Who Reads an Early American Book?

In a special issue of the Common Place, historians weigh in on the early American books that inspire them as teachers and researchers:

The nine historians featured here treat literature as evidence, but they do not see the books they recommend as repositories of neutral “facts.” Carolyn Eastman considers the readers of a frequently reprinted “true account” of Caribbean pirates. Vincent Brown discovers a new perspective on contemporary immigration debates in a policy pamphlet about Jamaican slavery. Caroline Winterer sees an intellectual path not taken in a scientific essay on the origins of racial difference. Joyce Chaplin returns to a natural history of the American South and to a pre-Darwinian moment in the relation of science with religion. Sarah Knott finds, in the pages of a forgotten novel, a generational change in the history of the emotions. John Wood Sweet sees challenges to early national politics and to our own understanding of the meanings of freedom in a rare eyewitness account of the Atlantic slave trade produced in Connecticut by a native of Africa. François Furstenberg describes a famous biography as a national glue between readers in distant regions. James Sidbury recovers a bound manuscript pamphlet written by a resident of Sierra Leone, a man who had returned to the region of his birth after slavery in South Carolina and service with the British during the American Revolution. And Matthew Mason recommends a first-person account of one man’s life under slavery in the antebellum United States, a crucial document for historians who hope to write the history of the domestic slave trade.

Several are of interest to historians of the African diaspora.

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