Historian Christopher Schmidt-Nowara passed away suddenly in Paris on Saturday, June 27th at the age of 48. Schmidt-Nowara was a prolific chronicler of the history of slavery and emancipation in the Hispanic world, as well as politics and ideas in the Spanish empire. He received his B.A. from Kenyon College in 1988. He completed his PhD from the University of Michigan in 1995, under the direction of Rebecca Scott, and taught at Fordham University in New York City for over a decade before joining the faculty at Tufts University in 2011. At the time of his death, he was Prince of Asturias Chair of Spanish Culture and Civilization at Tufts.
We begin this Week in Early American History with James Oakes’ powerful and timely reflection on white abolitionism. “The Real Problem with White Abolitionists,” Oakes argues, is that “even the most radical abolitionists betrayed a blind faith in the magical healing powers of a free market in labor. Scarcely a single theme of the broader antislavery argument strayed far from the premise.”
Ever since Richard Hofstadter called John C. Calhoun the “Marx of the Master Class,” at least, American historians have pondered the relationship between the pro-slavery critique of Northern wage labor and later left-wing critiques of capitalism. One of Calhoun’s great themes, as Hofstadter noted, was the inevitable “conflict between labor and capital,” a conflict that threatened to overwhelm the “free institutions” of the North. Continue reading
Happy Sunday, all! On to the links…
Today, we chat about making digital history with Lauren Klein, Assistant Professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Her writing has appeared in Early American Literature and American Quarterly, with a piece forthcoming in 2014 in American Literature. She is currently at work on two book projects: the first on the relationship between eating and aesthetics in the early republic, and a second that provides a cultural history of data visualization from the eighteenth century to the present. Continue reading
Over the last three weeks, Jonathan Wilson and Ken Owen have reviewed the PBS documentary series The Abolitionists. Their reviews of part 1, part 2, and part 3 are already available for you to read. In this final post, Wilson and Owen will discuss the series as a whole, focusing especially on its value for history professors in the classroom.
Ken: Jonathan, I thought that we might start this discussion by looking at the producers’ public statements on what they were attempting with the series. For reference, there is a video entitled ‘Why We Made The Abolitionists‘, and an article ‘From The Executive Producer‘. For me, the most striking statement of the video is the opening assertion that no transformative moment in American history ‘stems from the actions of ordinary Americans as much as the abolitionists’. The producers then say that the five characters that they chose were deliberately intended to invoke different strands of the abolitionist movement.
The final episode of The Abolitionists aired this week on PBS. The entire three-hour documentary is now available online here (Part 3 begins at the 1:40 mark). A full transcript is also available. Kenneth Owen and Jonathan Wilson previously discussed the first two episodes for The Junto. Today, we discuss the final hour.
We’ve been fairly hard on The Abolitionists thus far, so I’m happy to say I thought the final chapter of the film is the strongest, both historiographically and dramatically. This episode reflects recent scholarship on slave rebellions, and on John Brown in particular, by meditating in a fairly sophisticated way on the uses and languages of violence.