Book Review: A Literate South: Reading Before Emancipation by Beth Barton Schweiger

‘Culture is ordinary: that is where we must start.’ Raymond Williams’ famous statement provides an epigraph to Beth Barton Schweiger’s important study of reading in the antebellum South, A Literate South: Reading Before Emancipation. Barton Schweiger builds on Williams’ statement to provide a bank of evidence that culture was, indeed, ordinary, in the rural antebellum South. Using two chief examples, the diaries of two families, the Cooleys in Virginia and the Speers in North Carolina, Schweiger uncovers how reading and printed materials were important parts of Southern culture, and how this is often ignored in studies of the period. Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Hattiesburg, An American City in Black and White’ by William Sturkey

It is recollections such as Mr Conner’s that interlace the narrative of Hattiesburg – An American City in Black and White. William Sturkey, Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has steadfastly dissected archives and recordings to bring alive the history of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, a Deep Dixie South lumber town, inviting the reader in through a page-time continuum. The skilful use of recorded interviews gives his narration a personal note, leading an alternating discourse through the experience of Hattiesburg’s white and black residents. Sturkey emphasizes the South’s survival being crucially tied to the growing number of African Americans settling in. The Hattiesburgers were exceptional citizens whose civil rights were severely and unlawfully abused and abandoned. Sturkey notes how the black residents of Mobile Street were examples of fortitude and perseverance, and how their “civil rights movement revolutionized race […] through countless of acts of individual resistance.” (295) Even when discussing the white experience, Sturkey’s emphasis remains on the inequality and brutality as directed toward the black residents of the lumber town, where the realities of the black and white citizens of Hattiesburg could not have been more passionately different and where “every component of Jim Crow was reinforced by the threat of violence.” (85) Not even the smallest racial oppression imposed upon Hattiesburg’s black citizens is left out; such as the recollection of Osceola McCarty, who at a young age of twelve had to “trade the pencils and paper of a student for the iron and washboard of a laundress” (83) as the young girl’s help home was needed more than her education. The weaning and waning of the city become more tangible as Sturkey entwines the history with memories of one black family in particular – the Smiths. Continue reading

Book Review: Critical Lives, ‘Herman Melville’ by Kevin J. Hayes

Herman Melville by Kevin J. Hayes provides a readable, entertaining, and informative account of Melville’s life and esteemed contribution to American letters. Hayes expertly captures many of the major moments of Melville’s life in an exciting, satisfying manner, arguing that Melville’s entire literary career and, indeed, his life, contributed to the making of his 1851 masterwork, Moby-Dick; or, the Whale. Based on this one monumental novel, Melville’s place in the canon of American literature is secured, despite the fact that, as Hayes makes clear, Melville ‘had slipped into obscurity by the start of the twentieth century’. Continue reading

Review of ANZASA Conference 2019: Community, Conflict and the “Meaning of America” 14-16th July, University of Auckland

For their biennial conference, the Australian and New Zealand American Studies Association (ANZASA) encouraged those in attendance to engage with Perry Miller’s intellectual endeavour to define “the meaning of America.” Using Miller’s seminal work, An Errand into the Wilderness, as a launching pad, a thoughtful offering of keynote speakers, plenaries and panels emphasised the ongoing relevance of community, conflict, and the meaning of America in present-day research.  Continue reading

Book Review: The Captive’s Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the Politics of Slavery by RJM Blackett

In his new book The Captive’s Quest for Freedom, Richard Blackett isolates the Fugitive Slave Law as not merely a prerequisite for Southern agreement to the compromise but one of the most crucial political and legislative decisions in US history. The Fugitive Slave Law nationalized the recapture of escaped slaves and clearly implicated Northerners in the institution of slavery. He shows how the law politicized the escape of enslaved people to the North. Continue reading

Review: Scottish Association for the Study of America Annual Conference 2019

University of Edinburgh

Review: Scottish Association for the Study of America Annual Conference, University of Edinburgh, 2 March 2019 After falling victim to the 2017 Beast from the East at St. Andrew’s, this year’s Scottish Association for the Study of America (SASA) conference was held in a thankfully snow-free Edinburgh and celebrated a special… Continue reading

Review: IAAS Postgraduate Symposium

‘This is America? Shaping, Making and Recreating’, IAAS Postgraduate Symposium, Trinity College Dublin, 10 November 2018 Programme: https://issuu.com/iaas/docs/iaaspg18_programme.docx The 2018 postgraduate symposium for the Irish Association for American Studies, co-organised by Postgraduate and Early Career Caucus co-chairs Sarah Cullen and James Hussey, set out to explore the narrative creation and… Continue reading

From Exceptionalism to Transnationalism: Change and Continuity in American Studies

While traditional disciplines such as social science and history continue to provide American Studies with methods and insights that have proved vital for its development, it is today much more dynamic and versatile than what one might have expected of a field that, as J. C. Rowe observes, has long suffered from an “embattled institutional situation.” Continue reading

Review: ‘Content Stinks!’: The Forms, Materials, and Institutions of American Periodicals

University of Nottingham

Review: ‘Content Stinks!’: The Forms, Materials, and Institutions of American Periodicals, University of Nottingham, 21 September 2018 “Content Stinks”: this symposium’s title issued a provocation to the field of American periodical studies. The co-organisers, Graham Thompson and Matthew Pethers of the University of Nottingham, called on participants to intervene in… Continue reading

Book Review: The Lives of Frederick Douglass by Robert S. Levine

The State of the Discipline Series: Part II

The Lives of Frederick Douglass is a fascinating collage of images that recreate various facets of the life of Frederick Douglass. Robert Levine demonstrates insight in delving into the complexity of racialised identities and the changing contours of self-definition in a collection that spans the most popular of Douglass’s writings, The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself (1845), as well as his lesser known My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) and The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881), along with letters, articles, and speeches. Continue reading