster financial resilience.

Grabel’s take is getting notice from the business press and from the field’s leading thinkers. Dani Rodrik, a noted economist and professor at Harvard Kennedy School, credits Grabel with reminding him that “it is the cracks in the consensus, the local heresies, and the small departures and innovations that matter and lead us in an altogether novel direction. Inconsistency, ambiguity, and incoherence are useful and productive — they are a feature, not a bug.”

As Rodrik wrote in the foreword to Grabel’s book, “It happens only rarely and is all the more pleasurable because of it. You pick up a manuscript that fundamentally changes the way you look at certain things. This is one such book.”


Home, Home on the Homestead

For alumna and bestselling writer Sandra Dallas (BA ’60), Western history is a never-ending source of material. Her latest work of fiction for middle-grade students takes readers back to 1910, when 12-year-old Belle Martin moves with her six siblings and mother to the Colorado prairie to join her father on a homestead.

In “Hardscrabble” (Sleeping Bear Press, 2018), the Martin family faces test after test: crops destroyed by hail, mounting debts and illness. In this portrait of a family confronting challenges, Dallas emphasizes the value of education, the kindness of communities, the power of hope and the resilience of homesteaders.

She also emphasizes authenticity. “I try to make my characters true to the time,” Dallas told the University of Denver Magazine in 2009. In other words, readers should not expect 21st-century characters in 19th- and 20th-century settings.

“Hardscrabble” marks Dallas’ third work penned for a middle-grade audience. In her earlier works, she has captured daily life in the World War II internment camps created for Japanese Americans and depicted the westward trek by wagon train of families seeking a better life in a new home.

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