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Posts Tagged ‘History’

A Conversation Regarding Thomas Goode Jones

In America, American History, Books, History, Humanities, Law, liberal arts, Nineteenth-Century America, Politics, Scholarship, The South on November 8, 2017 at 6:45 am
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Additional Thoughts on Gary W. Gallagher’s The Union War

In American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Historicism, History, Nineteenth-Century America, Slavery, Southern History, The South, Western Civilization on December 23, 2011 at 10:50 am

Allen Mendenhall

Recently I reviewed Gary W. Gallagher’s The Union War (Harvard University Press, 2011) for The University Bookman.  The review (“Why the Union Soldiers Fought”) is available here.  I have not said all I mean to say about Gallagher’s book, so this post records some additional thoughts.

I began my review with the tale of the “Lost Women and Children of Roswell.”  It was difficult as a child, knowing this story and others like it, to view the Union Army as completely righteous and pure, or to justify the eradication of certain evils like slavery with other widespread and destructive evils like war.  Despite being a Southerner with ancestors who fought for the Confederacy, I’m ambivalent about the War because of the various and totalizing perspectives that were thrust upon me when I was young, and because of my general opposition to war and nationalism, to say nothing of the complex figuring of race that played a defining role in bringing about the conflict.

As I went from middle school to high school, and then college to graduate school, the less likely I was to reduce the causes of the War to one or two factors, and the more likely I was to believe that anyone’s view of the War is already tainted by biases and assumptions.  Over time, I learned never to rule out alternate ways of viewing the War or the Confederacy.  I decided that no one would ever discover the intellectual trump card that would prevail over other viewpoints about the War that killed more men than all other wars in American history, combined.

There’s always more than one way of looking at a conflict, be it this War or some other one.  And our imperfect understanding of conflicts—of anything, really—always consists of generalizations based on the confines of personal experience.  We can read about the events encompassing the War, and we can guess at the logic and beliefs that explain those events.  But we can never relive the War or experience it in real time; and if we are honest, we must say that we can never read all there is to read about the period, never fully know the way a nineteenth-century mind thought, never entirely understand the quotidian realities of the men and women of all races at those times and in those places.  Being human, moreover, we make mistakes and assumptions.  Most of us revise our errors when we notice them.  But some don’t.  Some try to rationalize the logic of the unrealities to which they cling.  Read the rest of this entry »

Ciceronian Society Annual Conference, March 29-31, 2012: Call for Papers

In Arts & Letters, Conservatism, Humanities, News and Current Events, News Release, Western Civilization on November 30, 2011 at 8:27 am

 

Allen Mendenhall

The Ciceronian Society will be holding its annual meeting at the University of Virginia, March 29-31, 2012. This will be an academic conference in which panelists can present on a variety of topics related to the themes of Tradition, Place, and ‘Things Divine.’ A more elaborate description of these core-themes and their relation to the humanities is provided on the Ciceronian Society website

Possible panel themes include the following: 

 

  1.  The Relationship of Modern Thought to Tradition and the Divine. 
  2.  Greek and Roman Thought. 
  3.  Place, ‘Things Divine,’ and Tradition in Medieval Thought
  4.  Human Scale, Decentralism, and Federalism
  5.  American Thought/Experience and Tradition and Place
  6.  Literature, Localism, History, and the Divine. 
  7.  Agrarianism, Localism, and Economics 
  8.  Social-Political Theology

 

BOOK REVIEW: Laura F. Edwards. The People and Their Peace: Legal Culture and the Transformation of Inequality in the Post-Revolutionary South (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

In Advocacy, American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Civil Procedure, History, Humanities, Jurisprudence, Law, Laws of Slavery, Nineteenth-Century America, Politics, Rhetoric, Slavery, Southern History, The South on September 28, 2011 at 10:41 am

Allen Mendenhall

Since Mark Tushnet revived the study of slave laws in the American South, several historians, most notably Paul Finkelman, Thomas D. Morris, and Ariela Gross, have followed in his footsteps.  Laura F. Edwards’s The People and Their Peace is a book that extends this trend in scholarship.  Focusing on North and South Carolina from roughly 1787 to 1840, and more specifically on three North Carolina counties and four South Carolina counties during that time, Edwards situates local law in contradistinction to state law, portraying the former as polycentric and heterogeneous and the latter as centralized and homogenous.  Edwards suggests that state law was more aspirational than practical in the early nineteenth-century Carolinas because it failed to inform ordinary legal practice at the local level in the same way that resident culture or custom did.

Pitting “reformers” (elite individuals who sought to create a uniform and consolidated body of rules that appellate courts could enforce at the state level) against locals, Edwards demonstrates that the legal system was bottom-up and not top-down and that law on paper or in statutes was different from law in practice.  On paper or in statutes, law subordinated lower courts to appellate courts and seemed, in keeping with the reformers’ ideals, systematized into a unitary, integrated order that reflected the supposedly natural and inevitable unfolding of history.  Reformers selectively compiled local laws and practices into lengthy works to forge the impression that law was a set of consistent, underlying principles.  In practice, however, law was variable, contingent, and contextual.  It emerged from the workaday and quotidian operations of individuals in towns and communities.  Law was therefore as messy as it was unpredictable, and it cannot be understood today without a deep knowledge of interpersonal relationships and cultural conditions in locales where courts sat.  Slave codes, for instance, did not reflect realities on the ground because they were handed down by state legislatures and could not account for the reputations and routines of people in local communities—people who cared less about consistency in the law or about fixed principles than about their personal stake in any given legal matter. 

This book is a corrective to histories interested principally in local legal sources but neglectful of the particularities that brought about these local sources.  It marshals evidence from legal documents—especially case decisions, including appellate opinions—while considering why and how those documents were produced.  The development of state law became increasingly important during the antebellum years, but the rise in state law—which privileged narratives of individual rights, standardized legal principles, and enabled southern distinctiveness—does not make sense apart from local data.  Local data reveals much about the processes (as opposed to philosophies) of law.  Put differently, local law remained discretionary because it was fluid and not subject to abstract and purely notional mantras about rights. Read the rest of this entry »

Foucault’s Nietzschean Genealogy

In Art, Arts & Letters, Historicism, History, Humanities, Literary Theory & Criticism, Philosophy, Politics, Rhetoric, Western Philosophy, Writing on September 17, 2011 at 10:02 am

Allen Mendenhall

“Genealogy […] requires patience and knowledge of details, and it depends on a vast accumulation of source material.  Its ‘cyclopean monuments’ are constructed from ‘discreet and apparently insignificant truths and according to a rigorous method’; they cannot be the product of ‘large and well-meaning errors.’  In short, genealogy demands relentless erudition.  Genealogy does not oppose itself to history as the lofty and profound gaze of the philosopher might compare to the molelike perspective of the scholar; on the contrary, it rejects the metahistorical deployment of ideal significations and indefinite teleologies.  It opposes itself to the search for ‘origins.’”

                                      —Michel Foucault, from “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History”

This brief passage by Foucault has three references to Nietzsche.  The essay from which the passage is drawn demonstrates Foucault’s immense debt to Nietzsche, citing as it does no other thinker but Nietzsche (save for a fleeting reference to Paul Ree, whose term “Ursprung,” or “origin,” Nietzsche adopts).  Of all Nietzsche’s ideas and practices, genealogy is the one that Foucault cultivates most impressively.  Genealogy is a methodology by and with which one documents or tracks the development of ideas and their relation to human organization.  In other words, genealogy traces knowledge to its systemic formations across various networks of discourse.  That is why genealogy “requires patience” and “depends on a vast accumulation of source material.”  It is a process, and processes take time to work out. 

Genealogy does not recover origins because origins are not recoverable.  Origins are fluid, not fixed; they are not, strictly speaking, origins at all—if, that is, “origins” is taken to mean single, absolute causes or definite, immutable sources.  Rather, for Foucault, “origins” is a term of convenience—perhaps strategically essentialized—referring to sets of beliefs and activities that constitute discursive structures mobilized by numerous truth claims.  That is why Foucault can employ the term “origins” in one sentence and then, in a subsequent sentence, seemingly reverse course by calling origins “chimeras.”  The point is not to define or explain origins; the point is to discredit the idea of origins as self-evident and immanently knowable. 

Origins themselves are inaccessible; the emergence and development of structures based on ideas, however, are not only accessible, but also edifying.  Foucault’s genealogy, therefore, seeks to collect data about numerous truth claims and then to explain how these data form and shape culture.  As Foucault says of genealogy, “It opposes itself to the search for ‘origins.’”  Note the quotation marks around “origins.”  Those marks suggest an intent to divest that term of its expressive purchase.  Origins are knowable only as points of loss or complication, only as intricate and multifaceted constructs that, when examined closely, signify multiple and heterogeneous phenomena and that thus enable and sustain further inquiry.     Read the rest of this entry »

Law Professors and Laws of Slavery

In American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, History, Nineteenth-Century America, Politics, Slavery, The Literary Table, Western Civilization on April 4, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Allen Mendenhall

This post was first published over at The Literary Table.  I have reposted here because the content of the post relates to many recent posts on this site.

Kenneth Stamp published his landmark study The Peculiar Institution (New York: Alfred A. Knopf) in 1956, thus inaugurating the institutionalized and concerted efforts of scholars to examine the history of slavery in America with greater detail.  Research and study of the history of slavery then gained momentum in the 1960s.  One of the seminal texts from this period was David Brion Davis’s The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (Cornell University Press, 1966), winner of the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.  An ambitious undertaking, this book seeks to demonstrate the continuity of slavery through various times and places in Western Civilization.  A legitimizing narrative or logic always accompanies the institution of slavery, Davis suggests, but such narrative or logic—or narrative logic—is fraught with paradoxes threatening to undermine the institution altogether.  How, for instance, does one reconcile the ideals of freedom and equality, so celebrated by American Revolutionaries, with the pervasive reality of human bondage?  How does one make sense of a Christianity that both condemns and justifies slavery?  How can slaves be humans—rational agents with free will—and chattel property at once?  How does ending the slave trade worsen conditions for the enslaved?  If enslaving infidels, and only infidels, is valid by law and church teaching, then how do European colonists validate the enslavement of converted Africans?  How can colonists rely heavily upon an institution that they fear?  How can one of the earliest American colonies to oppose slavery (Georgia) become a hotbed for slavery?  If, according to law and church teaching, only pagans can be enslaved, why are not Natives enslaved as frequently or as much as Africans?  For that matter, why do early objections to slavery focus on Natives, who are less likely to become slaves than blacks?  Why do colonists insist on Christianizing slaves yet fear converted slaves?  How does the antislavery movement develop out of the very ideology sustaining slavery?  How do notions of sin both justify and subvert the institution of slavery?  Why does the Age of Enlightenment, with its celebration of reason, humanism, and liberation, intensify rather than disparage slavery?  And how can the New World, a putatively progressive landscape, rely on and perpetuate an ancient institution?  These and other questions permeate Davis’s provocative text.  Davis does not try to resolve these apparent contradictions so much as he explores them through various persons, places, and patterns; in so doing, he describes how human bondage gets revised and extended from one age to the next, and how justifications for slavery in one era inaugurate justifications for slavery in later eras.  Read the rest of this entry »

Outline and Summary of Diana Ramey Berry’s Swing the Sickle for the Harvest is Ripe: Gender and Slavery in Antebellum Georgia (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2007)

In American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Georgia, Nineteenth-Century America, Slavery on March 28, 2011 at 8:17 am

Allen Mendenhall

Book Theses

Quotation: Swing the Sickle seeks to break down binary opposites such as house labor equals skilled work and field labor equals unskilled work to explore more subtle dynamics that involve skill, talent, seniority, experience, personal relationships, and circumstance.  Building on recent scholarship on various aspects of slave labor from organizational structures to occupational hierarchies, this book examines the intricacies of enslaved labor, family, community, and economy.” (2)

Quotation: Swing the Sickle explores the ways different crops created a social hierarchy among the enslaved and the effect of such power dynamics within the quarters.” (3)

Introduction

Southern planters generally divided labor by skill, not by sex.  Specialized labor crossed gender lines.  This book explores this fact while paying attention to the quotidian operations of enslaved persons and slaveholders in Georgia.  What constituted skilled labor differed from plantation to plantation and crop to crop.  Labor itself defined slave life and community.  For that reason, the author uses the term “working social” to refer to “public work environments where bondpeople labored to complete a task and used the balance of the evening for socializing” (3).  Examining working socials gives us insights into the private lives of slaves.  Slavery was not just about producing for masters; it was also a way of life.  Although labor was always connected to the public world of commerce, agriculture, and politics, it was first a private, family, familial, and familiar institution in which slaves were subject to exploitation.  This book focuses on two regions of Georgia: the upcountry and piedmont county of Wilkes, and the lowcountry and tidewater county of Glynn.  These counties are representative of the general development of open and closed systems of slavery.  Glynn County was marked by large plantation settings, and Wilkes County by farms and smaller slave-holding units. 

Quotation: “[S]tudying gender allows us to identify the numerous ways bondspeople experienced slavery in addition to regional variance. […] We cannot understand slavery until we know more about the work that men and women performed.” (8)       Read the rest of this entry »

Outline and Summary of Sylvia R. Frey’s Water from the Rock

In American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, History, Politics, Slavery on February 20, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Allen Mendenhall

Sylvia R. Frey, Water from the Rock: Black Resistance in a Revolutionary Age (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1991) 

ONE

The Prerevolutionary South: Foundations of Culture and Community

This chapter describes the landscape and characteristics of the South before the Revolution.  The Chesapeake was much different from the lower South, which depended on the production of rice for economic competition.  Rice cultivation was common in states like South Carolina and Georgia, but less common in states like North Carolina.  Virginia and North Carolina grew tobacco.  In some places in Virginia, the slave population equaled the white population; in some places in South Carolina, slaves outnumbered whites.  Whites and blacks worked together and lived in close proximity, but they developed different cultural norms.  Big homes, churches, and courthouses served to unify the white community.  Symbols of power like plantation homes served to unite whites.  The bigger the plantations, the greater the separation between masters and slaves.  Criminal codes for slaves expanded in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as the slave population increased.  The Stono Rebellion of 1735 led Southern states to pass laws to deter slave insurrection.  County courts retained ultimate punishment power over slaves.  The most common religion in the South at this time was Anglicanism, although religion generally was spread out and not institutionalized.  The gentry tended to be Anglican.  The first effort to Christianize slaves in the South came from a missionary sect of Anglicans called the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.  This sect evangelized to blacks from roughly 1705-1760, at which point other denominations such as the Baptists and Methodists took up that role.  As whites gradually sought to ensure their dominance through institutions, laws, and architecture, they also allowed slaves to cultivate a unique culture.  The emerging black culture fused West African traditions with various, competing African American practices and with a new religious culture centering on the church.  By the late eighteenth century, most slaves in America had been born in America.  Slaves in the lowcountry, especially in the coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia, were able to nourish and sustain an African-influenced culture.  Family became the site of cultural cohesiveness for slaves and even helped to determine which African customs to retain and which to discard.  By the eve of the Revolution, the monogamous slave family was not an established model partially because slaves lacked the legal and religious protocols for marriage.  Polygyny was common among slaves and in keeping with West African traditions.  Many slaves sought to preserve West African religious traditions.  Gradually slaves adopted a Christian religion alongside but not within white Christianity.  The growth of organized religion among slaves was a product of the Revolutionary era and was spearheaded by slaves themselves.  The synthesis of republican ideals and religious sentiment emanating from the Great Awakening made for the budding antislavery movement.   Read the rest of this entry »

Outline and Summary of Ira Berlin’s Many Thousands Gone

In American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Dred Scott, History, Slavery on February 9, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Allen Mendenhall

Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998).

Prologue: 

Race is a historical construction.  It is continually redefined by various parties and for various reasons.  The experiences that defined race in North America were volatile; they changed over the course of two centuries.  The definition of race—and of slave—transformed alongside and because of human interaction.  Slaves defined their history as much as masters did.  Slavery was a “negotiated relationship.”  Even though masters maintained a position of dominance over slaves, slave agency constantly forced masters to revise their relationship to slaves.  Masters and slaves had to concede power to one another.  As the master-slave relationship changed, so did the dynamics of the slave system.  The master-slave relationship was always renegotiated and remade, and the power of the master or the slave was always contingent.  Therefore, the reality of a slave’s life was different depending upon time and place.  No slave experience was the same.  Rather than examining the commonalities and continuities of slavery across time and space, this work seeks to emphasize differences and contingencies.  Discussions of paternalism in the master-slave relationship have dominated slave studies and reinforced the idea that slave conditions were static and fixed in time.  As a result, historians have established misleading tropes.  The author seeks to challenge and undo some of those tropes.  He seeks to unsettle the master/slave binary opposition by emphasizing the messiness in between.  Slavery made class more than it made race.  Nevertheless, slave history is irreducible to labor, even if labor is indispensable to slavery.  Focusing on the workplace, as this author does, provides insights into the quotidian operations of slave life from place to place and time to time.  It reveals, for instance, how slaves resisted their masters through dance and song (among other things).  The author separates North American slavery into distinct regions and experiences to suggest the variety of slave experience from locale to locale.  A society with slaves is different from a slave society because the former does not depend upon slavery in the economic realm, does not produce as many slaves, and does not press the master-slave dichotomy.  The way that societies with slaves transformed into slave societies differed from society to society, but each such society had brutality in common.  Labor and the struggle of master and slave over labor are instructive starting points from which to examine slavery in general.  The ideals of the Enlightenment, as well as democratic movements in America and elsewhere, gave slaves leverage to challenge their bondage on colonials’ own philosophical terms.

Quote:  “Locating the seat of social change in the workplace, rooting those changes in the material circumstances of African-American life, and connecting such material changes to the development of African-American institutions and beliefs offer a structure for historicizing the study of slavery.  The struggle over labor informed all other conflicts between master and slave, and understanding it opens the way to a full comprehension of slave society and the integration of the slave experience into the history of the American workingclass.  It also provides the material basis for an appreciation of agency within the confines of slavery and how resistance that fell short of revolution could be effective.” (11)

This book strives to avoid a totalizing or essentializing narrative of slavery.  It treats slavery on a case-by-case, place-by-place basis. Read the rest of this entry »

Outline and Summary of David Brion Davis’s The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture

In American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, History, Slavery, Thomas Jefferson, Western Civilization on January 27, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Allen Mendenhall

This post inaugurates what I hope will become a trend on this blog, and that’s to outline and summarize various books that I’m reading.  This project should benefit students and scholars alike, as it will make information more accessible, comprehensible, and compact.  Let’s hope I don’t run up against copyright restrictions.  I should note from the outset that these posts are not meant as exhaustive explanations–exhaustive explanations aren’t possible, and anyway outlines and summaries are by definition not exhaustive–but they will condense authors’ arguments into easily digestible portions.  With that, then, let us consider this, the first of these endeavors.  

David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1966).

 PART ONE:   

1.       The Historical Problem: Slavery and the Meaning of America

This chapter opens by pointing out a fundamental contradiction in early American values that prized liberty yet perpetuated slavery.  This contradiction is, Davis says, a paradox.  American society rested on the irresolvable contradiction between celebrating freedom and denying freedom.   This contradiction might reflect the difference between ideal and reality. Read the rest of this entry »

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