A Confederacy of Kidnappers: Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave”

django cotton“There are few sights more pleasant to the eye,” wrote Solomon Northup, “than a wide cotton field when it is in bloom. It presents an appearance of purity, like an immaculate expanse of light, newly-fallen snow.” For Quentin Tarantino, such a beguiling simulation of chastity, of endless untroubled whiteness, could merit only one response: blood must be spilt on it. Practically the only scene in which cotton figures in 2012’s Django Unchained comes when an overseer, galloping across a blooming field, receives a rifle shot to the torso. The newly fallen snow of cotton gleams pink with fresh blood. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHHappy Easter and Passover to all celebrating!

With all the excitement around the Junto’s March Madness tournament (we even have a hashtag!), it’s a useful reminder that there are other things going on this week around the blogosphere. Once you’ve found all the Easter eggs (or, if you hid it really well on Monday, the afikoman), sit down and try out a few of these posts and stories.

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The Week in Early American History

TWEAH2Happy New Year! We took last week off while so many of us were in New Orleans for AHA, so the set of links covers just a bit more than the past seven days. From here on we should be back to our regular schedule every Sunday morning.

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The Plantation as Crime Scene: Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained”

Between this and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, it's been a banner year for antebellum shades.

Between this and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, it’s been a banner year for antebellum shades.

“It’s a flesh for cash business—just like slavery.” So the German bounty hunter Dr. Schultz describes his profession to the ex-slave title character near the beginning of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. It’s an apt introduction to the film’s broader portrait of American slavery — a rendering that emphasizes the tortured flesh, the sordid cash, and the gruesome business of bondage at every turn. In this regard, Django Unchained fits comfortably within the familiar canon of Tarantino crime films, which have nearly always probed the intersection between the brutally physical and the cynically transactional.

The old gang’s all here: the vicious mob boss, the wisecracking assassin, the tight-lipped, vengeance-minded hero. So why should anyone, let alone early American historians, bother to consider the historical perspective of a film that in many ways is just Reservoir Dogs with snazzier waistcoats and more primitive sunglasses? Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHHappy New Year! A brief post today, and then the Junto will take a few days to observe the transition from 2012 to 2013 (before most of the members head to New Orleans for the AHA conference). Enjoy these reads!

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