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Fw: Crosspost: H-CivWar Review, Salerno on Harrold, _American Abolitionists_

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  • Ray Ortensie
    ... 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
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      ----- Original Message -----
      From: "Ian Binnington, H-South" <cfib@...>
      To: <H-SOUTH@...>
      Sent: Wednesday, January 29, 2003 8:36 AM
      Subject: Crosspost: H-CivWar Review, Salerno on Harrold, _American
      Abolitionists_


      > H-NET BOOK REVIEW
      > Published by H-CivWar@... (January, 2003)
      >
      > Stanley Harrold. _American Abolitionists_ Seminar Studies in History.
      Essex
      > (England): Pearson Education Limited, 2001. 164 pp. including map,
      primary
      > 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,
      I
      > 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
      latest
      > research on American antislavery movements and make it accessible to a
      broad
      > 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
      strong
      > 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
      coming
      > 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
      > useful.
      >
      > 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
      could
      > 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
      broad
      > 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
      into
      > his summary of antislavery efforts, again challenging the general
      definition
      > of abolitionists as northern and white. The breadth of his coverage more
      > generally may be made clear by noting that this chapters includes
      references
      > 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
      > chapter.
      >
      > 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
      the
      > 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,
      when
      > 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
      political
      > 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
      other
      > aspects of the war in three pages. Yet he makes quite clear the dramatic
      > impact abolitionists had on the war, by creating an antislavery
      constituency
      > in the north, and pressuring Lincoln to make the war an antislavery
      effort.
      > Harrold's closing chapter on the impact of the abolitionists emphasizes
      that
      > 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
      Declaration
      > of Sentiments of the American Anti-Slavery Society, is referenced at least
      a
      > 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
      referred
      > 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
      have
      > increased its usefulness and decreased the distraction for more
      > knowledgeable readers. The chronology which follows the primary documents
      is
      > useful, but does not include many of the events referenced in the text.
      The
      > 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
      the
      > 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
      the
      > text might have been included (including Alton, Illinois), and New Haven
      > should have been placed in Connecticut, rather than on Long Island. And
      ah,
      > 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'
      family
      > life, it is particularly rich when covering issues of violence,
      masculinity,
      > the biracial character of the movement, and the relationship between
      > abolitionists and the coming of the Civil War. For students, the book
      could
      > provide an introduction to the historiography of abolitionist studies,
      > coverage of the broad sweep of the movement from the 1760s to the 1860s,
      and
      > a discussion of the central importance of black abolitionists, both slave
      > and free. The primary documents will be useful for students to get a
      sense
      > of how the arguments against slavery changed over time, and were
      influenced
      > by the race, gender, and radicalism of the writer. In general though, I
      > found the supposedly "helpful" features of italicized words very
      unhelpful,
      > 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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