Search

The Zamani Reader

On Atlantic Africa and the British Empire (1655-1807)

Category

Historiographies

Historical Fictions: Readings on the Origins and Relevance of the First Great Awakening

SUSAN JUSTER. Disorderly Women: Sexual Politics and Evangelicalism in Revolutionary New England. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996. Pp. xi, 224. $24.95. Paperback. ISBN: 0801483883.

FRANK LAMBERT. “The First Great Awakening: Whose Interpretive Fiction?” The New England Quarterly 68 (1995): 650-659.

JON BUTLER. “Enthusiasm Described and Decried: The Great Awakening as Interpretive Fiction.” The Journal of American History 69 (1982): 305-325.

The readings for this week discuss the origins and relevance of the “First Great Awakening.” This is a term used to describe a series of religious revivals that occurred to a varying degree across the British colonies of mainland North America in the mid-eighteenth century, mostly between the 1730s and 1750s. In “Enthusiasm Described and Decried,” Jon Butler argues scholars should “abandon the term” because it is both an “interpretative fiction” and anachronism that “distorts the character of eighteenth-century American religious life and misinterprets its relationship to prerevolutionary American society and politics.” Contemporaries, as he states, were not the ones who used this label. Rather, the now-popular term of “Great Awakening” was invented by a nineteenth-century historian named Joseph Tracy. He projected the religious context of his own age—what is now referred to as the “Second Great Awakening” of the early national period—back onto the colonial era. In doing so, he “homogenized” a series of local, scattered, erratic, heterogenous, “politically benign,” and largely unrelated revivals; he re-cast them as a great, general, and uniform phenomenon. As Butler laments, a diverse lineage of scholars has followed Tracy’s lead since “the last half of the nineteenth century,” thereby furthering all sorts of gross mischaracterizations. Foremost among the distortions is a “fiction” that “the Great Awakening” undermined traditional structures of authority and paved the way for the democratic ideals of the American Revolution. [1] Continue reading “Historical Fictions: Readings on the Origins and Relevance of the First Great Awakening”

Sources of Power: Reflections from Readings on Race, Sex, and Power in Early America

CLARE A. LYONS. Sex Among the Rabble: An Intimate History of Gender and Power in the Age of Revolution, Philadelphia, 1730-1830. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006. Pp. x, 432. $32.50. Paperback. ISBN: 978-0-8078-5675-8.

How does the historian of early America study something that was rarely meant to be recorded? The readings for this week address that question in the context of the entangled relationship between social power and sexual practice. Put another way, this week’s scholars have either taken specific early American societies—like Massachusetts, Philadelphia, North Carolina, or New Orleans—as their case studies, or they have surveyed sexual coercion across all the original thirteen colonies. Regardless, each of them have looked at the intersection of sex and power. Yet, as Jennifer M. Spear acknowledges in her contribution Race, Sex, and Social Order in Early New Orleans, that task has not been easy one. Indeed, Spear seems to speak for each of this week’s authors when she laments, “Writing about sex in early America is difficult.” Historians of sexuality have, to phrase it mildly, needed to get creative with their sources and methods. Notwithstanding these difficulties, studying sexuality has been a fruitful endeavor. Since, as Sharon Block writes, “sexual power was inextricable from social power,” studies of sexuality have revealed the extent to which unequal power dynamics are coded by practices characterized as either deviant or normative.[1] Continue reading “Sources of Power: Reflections from Readings on Race, Sex, and Power in Early America”

What’s the Point of a Middle Ground? Reflections from Two Works by James Merrell and Sophie White

SOPHIE WHITE. Wild Frenchmen and Frenchified Indians: Material Culture and Race in Colonial Louisiana. Early American Studies. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012. Pp. x, 355. $24.95. Paperback. ISBN: 978-0-8122-4437-3.

JAMES H. MERRELL. “The Indians’ New World: The Catawba Experience.” The William and Mary Quarterly 41, 4 (October, 1984): 537-565.

A quarter century has passed since the historian of Early America, Richard White, articulated the concept of the “middle ground” as a geographic, cultural, and temporal space of mutual accommodation between Native American and European peoples on the North American continent. In first introducing this idea through a case study of the pays d’en haut or Great Lakes region, White described it thus: “The Middle Ground is the place in between: in between cultures, peoples, and in between empires and the nonstate world of villages. It is a place where many of the North American subjects and allies of empire lived. It is the area between the historical foreground of European invasion and occupation and the background of Indian defeat and retreat.” While neither of the two works under review here use the phrase “middle ground,” both of them are attempts at tackling the same underlying question of mutual accommodation and the spaces in-between. Both of them use specific case studies—the Catawba of the Carolina piedmont and the Illinois of French colonial Louisiana—for exploring the ways in which native peoples adapted to European colonization and, conversely, the ways in which those adaptations were received by colonizers.[1] Continue reading “What’s the Point of a Middle Ground? Reflections from Two Works by James Merrell and Sophie White”

Shifting Focus: A Review of Six Works on the El Salvadoran Civil War, 1983 – 2010

The second half of our graduate seminar course, “Social Movements and Radical Politics in the Americas,” has moved us out of the United States and to the small, tropical Central American country of El Salvador. Our objective has been to understand “the emergence and afterlife of radical subjectivity” during the Salvadoran Civil War, which took place from 1980 to 1992. The war was a brutal conflict which, by the estimation of one of our authors, took the lives of 75,000 people, disappeared another 7,000 and displaced as many as 500,000. Over the past five weeks, we have learned about the war through an evolving process that began with an impressionistic overview by a journalist and ended with a detailed ethnography by an anthropologist. As a result of this process, we have greatly expanded our understanding of the men and women who “filled the ranks” of the forces that opposed the Salvadoran oligarchy. Moreover, our knowledge of the conflict has grown in such a way as to mirror the understanding of US academics, who have also built on one another’s work. Nonetheless, the job of understanding El Salvador during the Civil War era is far from over. As this review will address in its closing, there are still a few subjects left to be explored.[1]

Continue reading “Shifting Focus: A Review of Six Works on the El Salvadoran Civil War, 1983 – 2010”

From Diversity to Definition: A Review of New Works in the Field of “Black Power Studies”

 

 

In December of 2009, Peniel E. Joseph, a Professor of History at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, published an article in the Journal of American History that described “a new sub-field” called “Black Power Studies.” In this article, “The Black Power Movement: A State of the Field,” Joseph traced “the evolution of black power historiography” from the late 1960s to the present day. He began with a 1967 book called Black Power, written jointly by the activist Stokely Carmichael and the political scientist Charles Hamilton, and he ended with the historian Thomas J. Sugrue’s 2008 “history of the northern black freedom struggle,” entitled Sweet Land of Liberty.

In the years between 1967 and 2008, Joseph surveyed about two dozen works that addressed a wide range of topics in the subfield “Black Power Studies,” from particularistic expressions of Black Power in individual American cities like New Orleans, Durham, Newark, Baltimore, New Haven, and Philadelphia, to the gender dynamics, violent strategies, and community activism of the Oakland-based Black Panther Party for Self Defense, to the uniquely southern roots of postwar, Black Power militancy. Above all else, to skim through Joseph’s historiography is to recognize that “Black Power Studies” is a dense and dynamic historical subfield, attracting a very broad swath of scholars with a diversity of particular interests. In many ways, this dynamism reflects the elusive and often contradictory history of Black Power itself, a multifaceted activist movement that was both cultural and political, insurgent and mainstream, radical and pragmatic, and local, national, and global in breadth.[1]

Continue reading “From Diversity to Definition: A Review of New Works in the Field of “Black Power Studies””

Criticisms from the Linguistic Turn: A Review Essay on Readings in Historical Theory

TERRY EAGLETON. Literary Theory: An Introduction – Anniversary Edition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. Pp. 240. $18.50. Paperback. ISBN: 978-0-8166-5447-5.[1]

ROBERT BURNS, HUGH RAYMONT-PICKARD (eds.). Philosophies of History: From Enlightenment to Post-Modernity, 274-318. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2000. Pp. 380. $69.95. Paperback. ISBN: 978-0-0631-2137-9.

HAYDEN WHITE. “The Question of Narrative in Contemporary Historical Theory.” In History and Theory 23, no. 1 (Feb., 1984): 1-33.

MICHEL FOUCAULT. “What is an Author?” trans. by Robert Hurley et al. In Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology, edited by James D. Faubion, 205-222. New York: The New Press, 1998. Pp. 528. $24.05. Paperback. ISBN: 978-1-56584-558-9.[2]

ROLAND BARTHES. “The Death of an Author,” trans. by Richard Howard. In ASPEN: The Multimedia Magazine in a Box, no. 5+6, item 3: “Three Essays: Essays with post-modern perspectives” (1967): 1-6. UbuWeb. Web. Accessed November 5, 2015.[3]

The selected readings for this week deal with “New Criticism” in the field of literary theory during the twentieth century. As Eagleton summarizes, during a moment commonly known as the linguistic turn, “the very meaning of ‘literature,’ ‘reading’ and criticism” underwent “deep alteration.” This meant that philosophers began to think more seriously about the hidden functions of language and structure as culturally “self-referential” objects, that is, objects that were defined less by their proposed content than by the “deeper structures of belief” they signified.

Continue reading “Criticisms from the Linguistic Turn: A Review Essay on Readings in Historical Theory”

Research Guide to the Life and Career of the Former Lieutenant Governor and Colonel Alexander Spotswood

 Introduction: (cont’d in full post)

This essay is an introductory research guide concerning the twelve-year administration of Colonel Alexander Spotswood, the lieutenant governor of colonial Virginia, from 1710 to 1722. Spotswood was the lieutenant governor from late June, 1710, until early April, 1722, when the king’s ministers in England decided to replace him with the Irish-born ex-soldier Hugh Drysdale. Like other lieutenant governors before and after himself, Spotswood ruled Virginia in absence of the actual governor, George Hamilton, the first earl of Orkney, who reigned over the colony as a sinecure and never actually crossed the Atlantic to see the region. Continue reading “Research Guide to the Life and Career of the Former Lieutenant Governor and Colonel Alexander Spotswood”

Research Guide to the Study of Maroons and Marronage in the New World

Image: The Statue of the Unknown Maroon is situated before the presidential palace on the boulevard Champ de Mars in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Also known as “Neg Mawon” in Haitian Kreyòl and “La Negre Marron” in French, this statue was commissioned by the Duvalier government in 1968-1969 to commemorate the slaves who founded the nation. It was created by the Haitian sculptor and architect Albert Mangones.

Summary Paragraph: (cont’d in full post)

Secondary scholarship about maroon communities and the phenomenon of marronage in the New World is vast, interdisciplinary, and extends back at least to the 1920s. Marronage is a widespread phenomenon that cannot be rooted in a single location or bracketed within a single period of time; marronage took place all over the New World during the early-modern era, and many ancestors of the maroons still exist today. As a result of this extraordinary diversity, much of the literature regarding maroon communities is particularistic, and much of it is written in languages other than English, namely Spanish, Dutch, and French. Continue reading “Research Guide to the Study of Maroons and Marronage in the New World”

Essay on the Historiography of Unfree Labor in the English Atlantic World

In Atlantic History: A Critical Appraisal (2009) Jack Greene and Philip Morgan defined the field of Atlantic history as “an analytic construct and an explicit category of historical analysis that historians have devised to help them organize the study of some of the most important developments of the early modern era.” One of the most important historical developments historians have explored through the analytical construct of Atlantic History is the evolution of English and British overseas empire and its relationship to the the rise of capitalism and unfree labor in the early-modern era. These developments were largely ignored during the first four decades of the field’s history, but they stand at the forefront of the discipline in the twenty-first century, as David Armitage declares that “we are all Atlanticists now.”

Continue reading “Essay on the Historiography of Unfree Labor in the English Atlantic World”

Essay on the Historiography of Comparative Slavery in the Atlantic World

Comparative Slavery Image

Fewer twentieth-century historiographical debates have been more engaging than the debate over comparative slavery in the colonial or Atlantic World. Since the early writings of scholars like Mary Williams and Frank Tannenbaum, historians have been actively engaged in debating the exceptionalism of the American slave system, and in comparing the severity of slave systems across contexts. More than anything, the historiography of comparative slavery is a methodological exercise. Comparing slave systems has required historians to address the larger question, “how does one measure the severity of a slave system?” Continue reading “Essay on the Historiography of Comparative Slavery in the Atlantic World”

Situating the WPA, Ex-Slave Narratives in the Historiography of American Slavery

Between 1936 and 1938, approximately 2,194 ex-slaves living in the American south were interviewed by writers and journalists under the auspices of the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), one of five “artistic” branches of the greater Works Project Administration (WPA). As historians well know, both of these initiatives were part of the New Deal, a series of domestic programs first enacted in 1933 by the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to help the United States recover from the Great Depression. Specifically, these five “artistic” programs were called Federal Project Number One, and they were initiated in 1936, during the second phase of the New Deal.

This blog post will situate the WPA ex-slave narratives within the historiography of American slavery, showing how they have been both used and challenged in the past, and suggesting what roles they might play in the future. Continue reading “Situating the WPA, Ex-Slave Narratives in the Historiography of American Slavery”

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: