Book Review: An Intimate Economy by Alexandra J. Finley

Alexandra J. Finley’s new book, An Intimate Economy, examines the vital role that women played in the US economy in the mid-nineteenth century, focusing primarily on enslaved and formerly enslaved African American women. The majority of that examination is done through the personal histories of African American women who were able to use their economic positions, both whilst enslaved and in freedom, to gain some form of power and independence. Continue reading

‘You will find us still in cages’: Re-narrativizing African American History at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice

The Equal Justice Initiative’s (EJI) National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, re-dramatizes America’s national narrative by leading visitors on a journey not from slavery to freedom but from slavery to mass incarceration. Rather than focusing on the ‘feel-good story’ of ‘courageous civil rights activists’, writes EJI founder… Continue reading

Memory as Superpower in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The Water Dancer

Acclaimed author and essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates remarked in an interview that “much of the country’s history is premised on forgetting, not remembering certain things.” [i] His statement refers to the repression of the slave past and its erasure from American narratives of freedom and progress. In his debut novel, The Water… Continue reading

Book Review: Slavery at Sea by Sowande’ M. Mustakeem

Sowande’ M. Mustakeem’s Slavery At Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage redefines the existing narrative of the transatlantic slave trade by offering vastly new perspectives to the literature. This ambitious study brings together a wide array of archival sources – including diaries, medical logs, ship logs, account sales, and newspapers – to consider ‘this horrific period in time’ which ‘continues unchallenged’ and so remains ‘a bloodied yet sanitized chapter in global history’ (6). Continue reading

Conference Review: The Biennial Symposium in American History – In Pursuit of Law and Order: American Governance in Historical Perspective, Queen Mary University of London, 21 June 2019

The Biennial Symposium in American History at Queen Mary, University of London, hoped to shed some light on the contemporary moment by illustrating that state actors have a long history of using the law and political governance for nefarious purposes. 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

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

Review: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha 2018: Faulkner and Slavery

University of Mississippi

Review: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha 2018: Faulkner and Slavery, University of Mississippi, 22-26 July 2018 “What did slavery mean in the life, ancestry, environment, imagination, and career of William Faulkner?” This was the guiding question posed by the Call for Papers of this year’s annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference, centered on the… Continue reading

‘Unbelievable Originality’: Lining Tracks and Performativity in Zora Neale Hurston’s Folk Concerts

It is nearly a century since Zora Neale Hurston wrote Barracoon, an ethnography of Cudjo Lewis, the Alabama man believed to be the last living African enslaved in the United States. On May 8 Lewis’ story became widely available to the public for the first time. To mark this historic occasion, and to commemorate the life and works of Zora Neale Hurston – a central figure of the Harlem Renaissance, African-American folklorist and ethnographer, and one of the most significant women writers of the twentieth century – USSO has commissioned a series of articles on any aspect of Hurston’s life, her art, her anthropology. This article is the first in the series. Continue reading