The books discuss climate change, contraception and intercommunal violence
The Paragraphe bookstore on McGill Ave. was packed on March 2 with a large crowd of avid listeners for the launch of three books by Concordia history professors: Anya Zilberstein, Nora Jaffary and Max Bergholz. The professors introduced themselves and their fields of research before going more into depth about the contents and ideas behind their books.
Zilberstein’s book, A Temperate Empire: Making Climate Change in Early America, explores how climate change has informed discussions about science and politics. In her book, she outlines different theories about climate and man-made climate change through history, starting with the colonization of the Americas. Zilberstein said that, while many aspects of the theories outlined in her book are old or historical, elements of the theories themselves “have lingered on well into the next centuries.” Through her book, she said she hopes to inform readers that ideas about climate and man-made climate change have been used to push political debates and and alter the idea of the disposition of humankind.
In Jaffary’s book, Reproduction and its Discontents in Mexico: Childbirth and Contraception from 1750 to 1905, she explores women’s sexuality, pregnancy, birth and contraception in Mexico as the country transitioned from a colony to an independent nation. She said her original research did not lead her to where she thought it would—ideas of progress associated with the liberation of a colony didn’t necessarily mean progress for women’s sexuality. It continued to be heavily scrutinized, especially at the end of the 19th century. Jaffary describes approximately 250 cases of female sexual deviance in her book.
Bergholz began the description of his book, Violence as a Generative Force: Identity, Nationalism and Memory in a Balkan Community, with the story of where he found his case study: in the dusty basement of an archive in the city of Sarajevo. His book is a microhistory of a small village on the border of Bosnia and Croatia called Kulen Vakuf. It takes an in-depth look at intercommunal killings that happened during 1941, which included the disappearance and murder of 2,000 people in 48 hours. Bergholz said he seeks to answer the question of how a violent incident can occur and how it changes people’s identities and relations with each other.
The authors said it took about 10 years to complete their books. Jaffary described the research as a detective mission and explained how she had to adapt her writing to what she found. “You have an idea of what you might find, but you’re not sure and then you realize that the thing you’re looking for doesn’t exist, but this other thing exists, so you try to get as much of that as possible,” said Jaffary. During the research process, Jaffary had the opportunity to travel to Mexico and Spain and collaborate with fellow researchers. “It was stimulating, but not in a high-pressure way,” she said.
For Bergholz, both the research and the writing of his book were very demanding. He said the research involved spending long days in archive basements, sometimes going days without finding relevant information. “You have to get up and motivate yourself everyday to look at page after page after page,” he said. “I had to develop a tremendous amount of focus and discipline to keep my eye on the horizon.”
Bergholz said writing the book was emotionally taxing because of the traumatic, violent nature of the subject matter. To fully describe the events in the book, he said he had to “inhabit the material in a way and to internalize it, to try and feel the history… [which] means that those terrible things become, in some way, embedded inside your mind. They did for me.”
Graphic by Florence Yee