Reading Race in Early America

1280px-brunias_cropped_detail-1024x738.jpgIn the past 10 years, we have seen an embarrassment of riches in scholarship that considers race in Early America (broadly understood). The list below is not exhaustive, but highlights some of the recent scholarship. Feel free to add your own favorite recent scholarship in the comments, and keep your eyes out next month, for our CFP for a roundtable on race in Early America.

51y8e43msel-_sy344_bo1204203200_It must be first be noted, the trend towards published handbooks, or syllabi. These are designed to provide readers who were new to the field with an in-depth overview of the scholarship. Perhaps the most visible of these is Charleston Syllabus (Georgia), which is edited by Chad Williams, Kidadda Williams, and Keisha Blain (see also, AAIHS). In a similar vein, it’s also worth checking out Candace Benbow’s Lemonade Syllabus, which explores Black feminism. For studies of race, these syllabi are one facet of what Ben Park observed in his round-up as a trend towards longer, sustained treatments of historical topics. Honorable mention goes to John D. Garrigus & Christopher Morris’ edited volume, Assumed Identities: the Meanings of Race in the Atlantic World (Texas A&M), for its thought-provoking essays on how concepts of race developed in the Atlantic World.

stampedFor other recent long-duree treatments of race, Ibram Kendi’s award-winning Stamped from the Beginning: the Definitive Guide to Racist Idea in America (Nation) is essential. Other new and exciting works include Manisha Sinha, The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolitionism (Yale); Edward Blum and Paul Harvey, The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America (UNC); and Jace Weaver, The Red Atlantic: American Indigenes and the Making of the Modern World, 1000-1927 (UNC). And, while not spanning centuries like the aforementioned volumes, Anthony Curran, The Anatomy of Blackness: Science and Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment (Johns Hopkins) is another important read in this category in terms of its longer view of the development of racist thought.

imagesIntersectionality between gender and race is another important trend in the scholarship. Of note here is Marisa Fuentes, whose methodology for reconstructing Black women’s history from fragmented sources in Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive (Pennsylvania) is particularly impressive. Emily Clark, The Strange History of the American Quadroon: Free Women of Color in the Revolutionary Atlantic (UNC) and Emily Suzanne Clark, A Luminous Brotherhood: Afro-Creole Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans (UNC) are also not to be missed.

Next up, are explorations of race/slavery and citizenship. Robert Parkinson’s award-winning volume, The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution (OIEHC/UNC) explores the ways in which race, as a category of 51xtcl90t3l-_sx327_bo1204203200_exclusion, underpinned national identity politics. Nicolas Guyatt,  Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation (Basic Books), similarly explores the politics of exclusion. On the other side of the same coin, Elizabeth Stordeur Pryor, Colored Travelers: Mobility and the Fight for Citizenship Before the Civil War (UNC), and Jared Hardesty, Unfreedom: Slavery and Dependence in Eighteenth-Century Boston (NYU) are important new works on categories of freedom and unfreedom. (Honorary mention goes to Patrick Rael, Eighty-Eight Years: The Long Death of Slavery in the United States, 1777-1865 (Georgia). Rael’s book provides some very useful additional context to this historical conversation.) And, for race, and the Caribbean on the 51xylppvnjl-_sy344_bo1204203200_periphery of the American Revolution, it is worth mentioning five additional recent works. The first is  John D. Garrigus, Before Haiti: Race and Citizenship in French Saint-Domingue (Palgrave); Julia Gaffield, Haitian Connections in the Atlantic World: Recognition After Revolution (UNC); James Alexander Dun, Dangerous Neighbors: Making the Haitian Revolution in Early America (Pennsylvania); Ashli White, Encountering Revolution: Haiti and the Making of the Early Republic (Johns Hopkins); and Ada Ferrer’s prize-winning book, Freedom’s Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution (Cambridge).

In considerations of diaspora, are a number of new booksimgres that explore diaspora; in particular, Native American Diaspora. In particular, see Arica Coleman, That the Blood Stay Pure: African Americans, Native Americans, and the Predicament of Race and Identity in Virginia (Indiana); David J. Silverman, Red Brethren: the Brothertown and Stockbridge Indians and the Problem of Race (Cornell); Gregory D. Smithers,  The Cherokee Diaspora: An Indigenous History of Migration, Resettlement, and Identity (Yale); Coll Thrush, Indigenous London: Native Travelers at the Heart of Empire (Yale); and Sami Lakomaki, Gathering Together: the Shawnee People through Diaspora and Nation, 1600-1870 (Yale). For those interested in diasporan topics, it is worth following not only AAIHS, but the African Diaspora PhD blog, founded by AAIHS officer Jessica Marie Johnson.

9781479805006_fullAnd finally, religion remains a central methodology of exploring race. See Rebecca Anne Goetz, The Baptism of Virginia: How Christianity Invented Race (Johns Hopkins); Richard A. Bailey, Race and Redemption in Puritan New England (Oxford); Paul Harvey, Bounds of their Habitation: Race and Religion in Early America (Rowman & Littlefield);  Heather Miyano Kopelson, Faithful Bodies: Performing Religion and Race in the Puritan Atlantic (NYU); Sophia White, Wild Frenchmen and Frenchified Indians: Material Culture and Race in Colonial Louisiana (Pennsylvania); and Lisa Poirier, Religion, Gender, and Kingship in Colonial New France (Syracuse). And on a shamelessly self-promotional note, befitting its subject, my book, Inventing George Whitefield: Race, Revivalism, and the Making of a Religious Icon (Mississippi) was just released in paperback.


15 responses

  1. Jennifer Spear’s Race, Sex, and Social Order in Early New Orleans (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009) for both French and Spanish colonial attitudes. In a somewhat subtler way, Christian Crouch’s Nobility Lost: French and Canadian Martial Cultures, Indians, and the End of New France (Cornell University Press, 2014) provides an interesting model for considering race and ethnicity.

  2. This is great Jessica! Thanks. I have much more to read up on than I thought. I would add one of my favorites “Native Tongues: Colonialism and Race from Encounter to the Reservation” by Sean Harvey

  3. I know they’re just a bit over a decade old, but David Scott’s Conscripts of Modernity (2004) and David Kazanjian’s The Colonizing Trick (2003) are also interesting contributions.

  4. Next on my reading list is Jennifer Palmer’s new book, Intimate Bonds: Family and Slavery in the French Atlantic (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016) — I can hardly wait for it to arrive!

  5. Amazing list – And thanks for the mention Jessica! Posting a link to the #ADPhD spots for folks to follow if they wish!

    African Diaspora, Ph.D. –
    Twitter account –
    Facebook page (co-moderated with Ana Lucia Araujo) –
    Tumblr (co-moderated with Kidada Williams) –

    – Jessica Marie Johnson

  6. I just want to add Sowande’ M. Mustakeem “Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage” (U Illinois Press).

  7. wonderful post– thanks so much for putting all of these works together! I’m teaching a history of race course this semester, and this post was a great resource. (just wanted to point out a typo, though– you misspell Marisa Fuentes’ first and last names next to her book… just wanted to avoid confusion when it comes to that *excellent* piece of scholarship!)


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