Book in Focus
B.H. Roberts, Moral Geography, and the Making of a Modern Racist"/>

26th July 2022

Book in Focus
B.H. Roberts, Moral Geography, and the Making of a Modern Racist

By Clyde R. Forsberg Jr. and Phillip Gordon Mackintosh

Cambridge Scholars Publishing was incredibly saddened to learn of the passing of Clyde R. Forsberg, Jr., Professor of American and European Studies at the American University of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan, and a CSP author/editor for many years, beginning with his 2012 edited collection, The Life and Legacy of George Leslie Mackay through to B.H. Roberts, Moral Geography, and the Making of a Modern Racist, which remained unfinished before his untimely death in 2021. Here, his co-author and life-long friend Phillip Mackintosh pays tribute, and discusses the challenges and the incredibly emotional journey of bringing Prof Forsberg's final project to completion. 

For this CSP Book in Focus blog I recount in miniature our—my—writing process, because as we began revising the first draft of the manuscript, my life-long friend, writing partner and colleague, Clyde Revere Forsberg, Jr., died—much too young, and still intellectually and musically refulgent (he was a jazz horn and piano player, composer/arranger, a playwright and producer of “jazz theatre”). His death crushed his families and friends at home and around the world. It also produced a near-insoluble dilemma for me: how to complete a transdisciplinary monograph when the first author, and principal specialist in the subject matter of the book, is deceased.

As the blurb explains, B.H. Roberts, Moral Geography, and the Making of a Modern Racist “encompasses American and world religious history, Christian theology and Christology, science history, and cultural and historical geography.” The primary conundrum for the second and surviving author was that my contributions constitute the cultural and historical geographical (the “Moral Geography” in the title)—not the Mormon, religious, and science history, and especially not the theology. Mercifully, Clyde’s only (and early) draft of the manuscript was my one dollop of grace. He left a “chord chart”, if you will (given his proficiency as a trumpeter and arranger), over which I could compose and improvise more and stronger drafts. How to proceed?

That we had similar philosophical and ideological frames of reference mattered. Over the years, we had developed a fairly intuitive writing process, Clyde churning out clay-like ideas that I could shape argumentatively and empirically; I could approach B.H. Roberts in same way. However, while in some instances the first draft was somewhat fleshed out, it was in many others dramatically vague and/or incomplete; arguments, titles, and subheadings were cryptic, or beyond my non-specialist’s ken; the chapters’ content less organized than I had wished; the prose was viscous and jargonistic; and numerous bibliographic references were omitted, some ultimately untraceable. Recalling all this summons fresh tears, because I can see my friend bravely, desperately, heaving words onto the page all the while playing “chicken” with his mortal clock. He told me in a video call that one night, as he was writing, he had the heartbreaking realization that he was dying. He determined to write faster.

This came with costs—perhaps the ultimate price for Clyde. One consequence was my own time, effort, and mental health. I say this only because finishing the book involved an extraordinary degree of emotion and trepidation—and alacritous in situ learning. And I was hit with an avalanche-thought: I would have to teach myself not only how to think like Clyde, but to fathom what he knew. I failed at that, of course, yet somehow in the weeks and months following his death I was undeterred. I poured over the books and articles in the bibliography (and many others I added to it)—and then asked Clyde if I was getting their gist. Yes. I had “sort of” convinced myself that I could talk to the photo of Clyde I had placed on the desktop of my computer (I use the image in my “Brief Biography of Professor Clyde R. Forsberg, Jr., 1957–2021”); in moments of duress, I’d minimize the manuscript and whisper my perturbations to my was-he-really-dead friend. I never attained Clyde’s capacious understanding of things (and likely never will), but I did gain workable competency in a couple of the key disciplines the book broaches (panic is a remarkable motivator!).

One morning about two months after Clyde’s passing, I sat contemplating his photo as I slow-sipped a tepid coffee. Then a sudden pulsing thought: this isn’t what I think it is—not a sacred bond, or karmic gesture, as if the manuscript weren’t a book but a covenant. Mine was not the “Sam McGee” moment I initially imagined. Like the companion in the Robert Service poem who pledged, rashly, to cremate Sam McGee—on the frozen tundra in the dead of a Yukon winter, I too believed “a friend’s last need is a thing to heed and I swore I would not fail.” True, but this was not that. I seemed now to understand that when Clyde wrote, “If I don’t make it finish the book. It’s good, Love,” he was hardly extracting a Masonic oath. He was surrendering. The serenity in his short note eluded me in the angst of his death. So, with that late-April morning’s unexpected—palliating—revelation, all insomnia, intellectual exhaustion, loss of appetite, eye strain and headaches, ceased. His book quietly became our book, even my book to the extent that I ceded myself full editorial and conceptual control. I could take Clyde’s picture off my desktop. And, ironically, I now interpret the circumstance in reverse. I believe B.H. Roberts is Clyde’s final bequest to me. He gave me the opportunity (in an admittedly disquieting manner) to grow my apprehension of all things Victorian and Edwardian—knowing that the book I’m currently writing will benefit exceedingly from the learning I acquired from him and our book.

Clyde lived for about four weeks after his initial invitation to me to co-author B.H. Roberts—which we called “Feathers and Wax: B.H. Roberts and the Making of a Modern Racist. A Critical Moral Geography” (for reasons we explain in the Introduction). By mid-February, we had begun revising the draft. I was injecting my own specialist-thoughts and tone of voice into the text, Clyde cheering me on digitally. A quirk of coronavirus pandemic scheduling left me teaching only one asynchronous online course in the winter term of 2021; I could devote 12—14-hour days to thinking and writing, my partner Jeannie (Clyde’s copyeditor on a previous book) infusing me with encouragement—and tea. Clyde and I emailed furiously—displaced by 12 hours because he lived in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and taught at the American University of Central Asia, and I in St. Catharines, Canada, at Brock University. Then, abruptly on February 19, it ended. He sent no replies to urgent queries and agitated requests for video chats. This was agony, knowing what I knew. Eight days later Jeannie read in a Facebook post by one of Clyde’s students that he had passed that morning. He couldn’t write. He’d been hospitalized—and I wish I had written something more meaningful than “Let me get through it and send it to you” in our last communication of his life.

In the 25 days we worked intensively together, we were able to finalize the argument and chapter order of the next draft. This included: cutting two chapters with the commitment to ourselves we’d publish them elsewhere; a radically revised Introduction with its racialized-creationism-as-moral-geography argument; and a commitment to rewrite the first draft’s Conclusion which, while fascinating, needed more emphasis on historical social justice, especially from our world historical vantage of the BlackLivesMatter protests and movement throughout 2020 and 2021. I would have to make the rest of a considerable list of changes without him. Yet, with this appreciable reconsideration of Clyde’s first draft (it went through three more without him) we cemented the book’s transdisciplinarity, which also epoxied my central predicament post mortem—the one that unsettles me to this day and renders these questions unanswerable: how could I possibly send the book out for peer review when the principal author was not available to respond queries about his arguments religious, theological, and Mormon-historical—and has anyone imagined such a circumstance in their transdisciplinary collaborations? Despite my and many others’ knowledge that peer review is not only a flawed process, but also one that has demonstrated weaknesses, can a transdisciplinary monograph that has not undergone peer review have any academic value? Will academics lend our book any credence at all?

We’ll see.

The late Clyde R. Forsberg, Jr., PhD, was Professor of American and European Studies at the American University of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan. He authored, among others, Equal Rites: The Book of Mormon, Masonry, Gender, and American Culture (2004); Divine Rite of Kings: Land, Race, Same Sex, and Empire in Mormonism and the Esoteric Tradition (2016); The Persecution of Professors in the New Turkey: Expulsion of Excellence – A Facebook Book (2017); and A Most Extraordinary, Everyday Family Story of Coming to the New World, 1660 – 2016 (2019). In addition, he is also the editor of The Life and Legacy of George Leslie Mackay: An Interdisciplinary Study of Canada’s First Presbyterian Missionary to Northern Taiwan (1872 – 1901) (2012), and published a volume of his “jazz theatre” plays, titled Playing It by Ear (2010).

Phillip Gordon Mackintosh, PhD, is Professor of Urban Historical Geography at Brock University, Canada. He is the author of Newspaper City: The Liberal Press and Toronto’s Street Surfaces, 1860-1935 (2017), and co-editor of Architectures of Hurry—Mobilities, Cities, and Modernity (2018) and The World of Niagara Wine (2013). He has written extensively on urban and social reform, public space, and bourgeois culture, including bicycling, fraternalism, and evangelical Protestantism. Currently, he is writing a monograph on capitalism and urban pathologies in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Toronto, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

B.H. Roberts, Moral Geography, and the Making of a Modern Racist is available now in Hardback at a 25% discount. Enter code PROMO25 at checkout to redeem.

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