It’s fair to say that military history isn’t known for its commitment to social and political critique—at least not the kind of military history you might find at the airport. Autumn of the Black Snake offers much of what readers might want from that kind of book. It is unashamedly narrative-driven; carefully constructed for maximum tension and dramatic payoff; and there’s a fair amount of blood on the page too. But it is also designed to pose a challenge. Just what kind of entity was the newborn United States? From William Hogeland’s perspective, it was less an asylum of liberty than a super-powered successor to colonial land companies like the one that shaped the young George Washington. Continue reading
I haven’t yet had the opportunity to watch the new TV series, Jamestown, that recently premiered in the UK. But the television critic Mark Lawson has. Last week he wrote a column that criticised the show, and other recent British period drama, for featuring female characters who were, in his own words, “feisty, cheeky and rebellious.” In the name of historical accuracy, Lawson called out the makers of Jamestown for pandering to 21st-century sensibilities. Apparently, he believes women four hundred years ago raised neither hand nor voice against the patriarchy. Instead, they “willingly accept[ed] sexual and social submission.”
This spring, early Americanists were abuzz about “a bit of real-life archival drama,” as Harvard scholars Danielle Allen and Emily Sneff announced that they had discovered something pretty amazing: an unknown, manuscript, parchment copy of the Declaration of Independence. As friend-of-the-field Jennifer Schuessler playfully reported in the New York Times, it was all a little National Treasure. The apparently random order of the signatures on this manuscript, compared to other versions, points towards some interesting implications, involving Philadelphia Federalist James Wilson and attempts to build a unified American nationhood in the new republic. But reactions to Allen and Sneff’s announcement also, I think, tell us something about how knowledge of the past is structured, presented, and consumed. Continue reading
It took me a few days to realise my mistake. Around the third week of the semester, in this my first year teaching the “Foundations of American History” survey course here at Birmingham, I slipped up in a way I’d never have imagined. I was lecturing about Bacon’s Rebellion, and about Stephen Saunders Webb’s provocative, half-mad 1676: The End of American Independence. I found it odd that my students didn’t seem to see what was so funny, or at least glib, about Webb’s title. Those blank looks spooked me. So I said, “well, you know guys, because, 1776, right? That’s… when the Americans declared independence? Remember?” Continue reading
Closing our week-long forum on Slavery’s Capitalism, today’s post is courtesy of Kevin Waite, a Lecturer in Modern American History at Durham University in the United Kingdom. He was recently awarded his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania with a thesis entitled “The Slave South in the Far West: California, the Pacific and Proslavery Visions of Empire.”
No one could possibly read the fourteen essays that comprise Slavery’s Capitalism and conclude that human bondage was not absolutely central to American, and indeed global, economic development during the nineteenth century.  But it’s one of the corollary aims of the book—to move beyond the regionalism that has characterized much of the scholarship on slavery—that seems to me a more provocative, more novel, and perhaps more fraught intervention.
The long tentacles of slavery stretched across the globe and reached into a staggering array of institutions – educational, legal, financial, and political.This becomes especially clear by the final section of the book, “National Institutions and Natural Boundaries.” Compelling essays by Craig Steven Wilder, Andrew Shankman, Alfred L. Brophy and John Majewski provide a fitting capstone to a geographically and conceptually wide-ranging book. This is a history of slavery that catapults us far beyond the slave South. Continue reading
Continuing our forum on Slavery’s Capitalism, today we are pleased to feature a contribution from Christy Clark-Pujara, Assistant Professor of History in the Afro-American Studies Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the author of Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island (NYU Press, August 2016).
Slavery’s Capitalism is a timely collection of essays which details the necessity of placing slavery at the center of the economic history of the United States of America. The editors convincingly contend that the nation’s economic rise is inextricably linked to the institution of slavery. Moreover, they demonstrate the necessity of understanding the rise of capitalism in the U.S. as global—the institution of slavery was essential to the rise of capitalism throughout the Western world. Part III, “Networks of Interest and the North,” examines northerners’ investments in the business of slavery—the buying and selling of goods and people that sustained plantations throughout the Americas and the financial systems that were established to facilitate those trades. Continue reading
This contribution to the forum comes from Justin Leroy, an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at UC-Davis. Prior to joining UC Davis in 2016, he was a postdoctoral fellow in global American studies at Harvard University. He is at work on his first book, Freedom’s Limit: Racial Capitalism and the Afterlives of Slavery.
Slavery’s Capitalism offers a tremendous amount of evidence to support what scholars of slavery have long known—that slavery underwrote nearly every aspect of American economic development for over two centuries. These essays provide unprecedented detail about the precise workings of slavery’s role in the rise of American capitalism and will inspire many future research projects. Beckert and Rockman’s introduction is an ambitious piece of historiography, drawing together a diverse array of subfields and intellectual debates. Work such as Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism and Ian Baucom’s Specters of the Atlantic, while key texts for interdisciplinary scholars working on questions of racial capitalism, are not often acknowledged by historians of the “new history of capitalism.” The introduction’s scope makes it an excellent primer for specialists and non-specialists alike. It is the most comprehensive of the recent review essays on slavery and capitalism, yet the breadth of this introduction is not matched by the essays within. Continue reading