Nov 10, 2011

November 2011 meeting: "American Slavery: 1619-1877"

We had a great meeting last week about a great book, "American Slavery: 1619-1877" by Peter Kolchin.  This is a book and certainly a topic that we could spend a lifetime discussing - indeed many people have.  We recognized that this was not a "pop" history page-turner of the same nature as some written by Philbrick and McCullough but it was a page-turner of a sort.  Its main contribution to the discourse is to point out the nuances of this period of American history and how stereotypes - except for the evil of slavery - have led to misunderstandings and misstatements of the entire picture, economics, history, politics, and individual behaviors.  There were always exceptions - and this author did a good job of providing them.  Although we met for almost 2 1/2 hours, I'm not sure everyone got to have his or her say. We try very hard to keep our meetings informal and conversational, not serial monologues.  The danger of such an informal format, however, is that sometimes not every voice is heard. Also, several of our more outspoken members were unable to be at the meeting and we certainly missed their voices.  I think we should keep an eye out for another book on the topic, especially as this one articulated a theory of the study of history (historiography?) - a topic we might want to discuss on its own merits.

Here is the description of the book from the Barnes and Noble website:

The single best short survey in America, now updated. 
In terms of accessibility and comprehensive coverage, Kolchin's American Slavery is a singularly important achievement. Now updated to address a decade of new scholarship, the book includes a new preface, afterword, and revised and expanded bibliographic essay. It remains the best book to introduce a subject of profound and lasting importance, one that lies at the center of American history. 
A striking new interpretation of the "peculiar institution" that deformed American history from colonial times to our own is to be found in this informed, modern history of slavery and development. Kolchin's exploration of the slave experience displays a subtlety missing from earlier accounts.
Here are comments on the book by one of our members: