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Blog posts by Alexander Akin

Alexander Akin had his first experience abroad at the age of 15 in North Korea, as a delegate to the World Festival of Youth and Students. This startling experience led him to the study of East Asian history and languages as an anthropology student at UC Riverside. He finished his PhD in East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard in 2009. Aside from brief stints teaching at Brandeis and at the Roxbury Latin School, he has spent most of his time since then at Bolerium Books in San Francisco, where he is now the junior partner. 


Millions of people who have joined, or watched, the recent protests across the country, beginning with the March for Women, have been struck by the diversity of signs in the crowd. Princess Leia as political crusader, puns riffing on the latest social media meme, diagrams of ovaries, statements of solidarity with Muslim refugees – all have been present, in endless variety. Surprisingly, perhaps, it was not always so. Many libraries and museums collect historical protest signs, and the study of these signs reveals many changes over the years — not only in the issues directly addressed by the signs themselves, but in evolving styles of communication, and the influence of the broader cultural environment. It might seem surprising that some libraries, committed to the preservation of literature and the written word, also collect protest s... [more]

Even if you didn't have the experience I had as a teenager going to summer camps where they sang the Internationale, the May Day demonstrations of 1886 and the subsequent Haymarket Riot have touched your life in ways you might not realize. The then-radical demand for an eight-hour workday gave rise to massive confrontations between activists and police, which exploded into violence on the third and fourth days of the strike. Like many romanticized events in our history, there are multiple angles of approach to understand what happened, and a wealth of material from which to build a reference library or collection. First, a quick recap: An amalgamation of anarchists, syndicalists and trade unionists had called for a strike to commence on May 1st in Chicago in support of demands for the eight-hour day. The strike involved tens of thousands ... [more]

The streets of Dublin witnessed the largest parade in Irish history this Easter, as hundreds of thousands gathered to mark the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising. That revolt, by historical standards, was brief and seemingly futile in the short term. After the April 24 proclamation of an Irish Republic, perhaps fewer than 2,000 participants actually took up arms, and they were easily crushed within days by the British bombardment of much of central Dublin and the surrender and execution of its leaders. Nevertheless, the Rising boasts an outsize legacy not only in its ultimate political consequence of Irish independence five years later, but in its literary birthright, for a number of those involved in the uprising were authors of poetry and prose that had sculpted perceptions of Irish nationhood. Moreover, the destruction wrought upon Du... [more]