Reflections: VASAM Reading Collection

The members of the Vassar Asian American Working Group (VASAM) have compiled a collection to mark 40 years since the start of the movement for Asian American Studies at Vassar. These books range from nonfiction biographies and memoirs, educational texts written by prominent Asian American professors and important works in our history to the favorite novels of Asian American students and faculty here at Vassar. From Yuri Kochiyama’s biography to the short stories of Jenny Zhang, these works inspire and reflect our own personal histories and identities while connecting us through human themes and emotions.

Through this bibliography, VASAM  hopes to highlight the breadth of Asian American experiences, the knowledge we can gain from learning about them and uplifting Asian American voices, and the deficit Vassar continues to have as long as it neglects quality Asian American representation in its curriculum.

This collection is brought to you in collaboration with the Vassar College Libraries EPI Project – creating a place of belonging for all students by providing space and support for student art, performance, and expression in the libraries.

The Library EPI Project is interested in hearing from individuals or groups who want to exhibit or perform their work in the Spring or Fall or curate their own reading collection for inclusion in the library. If you or your organization are interested, or have an idea to pitch, please reach out to Deb Bucher at


Now on display in the Thompson Memorial Library Lobby through Mid-April.

The Sympathizer by Viet Than Nguyen

A profound, startling, and beautifully crafted debut novel, The Sympathizer is the story of a man of two minds, someone whose political beliefs clash with his individual loyalties. In dialogue with but diametrically opposed to the narratives of the Vietnam War that have preceded it, this novel offers an important and unfamiliar new perspective on the war: that of a conflicted communist sympathizer.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko is the second novel by Korean-American author Min Jin Lee. Published in 2017, Pachinko is an epic historical novel following a Korean family who eventually migrate to Japan, it is the first novel written for an adult, English-speaking audience about Japanese–Korean culture.

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

This beautifully illustrated and emotional story is an evocative memoir about the search for a better future and a longing for the past. Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves.

Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

As a girl, Kingston lives in two confounding worlds: the California to which her parents have immigrated and the China of her mother’s “talk stories.” The fierce and wily women warriors of her mother’s tales clash jarringly with the harsh reality of female oppression out of which they come. Kingston’s sense of self emerges in the mystifying gaps in these stories, which she learns to fill with stories of her own. A warrior of words, she forges fractured myths and memories into an incandescent whole, achieving a new understanding of her family’s past and her own present. Includes a fun version of the legend of Mulan!

Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book by Maxine Hong Kingston

One of Vassar English Professor Hua Hsu’s favorites: “Set in the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1960s, Wittman Ah Sing is conflicted over his Chinese ancestry. … His thoughts become more fixated on the similarities between himself, and the character of a monkey king, Sun Wukong from the Chinese epic novel Journey to the West, giving the novel its name.”

Snow Hunters by Paul Yoon

The experience of South American asians is an important perspective and one not often often heard about. Snow Hunters traces the extraordinary journey of Yohan, a twenty-five-year-old North Korean POW refugee who defects from his country at the end of the Korean War, leaving his friends and family behind to seek a new life in a port town on the coast of Brazil.

Sour Heart: Stories by Jenny Zhang

A favorite of one of VASAM’s members: Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart, tells about the lives of several Chinese American immigrant parents and their daughters in New York through overlapping short stories. Her stories break the model minority stereotype and honestly conveys the struggles of family, parenthood, and the role of children of immigrants.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini 

The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, caught in the tragic sweep of history, The Kite Runner transports readers to Afghanistan at a tense and crucial moment of change and destruction. A powerful story of friendship, it is also about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons—their love, their sacrifices, their lies.

Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam

A vibrant debut novel, set in Brooklyn and Bangladesh, follows three young women and one family struggling to make peace with secrets and their past. “The miracles in Bright Lines are the understated moments of family telepathy. . . . An understated queer coming-of-age, a study of how much work it is to be a family, and a snapshot of a disappearing Brooklyn, set against the ghosts of the past, and a search for home.”

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

In The Namesake, the Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri brilliantly illuminates the immigrant experience and the tangled ties between generations. Meet the Ganguli family, new arrivals from Calcutta, trying their best to become Americans even as they pine for home. The name they bestow on their firstborn, Gogol, betrays all the conflicts of honoring tradition in a new world—conflicts that will haunt Gogol on his own winding path through divided loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman 

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down explores the clash between a small county hospital in California and a refugee family from Laos over the care of Lia Lee, a Hmong child diagnosed with severe epilepsy. Lia’s parents and her doctors both wanted what was best for Lia, but the lack of understanding between them led to tragedy.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Yang’s American Born Chinese tells a story of the struggle of accepting the duality nature of Asian Americans. The graphic novel tells the story of three seemingly unrelated stories of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King in Chinese legends, Jin Wang, an Asian American boy, and Danny, a white American boy with a Chinese cousin. It’s an easy read meant for young adults that is filled with humor. But, it still manages to express the struggle of being Asian American in a serious light. Yang has managed to create something fun and relatable while getting his target audience to likely think about their identity for the first time.

Immigrant, Montana by Amitava Kumar

Written by Vassar’s English Professor Kumar: Carrying a single suitcase, Kailash arrives in post-Reagan America from India to attend graduate school. As he begins to settle into American existence, Kailash comes under the indelible influence of a charismatic professor, and also finds his life reshaped by a series of very different women with whom he recklessly falls in and out of love. Looking back on the formative period of his youth, Kailash’s wry, vivid perception of the world he is in, but never quite of, unfurls in a brilliant melding of anecdote and annotation, picture and text. Building a case for himself, both as a good man in spite of his flaws and as an American in defiance of his place of birth, Kailash weaves a story that is at its core an incandescent investigation of love—despite, beyond, and across dividing lines.

No-No Boy by John Okada

No-No Boy has the honor of being among the first of what has become an entire literary canon of Asian American literature,” writes novelist Ruth Ozeki in her new foreword…No-No Boy tells the story of Ichiro Yamada, a fictional version of the real-life “no-no boys.” Yamada answered “no” twice in a compulsory government questionnaire as to whether he would serve in the armed forces and swear loyalty to the United States. Unwilling to pledge himself to the country that interned him and his family, Ichiro earns two years in prison and the hostility of his family and community when he returns home to Seattle. As Ozeki writes, Ichiro’s “obsessive, tormented” voice subverts Japanese postwar “model-minority” stereotypes, showing a fractured community and one man’s “threnody of guilt, rage, and blame as he tries to negotiate his reentry into a shattered world.”

Geisha of a Different Kind: Race and Sexuality in Gaysian America by Winter Han

“Geisha of a Different Kind” bravely engages with the struggles and triumphs of Asian American gay men as they inhabit American society and its gay mainstream.A lucid study with an unflinching focus on the daily contingencies of these men’s lives, this book is an important contribution to the scholarly understanding of contemporary U.S. sex/gender systems and their fraught links to racial formations.”—Martin F. Manalansan IV, author of Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora.

Transpacific Femininities: The Making of the Modern Filipina by Denise Cruz

In this groundbreaking study, Denise Cruz investigates the importance of the figure she terms the “transpacific Filipina” to Philippine nationalism, women’s suffrage, and constructions of modernity. Through a careful study of multiple texts produced by Filipina and Filipino writers in the Philippines and the United States—including novels and short stories, newspaper and magazine articles, conduct manuals, and editorial cartoons—Cruz provides a new archive and fresh perspectives for understanding Philippine literature and culture. Cruz shows how the complex interplay of feminism, nationalism, empire, and modernity helped to shape, and were shaped by, conceptions of the transpacific Filipina.

The Intimacies of Four Continents by Lisa Lowe

One of Professor Gary Okihiro’s favorites: In this uniquely interdisciplinary work, Lisa Lowe examines the relationships between Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas in the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth- centuries, exploring the links between colonialism, slavery, imperial trades and Western liberalism. Analyzing the archive of liberalism alongside the colonial state archives from which it has been separated, Lowe offers new methods for interpreting the past, examining events well documented in archives, and those matters absent, whether actively suppressed or merely deemed insignificant.

American History: Unbound by Gary Okihiro

Written by Professor Gary Okihiro of Asian American studies at Yale, American History Unbound reveals our past through the lens of Asian American and Pacific Islander history. Gary Y. Okihiro positions Asians and Pacific Islanders within a larger history of people of color in the United States and places the United States in the context of world history and oceanic worlds.

Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama Diane C. Fujino by Diane C. Fujino

Heartbeat of Struggle is the first biography of Yuri Kochiyama, the most prominent Asian American activist to emerge during the 1960s. Based on extensive archival research and interviews with Kochiyama’s family, friends, and the subject herself, Diane C. Fujino traces Kochiyama’s life from an “all-American” childhood to her accomplishments as a tireless defender of—and fighter for—human rights.

America is in the Heart: A Personal History by Carlos Bulosan

First published in 1943, this classic memoir by well-known Filipino poet Carlos Bulosan describes his boyhood in the Philippines, his voyage to America, and his years of hardship and despair as an itinerant laborer following the harvest trail in the rural West. America is in the Heart is one of the first novels written from an Asian American and working class perspective to be published.

Without You There is No Us by Suki Kim

A haunting memoir of teaching English to the sons of North Korea’s ruling class during the last six months of Kim Jong-il’s reign. Without You, There Is No Us offers a moving and incalculably rare glimpse of life in the world’s most unknowable country, and at the privileged young men she calls “soldiers and slaves.”

Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha

One of Professor Hua Hsu’s favorites: Dictée is the best-known work of the versatile and important Korean American artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. A classic work of autobiography that transcends the self, Dictée is the story of several women: the Korean revolutionary Yu Guan Soon, Joan of Arc, Demeter and Persephone, Cha’s mother Hyung Soon Huo (a Korean born in Manchuria to first-generation Korean exiles), and Cha herself. The elements that unite these women are suffering and the transcendence of suffering. The book is divided into nine parts structured around the Greek Muses. Cha deploys a variety of texts, documents, images, and forms of address and inquiry to explore issues of dislocation and the fragmentation of memory. The result is a work of power, complexity, and enduring beauty.

The Making of Asian America by Erika Lee

The Making of Asian America tells the little-known history of Asian Americans and their role in American life, from the arrival of the first Asians in the Americas to the present-day. An epic history of global journeys and new beginnings, this book shows how generations of Asian immigrants and their American-born descendants have made and remade Asian American life in the United States: sailors who came on the first trans-Pacific ships in the 1500s; indentured “coolies” who worked alongside African slaves in the Caribbean; and Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, and South Asian immigrants who were recruited to work in the United States only to face massive racial discrimination, Asian exclusion laws, and for Japanese Americans, incarceration during World War II. Over the past fifty years, a new Asian America has emerged out of community activism and the arrival of new immigrants and refugees. No longer a “despised minority,” Asian Americans are now held up as America’s “model minorities” in ways that reveal the complicated role that race still plays in the United States.


Surveys and Souvenirs: American World’s Fairs 1876-1939

An Exhibition in the Vassar College Art Library March 12-May 29, 2018.

This exhibition was curated by Emily S. Warner, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Art, with the assistance of students in her Art 385 seminar: “Visual and Material Culture of U.S. World’s Fairs,”  Vassar College, Fall 2017.

“Sell the cookstove if necessary,” novelist Hamlin Garland wrote to his parents in 1893; “You must see the fair.” Garland’s comment captures the excitement and urgency that drew 27 million visitors to the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, one of several world’s fairs that dominated American cultural life around the turn of the century.  From 1876 to 1039, over 15 world’s fairs opened in American cities, showcasing the nation’s industry and art, and introducing Americans to a world of foreign goods and accomplishments.  Drawn chiefly from materials in the Archives and Special Collections Library at Vassar College, this exhibition presents the rich material culture of American world’s fairs, from surveys and guidebooks to photographs, children’s literature, poster stamps, and souvenirs.  Many of these objects tell official stories from the fairs, promoting messages of American progress, imperial expansion, or scientific advancement.  They also tell more personal stories, as material objects that were used, gifted, inscribed, and collected.  Together, they paint a vivid picture of American world’s fairs during a time of intense national growth and consolidation, as the country celebrated its centennial, closed its Western frontier, and arrived at the eve of World War II.

Please note: A recording of a radio interview about the exhibit conducted by Thomas Hill with curator and art historian Emily S. Warner, along with links to documentary videos about these Fairs on Youtube,  can be accessed at this link.


Guide and map, Centennial Exhibition (Philadelphia, 1876)

The Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia represents an important
shift in fair design: unlike the single-pavilion fairs at the London Crystal Palace
(1851) or the Exposition Universelle in Paris (1867), the Centennial included
hundreds of pavilions set into a large tract of parkland. Removed from downtown,
the picturesque site necessitated new transit links with the city: note the specially
built railroad depots near the main entrance (bottom center) and the Lansdowne
Drive entrances (top right). A short monorail (175-A on the map) and the much
longer West End Railway provided transportation inside the fair.
Visitors Guide to the Centennial Exhibition and Philadelphia. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1876. Archives & Special Collections Library, Vassar College

The Main exhibition at the Centennial (Philadelphia, 1876)

The staggering array of objects brought together by world’s fairs is apparent in this
engraving of the Main Building at Philadelphia’s Centennial Exhibition. In
addition to their explicit national themes, nineteenth-century expositions were
epistemological projects, attempts to order and understand the expanding world of
knowledge. Here, as at other fairs, the ideal building type for such a project was
derived from engineering: the Centennial’s Main Building was essentially a series
of parallel railroad sheds, crossed by three transepts, which allowed for
inexpensive construction and the long vistas seen in the illustration. The Main
Building is also visible as the largest structure on the color map at right.
“The Central Aisle of the Main Exhibition Building.” In James D. McCabe, The Illustrated History of the Centennial Exhibition, Held in Commemoration of the One Hundredth Anniversary of American Independence. Philadelphia: The National Publishing Co., 1877
Vassar College Libraries













The cover of this children’s book juxtaposes the two faces of the World’s Columbian
Exposition of 1893: the stately grandeur of the Court of Honor, with its lagoons and
Beaux-Arts architecture, and the popular entertainment zone of the Midway, here
indicated by the rotating Ferris Wheel (a technology that debuted at the fair). Inside,
vivid descriptions enable a virtual tour through the faraway grounds, as young
readers follow the “adventures” of two boys and their tutor at the fair. In Vassar’s copy, one such reader has added to the story by coloring in the black and white illustrations.









Tudor Jenks. The Century World’s Fair Book for Boys and Girls.  New York:
The Century Co., 1893. Archives & Special Collections Library, Vassar College

The Spirit of Niagara (Buffalo, 1901)

Evelyn Rumsey Cary painted The Spirit of Niagara for the 1901 Pan-American
Exposition in Buffalo, and it soon became the unofficial image of the fair,
reproduced in newspapers, books, and guides. In Cary’s Art Nouveau design, the
spirit of the waterfalls emerges from the mist, emblematizing not only their natural
beauty but also their tremendous electrical power. By 1901, Niagara was an icon of
industry and progress, and visitors marveled at the technology that transmitted
power from the falls to the Electricity Building on the fairgrounds.

“Pan American Exposition.” Evelyn Rumsey Cary, designer. Printed by Gies & Co., Buffalo, NY. 1901. Collection Arthur H. Groten

Flashes from the Pan (Buffalo, 1901

This illustrated book sets the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo to music.
Characters such as Uncle Sam, the Maid of the Mist, and the “Man-with- Camera”
sing about the fair’s more spectacular displays, including the Johnstown Flood and
the infamous living exhibits of foreigners and Native Americans.

Prescott Bailey Bull. Flashes from the Pan: A Fantasia in Retrospectio and Imaginatio. Drawings by Eleanor Withey Willard. Grand Rapids, MI: Michigan Trust Co., 1901. Archives &  Special Collections Library, Vassar College

Bartelda, Apache (Omaha, 1899)

Photographer Frank Rinehart produced a remarkable series of images of Native
Americans at the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition of 1898-99,
which hosted the largest Indian Congress yet convened at a world’s fair. In this
photograph, Rinehart uses tonal contrasts—dark hair, the black line along the lapel,
and the subtler grays on the face and coat—to create a sensitive depiction of a
young man at the Congress named Bartelda. His gaze, directed out of the frame,
and his somewhat inscrutable expression endow the image with a rich
psychological dimension. Yet in other ways, the photograph reduces Bartelda to a
type, his profile exposed for maximum legibility and his tribal affiliation written
across the bottom. One of many professional photographers who photographed
ethnic and racial “others” at American world’s fairs, Rinehart here offers us an
image somewhere between individual portrait and ethnographic type.

Frank A. Rinehart (American, 1861-1928). Bartelda, Apache, No. 1386, 1899.
Platinum print. Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center. Purchase, Anne Hoene Hoy,
class of 1963, Fund, 2017.22.3

The “Congress of Races” on the Midway (Chicago, 1893)

Perhaps the most famous element of the Columbian Exposition in Chicago was the
mile-long Midway Plaisance, which stretched west from the main lagoons and
buildings. In addition to the Ferris Wheel and other amusements, the Midway
contained exhibits of foreign and exoticized peoples, from the “Japanese Bazaar”
and “Street in Cairo” exhibits to living displays of colonial subjects in Africa and
Southeast Asia. The figures shown here use gesture and costume to perform ethnic
and racial character types for the camera. The Midway enticed American visitors
with its promise of a kaleidoscope of cultural difference.

J.W. Buel. The Magic City: A Massive Portfolio of Original Photographic Views of the Great World’s Fair and Its Treasures of Art, Including a Vivid Representation of the Famous Midway Plaisance. St. Louis: Historical Publishing Company, 1894. Archives & Special Collections Library, Vassar College

The German Empire exhibition in St. Louis (St. Louis, 1904)

As a celebration of a historic agreement between France and the United States, the
Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 did not initially elicit interest from the
German Empire. Yet after some hesitation, emperor Wilhelm II committed to a
significant German display at the fair. Although Germany’s selection of art skewed
traditional (leaving out contemporary artists such as Max Klinger), the Official
Catalogue presents a more modern face. Designed by architect and designer Peter
Behrens, the book’s geometric ornament points beyond the curvilinear Art
Nouveau style that dominated much fair design around the turn of the century (see,
for example, the Alphone Mucha stamps below).

International Exposition St. Louis 1904. Official Catalogue. Exhibition of the German Empire.Peter Behrens, designer. Berlin: Georg Stilke, 1904. Vassar College Libraries





Poster stamps of the fairs (St. Louis, 1904; Seattle, 1909)

Fairs around the turn of the century often turned to the poster
stamp—a small but graphically bold form of printed
ephemera—to advertise and commemorate the events. Czech
artist Alphonse Mucha used his characteristic Art Nouveau style
for these rare 1904 stamps for the world’s fair in St. Louis. (An
earlier world’s fair, the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, had
helped “le style Mucha” first gain international recognition.)
Below, three circular poster stamps display the official logo of the
Alaska-Yukon- Pacific Exposition, which celebrated Seattle’s ties
to trade, gold, and industry in the Pacific Rim. Three women
represent Japan (left, holding a ship), Alaska (center, holding
ore), and the Pacific Northwest (right, holding a train).

Louisiana Purchase Exposition poster stamps. Alphonse Mucha, designer.
Published by Adolph Selige Souvenir Card Co., St. Louis, MO. 1904
Collection Arthur H. Groten

Alaska-Yukon- Pacific Exposition poster stamps. 1909
Archives Special Collections Library, Vassar College














Art and architecture at the Panama-Pacific (San Francisco, 1915)

Paul Elder and Company published a suite of books documenting the art, architecture, sculpture, and landscape design at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. The books’ ornament, curving typeface, and gold lettering echo the color and romance of the fair itself, which was dubbed “Jewel City” for its use of outdoor color and lighting effects. Helen Wright, who owned many of the Vassar copies, obtained the signatures of architect and landscape designer L. C. Mullgardt, painter Eugen Neuhaus, architect Bernard Maybeck, and sculptor A. Stirling Calder, all of whom oversaw designs or contributed work at the fair. Maybeck’s Palace of Fine Arts, visible in the photograph, offered a melancholy retreat in which to view art, complete with a lagoon site and decorative funereal urns along the base of the rotunda.

Bernard R. Maybeck. Palace of Fine Arts and Lagoon, Panama-Pacific International Exposition. 1915 (2 copies)

A Century of Progress (Chicago, 1933)

If earlier expos sought to balance the forces of tradition and modernity,
fairs of the 1930s came down firmly on the side of modernization. At A
Century of Progress, held to commemorate Chicago’s centennial in 1933,
modernity’s effects permeated the grounds, from the streamlined and
International Style architecture to the prominence of the corporate pavilion.
Innovations included the enormous suspended roof of the Travel and
Transport Building (rendered here on a poster stamp and spoon handle) and
pavilions designed as giant product advertisements, such as the Havoline
Thermometer Building, topped by a 200-foot- tall working thermometer
(see poster stamp). Nevertheless, older themes continued, in the popular
Fort Dearborn display (see spoon and poster stamp) and, most notably, in
the official poster design by George B. Petty, which recalled nineteenth-
century imagery of Native Americans as a people doomed to vanish. In the
design (reproduced here on a brochure, envelope, and poster stamps),
Chicago’s “I Will” maiden, sporting the city motto in her crown, displaces
the Native American figure in the name of so-called progress.

Poster stamps (4), “Chicago World’s Fair.” George B. Petty, designer. 1933
Poster stamp, “A Century of Progress / Merck Exhibit in the Hall of Science.” 1933
Poster stamps (8), “1933 Chicago.” 1933
Brochure and envelope. Gunthorp-Warren Printing Company, Chicago. 1933
(Archives & Special Collections Library, Vassar College)
Commemorative spoon. Oneida Community Par Plate. 1933
Commemorative spoon. Green Duck Co., Chicago
(Private collection)

World of Tomorrow peepshow (New York, 1939)

While most objects from the New York World’s Fair of 1939 reflect the official
theme of “The World of Tomorrow,” this children’s book uses a decidedly
anachronistic form, the tunnel book or “peepshow.” Popular in the late eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries, paper peepshows could be unfolded like an accordion,
revealing a diorama-like scene for viewers looking through the aperture (see
photograph). Here, Martha and George Washington—whose inauguration as
president in 1789 in New York was the nominal occasion for the fair—peer into
the future to see the fair’s main axis with the Trylon and Perisphere in the distance.

The World of Tomorrow, New York World’s Fair. 6-panel peepshow. Elizabeth Sage Hare and Warren Chappell, illustrators. New York [?], ca. 1939. Archives & Special Collections Library, Vassar College


This guide includes a double-sided map of the 1939 New York World’s Fair, with
an aerial view of the pavilions on one side and a color-coded schematic on the
reverse. Note the Trylon and Perisphere at left, the iconic centerpiece of the

Official Guide Book of the New York World’s Fair, 1939. New York: Exposition Publications, 1939. Archives & Special Collections Library, Vassar College

Graphic design in the 1930s

The fairs of the 1930s were an opportunity for bold, modern designs in posters and
guidebooks. The Laboratory School of Design’s Design Student’s Guide to the
1939 New York World’s Fair, published as an insert in P/M magazine,
championed those exhibits that showed “fresh ideas in architecture, industrial
design, display and similar fields.” The guide defines truly modern design in
contrast to the “modernistic” (overdone Art Deco) and the “modernoid”
(excessively streamlined profiles). The cover, by Paul Rand, is an iconic image in
graphic design; note the simplified version of the fair’s Trylon and Perisphere.
John McAndrew, designer of the Van Ingen Art Library (1937) and professor of
architecture at Vassar from 1931-37, wrote the introduction.

Official Guide Book of the Fair. Chicago: A Century of Progress Administration Building, 1933 Private collection

A Design Student’s Guide to the New York World’s Fair. Paul Rand, designer. Introduction by John McAndrew. New York: Laboratory School of Industrial Design and P/M magazine, 1939 Archives & Special Collections Library, Vassar College

The World’s Columbian Exposition Illustrated (Chicago, 1893)

The World’s Columbian Exposition Illustrated published updates on the 1893 fair,
from construction news to attendance figures and special events. On the cover of
this issue, published four months before opening day, Chicago is visually identified
with the nation: the fair’s Administration Building, at left, mirrors the U.S. Capitol,
and an allegory of Chicago accepts souvenir coins from Uncle Sam. In the banner
along the top, Columbus’s arrival in the New World (the event that the fair
commemorated) is contrasted with Chicago’s modern cityscape and smoking

The World’s Columbian Exposition Illustrated. No. 23 (January 1893)
Archives & Special Collections Library, Vassar College

A Charlottesville Primer: Exploring White Supremacy

Following recent events in Charlottesville, as well as in our library itself last spring, the Vassar College Libraries staff, not surprisingly, sought understanding through our collection.  

The result is the Charlottesville Primer, a list of books and movies dealing with white supremacy, the history of whiteness, and their impact on our current society. Library staff selected these particular books and movies because they were thought provoking for us as we meandered through our own library looking for books on this topic, but there are many, many more sources that can be added to the list; the titles below serve only as a “seed list” that we hope will foster thought and conversation. All the books and movies in the Charlottesville Primer are located in the Browsing Collection in the lobby of the Thompson Library.

This is not the first time we have turned to literature and art to explore the topic of race after disturbing national events. Just two years ago we participated in the Charleston Syllabus following the murder of nine parishioners gathered for a prayer service at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. We have linked to that syllabus HERE and you can read Assistant Director of the Library for Collection Development and Research Services Deb Bucher’s thoughts at the time HERE.  Both the list and Deb’s essay remain relevant in the aftermath of Charlottesville.

We invite you to join this ongoing conversation on Tuesday, September 26th at 4:30pm in the Library lobby as part of our adLib series.

What is adLIB?
An event series that pairs the interests of librarians and students in programs that inspire curiosity and build relationships, adLIB intends to engage the spirit of spontaneity and curiosity to encourage Vassar students to cultivate genuine interest in the Libraries’ extensive collections, supportive services, and informative people.

adLIB programs are casual, informal opportunities for students to discover and explore possibilities in our libraries that can be applied in the academic world and beyond.

CHARLOTTESVILLE PRIMER (in chronological order)

Wells-Barnett, Ida B. 1892-1900. On Lynchings. 2002 ed. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books.
HV6457 .W393 2002
A collection of three smaller works: Southern Horrors (1892); A Red Record (1895); Mob Rule in New Orleans (1900).

DuBois, W.E.B. 1920. Darkwater: Voices From Within the Veil. New York: Oxford, 2007.
E185.61 .D83 2007
This collection contains the essay “The Souls of White Folks,” which is an examination of the “assumption that of all the hues of God whiteness alone is inherently and obviously better than brownness or tan…” (p.).

Malcolm, X. 1971. The End of White World Supremacy: Four Speeches by Malcolm X. Edited by Benjamin Goodman. New York: Merlin House.
E185.61 .L578
Representative speeches of Malcolm X’s thinking between 1962-1963, laying out the hypocrisy of White, liberal, America and arguing for strong, Black leadership.

Brown, Kathleen M. 1996. Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.
F229 .B8783 1996
This book examines the role gender–especially the regulation of white women’s sexuality–played in the creation of racial categories in colonial America. The author focuses on the Virginia colony and uses court records, promotional tracts, and travelers’ accounts.

Lazarre, Jane. 1996. Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness: Memoir of a White Mother of Black Sons. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016 (Twentieth anniversary edition).
HQ755.85 L39 2016
A memoir that recounts the author’s confrontation with her own racism and explores “the possibility of rejecting willful innocence and persistent ignorance of history, of being oblivious…to the history and legacy of American slavery….” (p.xvii).

Jacobson, Matthew Frye. 1999. Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
E184 .395 J33 1999
Using novels, films, journalistic accounts, court records, legal codes, congressional debates, and many other primary sources, Jacobson writes about race as American history. Like Brown, above, he starts in the colonial period, but moves from there into the twentieth century. He maintains two points: “race is absolutely central to the history of European immigration and settlement” (p.8), and “race resides not in nature but in politics and culture” (p.9). The history of “whiteness and its fluidity is very much a history of power and disposition” (p.9).

Thandeka. 1999. Learning to Be White: Money, Race, and God in America. New York: Continuum.
E184 .E95 T47 1999
Thandeka lays out her thought-provoking thesis in three bullet points in the Preface (p.vii):
No one in born white in America.
The first racial victim of the white community is its own child.
Racist acts are sometimes not motivated by white racist sentiment but by feelings of personal shame.

Smith, Chip. 2007. The Cost of Privilege: Taking on the System of White Supremacy and Racism. Fayetteville, NC: Camino Press.
E184 .A1 S645 2007
The author argue that the “system of racial preferences [in the United States] is the main barrier to forming a broad movement that can fundamentally transform U.S. society.” The last section of the book is focused on “Taking on the System” and includes ten ways people can challenge white supremacy during an ordinary day (ch. 24).

Daniels, Jessie. 2009. Cyber-Racism: White Supremacy Online and the New Attack on Civil Rights. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.
E184 .A1 D244 2009
White supremacist groups were early adopters of the Internet to get their message across, so it’s important to understand their tactics and methods. The author uses scholarship to understand white supremacy online and activism to combat it.

Leonardo, Zeus. 2009. Race, Whiteness, and Education. New York: Routledge.
LC212.2 .L46 2009
Following Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” Leonardo creates a “selective list of acts, laws, and decisions, if only to capture a reliable portrait of white supremacy” (p.85-89) in his discussion of how children learn about whiteness in both their formal and informal education.

Bush, Melanie E.L. 2011. 2nd ed. Everyday Forms of Whiteness: Understanding Race in a “Post-Racial” World. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.
E184 .A1 B917 2011
Using extensive interviews conducted at Brooklyn College in the late 90s, Bush examines the assumptions of white students and determines that they are uncritical about their racial identity and accept it in an unexamined way, and are largely blind to the racial inequalities around them.

Lightweis-Goff, Jennie. 2011. Blood at the Root: Lynching as American Cultural Nucleus. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
HV6457 .L54 2011
Writing as a Northerner, this book reminded me that lynching was not limited to the South. The description of the author’s 2008 experience in Port Jervis, NY is hair-raising, and equally upsetting is the reminder that no evidence of a lynching there in 1892 could be found.

Berger, Martin A. 2013. Freedom Now! Forgotten Photographs of the Civil Rights Struggle. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Art E185.61 .B464 2013
This collection of photographs aims to problematize the canon of Civil Rights photos that we often see in circulation. Traditionally, the photos depict African American suffering and White activism. These photos suggest that there’s another side to the story, and that when we “go to the source” we should make sure we look at as many of the sources as possible.

hooks, bell. 2013. Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice. New York: Routledge.
E194 .A1 H654 2013
Although not a self-help book by any means, bell hooks provides helpful strategies for ways to combat white supremacist thinking (which she prefers over the term “racism”). Primarily, be self-conscious about the types and amount of media you consume!

Simien, Justin. 2014. Dear White People: a Guide to Inter-Racial Harmony in “Post-Racial” America. New York: Atria.
PN6231 .W444 S56 2014
Written by the writer of the movie of the same name, the graphic satire is a guide to avoiding microaggressions.

Sullivan, Shannon. 2014. Good White People: the Problem with Middle-Class White Anti-Racism. Albany: SUNY Press.
E184 .A1 S95 2014
If you’re white like I am, you have most likely asked the question, what can I do to promote racial justice and/or eliminate racism or white privilege? It’s a good question with some really difficult answers. The author focuses on liberal white racism and its intersectionality with class bias. It’s a hard, but important, examination of the racism of white middle class anti-racism.

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. 2015. Between the World and Me. New York: Spiegel & Grau.
Kindle (ask at Circulation Desk)
About race and how to live with it as an African American man. As Toni Morrison described it, “This is required reading.”

Hochschild, Arlie Russell. 2016. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. New York: The New Press.
JC573.2 .U6 H624 2016
A sociologist listens to the stories of poor Whites in southern areas of the country. Of special interest is the appendices that outline her research methodologies. In these days of “fake news,” Appendix C is of particular interest, in which she includes common understandings (such as “The more environmental regulations you have, the fewer jobs”) and the research she did to check that “fact.”

Kendi, Ibram X. 2016. Stamped From the Beginning: the Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. New York: Nation Books.
E185.61 .K358 2016
In contrast to the “popular folktale of racism: that ignorant and hateful people had produced racist ideas” (p.9), Kendri offers a counter-history: that “racial discrimination led to racist ideas which led to ignorance and hate” (p.9). He examines the thinking of five important figures: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. DuBois, and Angela Davis.

Dear White People (2014, Justin Simien, director)
A (not so) fictional account of the experiences of Black students at an exclusive predominantly white institution of higher learning.

Get Out (2017, Jordan Peele, director)
An African American man meets his White girlfriend’s family.

Other Reading Lists:

New York Public Library
Charlottesville in Context: a Reading List

UVA Graduate Student Coalition
Charlottesville Syllabus – Zine #1 for August 12, 2017

Charlottesville Syllabus: Readings on the History of Hate in America