Thursday, January 15, 2015

Cover story: "Damned Nation"

Kathryn Gin Lum is Assistant Professor in the Religious Studies Department in collaboration with the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity at Stanford. She is affiliated with American Studies, Asian American Studies, and History (by courtesy).

Her 2014 book is Damned Nation: Hell in America from the Revolution to Reconstruction.

Here Gin Lum explains the connection of the book's cover to the pages within:
The cover image of Damned Nation invites the viewer on a journey. It lays out two paths. The golden road on the left leads ultimately to heaven, while the shrouded highway on the right ends in a fiery hell chockfull of serpentine demons and the writhing bodies of the damned. In between are connecting routes showing how easily one can turn from the right path to the wrong, and vice versa. Catholic priest Albert Lacombe created this “ladder” in Alberta in the 1870s. It followed on the heels of other didactic ladders showing the paths to heaven and hell, made by Protestant and Catholic missionaries to teach Christianity to Native Americans. As vivid as the image is on the cover of a 6 x 9 inch book, imagine the impact it made in its original size: 6 feet long and 1 foot wide, the ladder could be rolled up into a compact scroll and then unfurled with dramatic effect. If Lacombe’s ladder urges heaven on the viewer, the fiery red of the book’s cover and the brimstone detail on the spine invite the reader on a journey to hell. Between the covers, we encounter numerous people struggling to stay on the straight and narrow but terrified they’ve taken a wrong turn. We see others who claim to prefer the road to hell with their loved ones than the lonely path to heaven. And we find religious leaders arguing with each other while trying to convince the laity to follow them to heavenly bliss. So to hell with the cover: all hell breaks loose inside.
Learn more about Damned Nation: Hell in America from the Revolution to Reconstruction at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue