UW News

July 12, 2022

New faculty books: Threats to US democracy, early history of gay rights, and more

four book covers on a table

Recent and upcoming books from UW faculty include those from the Department of Political Science, the Department of History, the Jackson School of International Studies and the Department of American Ethnic Studies.


Political experts often point to federalism as a check on the power of any one party in U.S. democracy; state government, they argue, more directly affects citizens’ lives and thus balances out one-party dominance at the national level.

But as Jake Grumbach explains in his new book, Laboratories against Democracy, the issues and interests that have driven national party agendas, such as immigration and the strengthening or curbing of voting rights, have infiltrated the state level, as well. An assistant professor of political science at the UW, Grumbach outlines the ways party politics and interest groups, especially in the past two decades, have essentially set state party agendas and inspired state-level candidates.

It is this policy shift to states, he says in the book, that “does not simply change the location of political battles. It fundamentally changes the terrain of American politics, providing new advantages to groups who have the informational capacity to monitor politicians at lower levels of government and groups that can move political and economic resources across borders.”

Jake Grumbach

Grumbach analyzed the years 2000-2018 — even before the most recent developments on the national scene — to come up with what he calls the State Democracy Index, or “a measure of democratic health in the 50 states.” Using statistical modeling, Grumbach based the measure on 61 indicators of democracy, such as voter registration rules, how and where ballots are cast, and inequality as it pertains to voting and gerrymandering.

“The State Democracy Index shows that states are diverging: Some states have expanded access to voting and made their district maps more balanced, while other states have seen serious democratic backsliding,” Grumbach said. “The differences between high-performing states like Washington and lower-performing states like North Carolina and Wisconsin aren’t as big as the difference was during Jim Crow [a period of legalized segregation], but the differences are meaningful. The quality of democracy in the states determines whose voice is heard in our political system — and the policies that shape our lives.”

In the book, Grumbach maintains that while other research has ranked states on specific measures, such as educational outcomes or business climate, little has been conducted on the role of state governments in preserving democracy. He has made the State Democracy Index available on his website, potentially for use by students, researchers and journalists – anyone interested in monitoring democratic backsliding.

“As the Supreme Court shifts abortion rights and other policies to the state level —including, potentially, new authorities over federal elections — the quality of democracy in the states will become even more consequential,” Grumbach said.

Laboratories against Democracy is published by Princeton University Press.

For more information, contact Grumbach at grumbach@uw.edu.


Racism, eugenics in early gay rights movement

In “Racism and the Making of Gay Rights: A Sexologist, His Student, and the Empire of Queer Love”, published in May 2022 by University of Toronto Press, associate history professor Laurie Marhoefer shows how sexologist Magnus Hirschfield laid the groundwork for modern gay rights. But while Hirschfield is considered one of the founders of gay rights politics, he also borrowed from racist, imperial and eugenic ideas, including anti-Black racism.

Headshot of Laurie Marhoefer

Laurie Marhoefer

“It’s hard to do justice to the power of this book,” said reviewer Leila J. Rupp, professor of feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “Let me just say that once you open it, you’ll have trouble tearing yourself away.”

The book retells how, in 1931, Hirschfield met and fell in love with medical student Li Shiu Tong. Li became Hirschfield’s assistant for a lecture tour, the first of its scale where a renowned expert defended homosexuality.

In following the pair’s travels through the American, Dutch and British empires and into exile in Adolf Hitler’s Europe, Marhoefer provides a detailed picture of queer lives in the 1930s.

Research from Marhoefer, the Jon Bridgman Endowed Professor of History, found that Li was also a sexologist and activist whose views better align with current times. In his later years, Li started to write a book about his own theory of sexuality. Marhoefer tracked down the only known copy in Berlin. The book serves as a double biography of Hirschfield and Li.

“’Racism and the Making of Gay Rights’ decentres Magnus Hirschfeld, long revered as a ‘founding father’ of gay liberation, by revealing the racist and imperialist investments behind his overfocus on white, cisgendered men, a still-too-common feature of queer representation,” said reviewer Angela Zimmerman, professor of history at George Washington University.

“Crucially, Laurie Marhoefer introduces the possibility of a better, queerer liberation in the thought of Hirschfeld’s Chinese research assistant and perhaps lover, Li Shiu Tong. This is queer history for a better future.”

For more information, contact Marhoefer at marl@uw.edu.


The evolution — and flourishing — of Filipinx American studies

A new volume edited and introduced by Rick Bonus, professor of American ethnic studies, explores how Filipinx American studies, established decades ago, is pursuing new directions.

The 34-essay volume, Filipinx American Studies: Reckoning, Reclamation, Transformation, is framed as both a critique-of-study and a project to move the field forward. Co-edited by Antonio Tiongson, Jr., of Syracuse University, the book is published by Fordham University Press.

In their introduction, Bonus and Tiongson lay the foundation of Filipinx American studies in historical experience — violence and colonization first by Spain, then the United States — that manifested in racism and labor extraction. They write: “But despite their persistent characterization as an unassimilable racial problem or as ill-disposed troublemakers, and notwithstanding their status as colonial subjects who were not eligible for citizenship, Filipinxs proactively and creatively devised ways to resist, recover, and remember.”

Rick Bonus


Bonus and Tiongson describe how Filipinx American studies evolved as an interdiscipline, both in alliance with other groups, communities and fields, and in contrast to more “U.S.-centric, and therefore narrow and limiting modes of analysis” often found in more conventional American and ethnic studies.

“It’s been an ongoing tradition in our field,” Bonus said. “We’ve always considered how our identities are related to others, how we cross national and ethnic boundaries when it comes to forming communities, and how certain rules of belonging do not apply to us. As a consequence, other race- and ethnic-based fields of study have admired and emulated us, as we continue to question and exemplify the powers of both solidarity and resistance.”

The book aims to move scholarship forward, from historic ideas of immigration, settlement and assimilation to the ways imperialism, globalization and racialization exist today. The editors argue for reorienting the understanding of what it means to be Filipinx American, so that the U.S. is not the only defining factor. Among the essays are those that examine Filipinx American studies and student identities in higher education; gender and sexuality; and the various forms of labor.

For more information, contact rbonus@uw.edu.


How revolution transformed Russia’s Jewish community

“How the Soviet Jew Was Made” is the first book from Sasha Senderovich, assistant professor in the Jackson School of International Studies and the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures.

Recently published by Harvard University Press, the book uses post-revolutionary Russian and Yiddish literary, cinematic and journalistic sources to examine how the Jewish community of the former czarist empire was transformed by the Russian Revolution of 1917 and during the first two decades of Bolshevik rule.

The requirement that most Jews live in what had been Russia’s western borderlands — known as the Pale of Settlement — was abolished in 1917.

Headshot of Sasha Senderovich

Sasha Senderovich

With this new opportunity, many Jewish communities moved to larger cities or headed to Europe, America, Palestine or the new Jewish Autonomous Region in the Far East, a Soviet experiment that since has dwindled. It was developed as a home for Jewish people in the Soviet Union, but there was no mass migration to the area. Today, most of the settlers in the region are ethnic Russians.

“Besides colleagues and fellow scholars, I am grateful to the students in my course on the Soviet Jewish Experience, which I’ve now offered three times at the UW,” said Senderovich, who is also a faculty affiliate at the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies. “Discussing with them some of the materials, about which I ended up writing in my book, greatly enriched my thinking.”

For more information, contact Senderovich at senderov@uw.edu.