... From: Ian Binnington, H-South To: Sent: Wednesday, January 29, 2003 8:36 AM Subject: Crosspost: H-CivWar Review,
Message 1 of 1
, Jan 29, 2003
----- Original Message -----
From: "Ian Binnington, H-South" <cfib@...>
Sent: Wednesday, January 29, 2003 8:36 AM
Subject: Crosspost: H-CivWar Review, Salerno on Harrold, _American
> H-NET BOOK REVIEW
> Published by H-CivWar@... (January, 2003)
> Stanley Harrold. _American Abolitionists_ Seminar Studies in History.
> (England): Pearson Education Limited, 2001. 164 pp. including map,
> documents, chronology, glossary, who's who, bibliography, and index. ISBN
> (paper) 0-582-35738-1.
> Reviewed for H-CivWar by Beth A. Salerno, Assistant Professor of History,
> Saint Anselm College.
> "Masterly but Misdirected?"
> Given the huge amount of material published on the American abolitionists,
> was delighted to be asked to review this slim volume. As part of the
> Seminar Studies in History series, the book aims to integrate all the
> research on American antislavery movements and make it accessible to a
> reading population, including students. How wonderful to find a text that
> would integrate the myriad new studies in my field of research, while also
> potentially serving as an introduction to the topic for my students in
> Jacksonian America or the History of American Social Movements. The book
> does provide a masterful introduction to abolitionist studies, with a
> emphasis on the relationship between violence and masculinity. But alas,
> despite the helpful glossary of terms, chronology and who's who list, much
> of the book would probably go over the head of the average student without
> student, unless the professor provided considerable contextualization.
> The book's introductory chapter makes clear the major themes of the nine
> chapters of text. Harrold focuses on the biracial character of the
> abolitionist movement, including the impact of slaves on its development.
> He is also particularly interested in the "increasingly aggressive tactics
> employed by abolitionists against slavery in the South" (4). Refuting the
> claim that abolitionists abandoned the South after the mid-1830s, Harrold
> stresses throughout the book those abolitionists who went South, sent
> literature South, or lived in the border states of the upper South,
> providing a nice balance with the more traditional focus on William Lloyd
> Garrison and the eastern seaboard abolitionists. Harrold also makes clear
> the importance of the antislavery movement for women's rights and the
> of the Civil War, although this last topic gets far less attention in this
> work than in many others. The discussion of how abolitionists were seen as
> causing the Civil War, then understood as irrelevant to the war, and now
> seen as one factor which shaped how the war developed is particularly
> Yet this introductory chapter is primarily historiographical, as Harrold
> stakes out his ground within the highly complex history of antislavery
> studies. While Harrold provides a delightfully nuanced explanation of his
> positions in relation to numerous other authors, this chapter is quite
> off-putting for students who find themselves confronted with names and
> arguments with which they may be completely unfamiliar. This chapter
> work well if students are prepared for a discussion of how the
> interpretation of history changes over time, with new documents, new types
> of interpretation, and new racial understandings.
> Chapter two gives a remarkably thorough history of early abolitionism,
> beginning with a brief history of American slavery that places it in a
> chronological and geographic context. Harrold makes clear that American
> slavery was part of a broader Atlantic system, and developed into its
> antebellum form over time. Harrold integrates studies of slave revolts
> his summary of antislavery efforts, again challenging the general
> of abolitionists as northern and white. The breadth of his coverage more
> generally may be made clear by noting that this chapters includes
> to Bacon's Rebellion, the Stono Rebellion, rationalism, commercialism,
> evangelicalism, the American Revolution, Quaker antislavery efforts,
> northern abolition laws, Shay's Rebellion, the French Revolution, the
> Haitian Revolution, Gabriel's Rebellion and Deslondes' Rebellion. As a
> scholar, I am somewhat awed by Harrold's broad familiarity with the
> literature, and ability to make rich and complex connections among events.
> For a student, the rich detail tends to overwhelm the larger points of the
> The center of Harrold's text focuses on immediate emancipation, with a
> chapter introducing the main players, tactics and beliefs, another on
> abolitionists and gender and a third on abolitionists and race. Harrold
> does an excellent job of making clear the importance of conceptions of
> masculinity and femininity to antislavery tactics, as well as the racial
> tensions inherent within the movements. Generally Harrold tends to give
> abolitionists more credit than most for at least attempting a biracial
> movement, even while noting their inability to live up to their highest
> ideals. However, this text underplays women's involvement in the
> antislavery movement; women all but disappear from the text after 1840,
> Harrold turns to the more aggressive abolitionist tactics and the
> relationship between abolitionist efforts and slave revolts. Women's
> continued involvement in sewing societies, missionary efforts, and
> campaigns is not mentioned at all, and women do not reappear (except for
> Delia Webster's work with the Underground Railroad) until they head south
> during the Civil War to work with newly freed slaves.
> Members of H-CivWar will probably be disturbed to discover that Harrold
> covers the entire military trajectory of the war in one paragraph and
> aspects of the war in three pages. Yet he makes quite clear the dramatic
> impact abolitionists had on the war, by creating an antislavery
> in the north, and pressuring Lincoln to make the war an antislavery
> Harrold's closing chapter on the impact of the abolitionists emphasizes
> the Civil War was in many ways a fundamental turning point for black
> freedom, while also failing to achieve many of the abolitionists early
> goals, including an egalitarian, biracial society. Harrold's emphasis
> throughout the text on the increasingly violent abolitionist means might
> suggest new ways of thinking about the Civil War as a culmination of
> antislavery violence.
> Following these analytical chapters are eighteen primary documents,
> beginning with John Woolman's warnings for slaveholders in 1762 and ending
> with Frederick Douglass' call for black men to enlist in the Union army in
> 1863. The documents include at least six written by black abolitionists
> (slave or free), three related to women's rights, and six which debate or
> discuss the value of violence. The documents are referenced in the text,
> although a few with so little explanation or context that reading the
> documents can be a difficult proposition. Document number 6, the
> of Sentiments of the American Anti-Slavery Society, is referenced at least
> half-dozen times, in ways which enable readers of all levels to gain new
> insight into its meaning, and this reviewer had hoped for similar richness
> for the other documents.
> The scholarly and educational apparatus of this text is fairly cumbersome.
> There are no footnotes. Rather all references to primary and secondary
> sources are made by using bracketed numbers which refer to a numbered
> bibliography. Primary sources included in the book itself are also
> to by bracketed reference numbers. Throughout the text, there are
> italicized words which students can look up in the glossary, although many
> italicized words are not there. More consistency in this feature would
> increased its usefulness and decreased the distraction for more
> knowledgeable readers. The chronology which follows the primary documents
> useful, but does not include many of the events referenced in the text.
> who's who listing provides birth and death dates and a two sentence
> discussion of each persons' contributions to or participation in the
> antislavery movement. Not all of the persons mentioned in the text are
> included, but the listing is very thorough and quite helpful for keeping
> players straight.
> Since maps are relatively rare in this type of text, I am grateful for the
> inclusion of a map of the United States in 1850. It gives students a good
> sense of how much of the American west and midwest were still unorganized
> into states, underscoring the importance of this issue to the debate over
> slavery. However, the choice of 1850 is somewhat odd given that the text
> goes through the Civil War. The inclusion of a map including the
> Kansas-Nebraska territory would have been quite helpful, as would an
> indication of the 36' 30 Missouri Compromise line. Cities referenced in
> text might have been included (including Alton, Illinois), and New Haven
> should have been placed in Connecticut, rather than on Long Island. And
> if only the Bahamas really were further north than the Florida Keys!
> For scholars, Harrold has provided a clearly written, comprehensive review
> of the extant literature on the American abolitionists. While the text is
> somewhat weak in its coverage of women after 1840 and abolitionists'
> life, it is particularly rich when covering issues of violence,
> the biracial character of the movement, and the relationship between
> abolitionists and the coming of the Civil War. For students, the book
> provide an introduction to the historiography of abolitionist studies,
> coverage of the broad sweep of the movement from the 1760s to the 1860s,
> a discussion of the central importance of black abolitionists, both slave
> and free. The primary documents will be useful for students to get a
> of how the arguments against slavery changed over time, and were
> by the race, gender, and radicalism of the writer. In general though, I
> found the supposedly "helpful" features of italicized words very
> and the rich, layered, detail of the book overwhelming for an introduction
> to the topic. Scholars will probably be far more impressed than teachers,
> who should use this book with students only if they are ready to help
> students sort the theme from the detail.
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