Salem College assistant professor of history Dr. Daniel Prosterman’s first book, Defining Democracy: Electoral Reform and the Struggle for Power in New York City, was recently published by Oxford University Press.
The book examines a little-known experiment in voting, undertaken in New York City during the 1930s and 1940s, to clarify our understanding of democracy's evolution in the United States and the world. In the midst of global crises concerning the purpose and power of government during the Great Depression, World War II, and early Cold War, New Yorkers debated the meaning of self-rule in the United States. In a series of campaigns over the expansion of voting rights in New York City, activists challenged the boundaries of who could be elected, what interests could be represented, and ultimately what policies could be implemented at the local level.
The book presents a new conceptualization of the history of democracy in the U.S., with a focus on urban politics as a site of democratic experimentation and vitality.
"In the aftermath of the 2012 elections, Americans on the Left and Right continue to contest the effectiveness of the two-party system in the United States,” says Prosterman. “Defining Democracy presents the history of a little-known experiment in self-government, when similar anxieties over the economy and war fueled the success of a surprising new form of democracy that challenged traditional assumptions about how people voted, who could hold public office, and what policies should be debated in city government."
Prosterman will read and discuss the book on Feb. 26 at 7:30 p.m. in the Club Dining Room in Corrin Refectory on Salem’s campus. The event is free and open to the public.
In addition to his duties as a history professor, Prosterman serves as director of the Salem Signature General Education program and the major in Race and Ethnicity Studies. He is a member of the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the Urban History Association.