Launched in 2011, “Disunion revisits and reconsiders America’s most perilous period — using contemporary accounts, diaries, images and historical assessments to follow the Civil War as it unfolded.” The series ended in June of 2016. The full archive of posts is available at the New York Times website.
The American Historical Review and Past & Present have joined forces to publish a joint, virtual special issue reviewing historiographic debates related to slavery and anti-slavery in the Atlantic World.
Steven Hahn. “Slave Emancipation, Indian Peoples, and the Projects of a New American Nation-State.” The Journal of the Civil War Era 3, no. 3 (2013): 307–330.
“At the very time he was drafting the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862, President Abraham Lincoln dispatched one of his generals, John Pope, to Minnesota with orders to suppress a rebellion of the eastern, or Santee, division of the Sioux. The rebellion built on at least two decades of festering tensions that had turned relatively amicable exchange relations with British, French, and American traders—some of whom had intermarried and been incorporated into villages—into hardbitten political conflicts with various federal officials and white settlers (mostly German, Scandinavian, and Irish immigrants) who hungrily eyed the fertile and game-rich terrain of southern Minnesota. In the process, the Sioux (who in this case composed four bands and called themselves Dakotas) had ceded millions of acres, which included ancestral grounds, for a strip of reservation land along the Minnesota River, annuity payments, and supplies. Recalcitrance in the U.S. Congress along with corruption among Indian agents and traders then combined to stretch a series of treaties to the breaking point; by the 1850s, the Dakotas were under great stress and increasingly divided over how best to respond, as some of their bands faced starvation…”
Beth Barton Schweiger. “The Literate South: Reading before Emancipation.” The Journal of the Civil War Era 3, no. 3 (2013): 331–359.
“The Old South had famously few public schools, but it teemed with readers. The archives are stuffed with evidence of them. Historians cannot possibly read all the diaries, letters, half-finished novels, bad poetry, receipts, recipes, lecture notes, speeches, love letters, commonplace books, and essays these readers left behind. They filled newspaper columns with their editorials and letters, magazines with their poetry, pamphlets with their sermons, mail sacks with their letters, court dockets with their opinions, and ledger books with their figures. They have supplied enough raw materials to keep members of the Southern Historical Association occupied for more than three-quarters of a century, to set scholars parsing the eighty-seven North American slave autobiographies written before emancipation, to offer Bell Wiley “amazingly large quantities” of letters written by ordinary soldiers, and to sustain Michael O’Brien for twelve hundred pages. “The South was a place,” he has written, “into which torrents of print poured….”
Brian P. Luskey. “Special Marts: Intelligence Offices, Labor Commodification, and Emancipation in Nineteenth-Century America.” The Journal of the Civil War Era 3, no. 3 (2013): 360–391.
““It seems to be absolutely necessary in large cities,” James Gordon Bennett explained in an 1859 issue of the New York Herald, “that labor, like every other merchantable commodity, should have its special marts.” In more than one column of prime, front-page real estate, Bennett informed readers about these marts, colloquially dubbed intelligence offices. Even though most Americans still found work or workers through friends and family members, these employment agencies were ubiquitous institutions in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Bennett estimated that there were between forty and sixty such shops in Manhattan, while other commentators counted hundreds. In these offices—sometimes located below ground, in basements, to evade police surveillance and city licensing requirements—employment agents sold information about the labor market to prospective employees and employers so the former could find work and the latter could find workers. Intelligence office keepers collected a fee ranging from fifty cents to a dollar from each party who sought information. In the waiting rooms of these establishments, agents, workers, and employers met face-to-face, asking questions and inspecting appearances to deduce character traits and skills in the hopes of making amenable bargains with each other….”
REVIEW ESSAY – Nicole Etcheson. “Microhistory and Movement: African American Mobility in the Nineteenth Century.” The Journal of the Civil War Era 3, no. 3 (2013): 392–404.
“African American history may be one of the last fields to receive a micro-historical treatment. Nineteenth-century African American history has been favored with sweeping accounts of the black experience, ranging from John Blassingame’s classic The Slave Community to Ira Berlin’s more recent Many Thousands Gone. Studies on more focused topics such as slavery in the Chesapeake or free blacks in the North have certainly contributed to knowledge of the black experience, but scarce records, especially the lack of firsthand accounts for many aspects of black life, make microhistory’s tight focus on the “proudly small” difficult to achieve…”
Image Credit: Edward King, The Great South (Hartford, Conn., 1875), p. 83 (Special Collections, University of Virginia Library) as shown on http://www.slaveryimages.org, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library. (Click image for details)
“Yet no book of Genovese’s has had the impact of Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (1974). A long, complex, almost Hegelian treatment of the master-slave relation – and of the dynamics of power that were embedded within it – Roll, Jordan, Roll is a study of intense struggle, unfolding over decades, that enabled slaveholders to establish political and cultural hegemony but also enabled slaves to claim basic rights for themselves and room for their communities. At the book’s center is slave religion, at once a concession to the cultural authority of the masters and a celebration of the slaves’ solidarity, spirituality, and destiny–a measure of the contradictory character of the slave regime. Replete with comparative and international references, political allusions, and literary flourishes, Roll, Jordan, Roll may well be the finest work on slavery ever produced.
But it, along with the rest of Genovese’s early work, had serious critics, especially on the left. While acknowledging his analytical skills, many felt that Genovese was too admiring of the slaveholders’ power and too dismissive of the slaves’ rebelliousness; too interested in class and not sufficiently interested in race; too focused on the pre-capitalist features of southern society and the paternalist ethos of the masters; and too blind to the capitalist impulses of an intensely commodified world….”
One-hundred-and-fifty years ago, Americans went to war with themselves. Disunion revisits and reconsiders America’s most perilous period — using contemporary accounts, diaries, images and historical assessments to follow the Civil War as it unfolded. Join Disunion on Facebook »
Scholars and the interested public have long debated Lincoln’s views on slavery and how they influenced his policies as president. How committed was he to abolition? What was he prepared to do? Could he imagine a world in which white and black people lived together in peace and freedom? For many slaves, at least at first, the answer was clear: Lincoln’s election meant emancipation.
On one Virginia plantation, a group of slaves celebrated Lincoln’s inauguration by proclaiming their freedom and marching off their owner’s estate. In Alabama, some slaves had come to believe that “Lincoln is soon going to free them all,” and had begun “making preparations to aid him when he makes his appearance,” according to local whites. A runaway slave in Louisiana told his captors in late May 1861 that “the North was fighting for the Negroes now and that he was as free as his master.” Shortly thereafter, a nearby planter conceded that “the Negroes have gotten a confused idea of Lincoln’s Congress meeting and of the war; they think it is all to help them and they expected for ‘something to turn up….’”