An Open Letter to Half Price Books – Please Stop Segregating History

Dear Half Price Books (and other book stores),

I have been visiting your stores occasionally for as long as I can remember. (I especially love the really big store in Austin that is in an old grocery store!) I frequently find interesting books and some good deals in the process. My students regularly comment they are able to find required books at your stores for much better prices than elsewhere. I also know that the Half Price Books provides the general public access to a wide variety of (academic) books they might not otherwise see. All of this is very good and commendable.

This said, one thing came to my attention today that disturbs me on both a moral and intellectual level.

I am a historian with specific interests in African-American history and cultural history. When I enter one of your stores, I always check the History section first. As I am writing my dissertation on the historical memory of the Civil Rights Revolution (called the “Civil Rights Movement” by most), I was particularly interested in the number of books the store I visited in Pearland had about this unprecedented social movement.

To my surprise, there was a label that said “Civil Rights.”

Civil Rights

To my disappointment, however, this section was confined to only two shelves and represented a very narrow scope compared to the books available. (Now, I know stores don’t have control per se over the books available.) This small section was in the middle of countless books about wars and United States Presidents. 

But, to my horror, in the very back of the store there was another section of books: “African American Studies,” “Women’s Studies,” “LGBT studies,” etc. While the “studies” departments at various universities have specific and important purposes, why are these segregated from the “regular” US History section (which is in the middle of the store on the opposite side)? The World History books and other History books are on the next aisle with the US History books.

Some of these books in the “Studies” section were indeed about the African-American Civil Rights Revolution, but all of these books actually belonged in the History section (and maybe a few in the Sociology section). After all, history (or the past) includes anything and everything that has ever happened. Our narratives of History or the rhetoric of where books are placed and how they are displayed speaks important volumes to larger mores and values. 

2014-05-30 14.50.00

As I wrote about in Is Black History Month Good or Bad,” there is an on-going problem outside of the Academy where far too many still believe that “History” to only made by presidents, generals, courts, etc.

So, why is African-American History and Women’s History and LGBT History segregated from the History section? Minorities have enough struggle being accepted and integrated into society. A bookstore seems like an excellent place to start to extended the incorporation. 

I would like to call on you to rearrange your book stores such that all books about those United Statesians racialized as black, genderized as female, or who do not fit the cis-heteronormative framework in some way or another are in the same section with other History books. This seemingly small step would help all of your customers who visit the History section see how diverse and complicated the past really is.

Thank you for your time. 

Sincerely, 

Andrew Joseph Pegoda

Please share, tweet, and comment, so hopefully Half Price Books actually sees this and change is made. Please consider sending HBP an email at customercare@halfpricebooks.com so they hear how many people are concerned about this. Thank you!



Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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6 replies

  1. Well done. 🙂

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  2. Agree, though this would require consumers to reconsider their own education. University education has been separated by “genre” for centuries for various reasons — the German/American model of specialization, then protection of tenure (see “specialization,” etc.). Book stores follow this division of genre because of the university system.

    Some universities, or at least some uni English departments are dropping the genre model and moving toward more thematic/inquiry models — so, examining American racism in novel, poetry, drama, expository essays across time and place. That thematic model would seem to support your request for bookshelves reorganization as well, agreed?

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    • Hey Bruce,

      Thanks for your comment.

      For sure, specializations are important. My biggest issue is that some of the books in the “studies” section were hard-core “history” per se. It would even be better if they had the “studies” section directly by the “history” section.

      The thematic model sounds really interesting. I kind of do a combination of cultural studies (interdisciplinary but focused on history) and interdisciplinary (looking for racism and sexism in said cultural artifacts/discourses/rhetorics). Is “rhetorics” even a word? 🙂

      Also considering how many people who are not college students who go to HPB and considering how many people consider themselves “history buffs” (I don’t for moral and philosophical and methodological reasons) or at least as having a strong interests in history – their ideas of history would evolve and be “better” if they saw history books beyond the “Great [White] Men” theme in the history section.

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  3. Echoing what Bruce said, our courses in Hispanic Studies at UH are very much built along these lines ; the course are designed thematically and generally include any and all genres of “literature” (artistic expression more so). This way, students can focus on whichever genre they prefer – so I generally write about performance/theatre. Where I did my MA, it was the opposite. Courses were “20th century Latin American Novel” or “20th century Spanish Theatre,” which forced us to look at very broad themes, but focus more so on a specific genre…..I definitely prefer the thematic approach!

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    • Thanks for your comment, Trevor!

      I think thematic and interdisciplinary approaches are absolutely the way to go. I wonder how customers would react to a store organized by racism, sexism, etc.?? 🙂

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