May 12, 2021
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Huntingdon History Professor Publishes Book on the Politics of “Peanuts”
Montgomery, Ala.—A book written by Huntingdon College assistant professor of history Dr. Blake Scott Ball, chair of the Department of History and Political Science, has been published by Oxford University Press. “Charlie Brown’s America: The Popular Politics of Peanuts,” takes readers through the five decades of the Cold War as seen through the eyes of the Peanuts gang, the visual communication medium for the strip’s creator, Charles Schulz. The book’s official release date is June 1.
“We are thrilled for Dr. Ball, who has spent many hours carefully researching this book,” says Huntingdon President J. Cameron West. “As a student of history myself, I appreciate the important interplay between popular art, critical thought, and historic events. This work is not only relevant—it’s necessary.”
“This book is the story of how Charles Schulz was responding to this tumultuous period in history—what he was writing in his ‘Peanuts’ comic strip—and the story of how fans and Americans, in turn, responded to his words,” says Ball. “Sometimes they agreed with him; but sometimes people saw things very differently.”
The book began as Ball’s doctoral dissertation at the University of Alabama. “I wanted to dive in deep and find out, does this thing that is everywhere—Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Peppermint Patty—does it actually say deep things about who we are as an American people and the things we were going through in the fifty years between 1950 and 2000?”
Philip Nel, author of “Was the Cat in the Hat Black?” described Ball’s book for an excerpt on the book jacket: “A cultural history with the narrative drive of a well-crafted biography, Blake Scott Ball’s ‘Charlie Brown’s America’ unlocks the mysteries behind Schulz’s comic masterpiece. Drawing on interviews, speeches, and correspondence between the cartoonist and his fans, Ball offers deftly historicized close readings of Schulz’s strip, showing how Peanuts’ ideological flexibility made it a ‘Rorschach test’ for American readers during the Cold War. A tour de force of comics scholarship and an engrossing read!”
M. Thomas Inge, of Randoph-Macon College, said, “‘Peanuts’ reflects America, or America reflects ‘Peanuts.’ Both were true in the case of America’s favorite comic strip. For half a century Charles Schulz sent his missive out to the world in a love letter, and his readers loved him back with unparalleled affection. In this thoroughly researched and carefully considered study, Blake Scott Ball explores the reasons why Schulz may have been our best cartoonist. Like Mickey Mouse, Superman, and Chaplin’s tramp, Charlie Brown has joined our list of icons who help us understand the human condition. He’s a good man, Charlie Brown.”
“As a history professor,” says Ball, “there’s a difference between how regular people live history and how presidents and senators live history. Sometimes only the latter side is told. Something as simple as a comic strip or a Hallmark card or a TV special can actually teach us incredibly unique, deep, meaningful things about our history. If we don’t incorporate those things into our history we’re not getting the full story. I hope one of the lessons from this book is that regular people matter too.”
Another lesson Ball hopes readers carry away is the importance of conversation, even amid disagreement. “We can disagree,” says Ball, “in fact, we are GOING to disagree, whatever important or mundane thing is going on in our daily lives, we can disagree but we can still work together. We can still appreciate each other’s dignity and point of view and sometimes just agree to disagree. Disagreement is part of the conversation and part of the process. The danger is when we become so adverse [to others’ points of view or to their perception of our point of view] that we stop having the conversations. I hope people will take away how important it is to converse with one another and especially with those with whom we disagree.”
Huntingdon students, faculty, and staff may attend a special book-signing event sponsored by Houghton Memorial Library and the Library Advisory Committee, Thursday, May 13, 4:00–5:00 p.m. in the College bookstore, the Scarlet & Grey Shop, in the Phyllis and Gene Stanaland House at Huntingdon College, 1140 East Fairview Avenue. External audiences may purchase the book by visiting the Scarlet & Grey Shop drive-thru during business hours, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. weekdays, or, after June 1, on amazon.com.
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