Monday, March 3, 2008


(Broadside, dated Charleston, 24 November 1860. Courtesy of the Gilder Lehrman Collection, Pierpont Morgan Library)

The newly online website Common-Place, sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society in association with the Florida State University Department of History, has a treasure trove of previously published articles now available for the self-directed reader of history. I'll be recommending several gems in posts to come. I'm beginning with a series of articles published in July 2001, entitled Representing Slavery: A Roundtable Discussion.

I especially recommend the essay by A.J. Verdelle, The Truth of the Picnic: Writing about American slavery. Her bio here states "A. J. Verdelle is the author of The Good Negress (Chapel Hill, 1995), for which she was awarded a Whiting Writer's Award, a Bunting Fellowship at Harvard University, a PEN/Faulkner Finalist's Award, and an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for distinguished prose fiction."

In her stunningly relevant essay, Verdelle states "Slavery and its aftermath are human drama still unsettled. Administrators, timekeepers, civil servants, guardians of the state try to revise our understanding of the period and its outcomes. An effort to convince us that the drama is over rages. Some of us insist, and rightly so, that we are now in this drama's second act, we have not moved beyond the raised curtain, we are still in shock at what we have finally seen."

Also in the Representing Slavery roundtable discussion are the following essays:

Confronting Slavery Face-to-Face: A twenty-first century interpreter's perspective on eighteenth-century slavery", by Karen Sutton, a historical interpreter in the African-American Programs & History Department, Division of Historic Presentations, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

The Birth of a Genre: Slavery on film, by David W. Blight, who teaches history and black studies at Amherst College. He is the author of Frederick Douglass' Civil War: Keeping Faith in Jubilee (Baton Rouge, 1989), and Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge, Mass., 2001). He has been a consultant to several documentary films, including the PBS series Africans in America (1998).

Seeing Slavery: How paintings make words look different, by Alex Bontemps, who teaches African American history at Dartmouth College. His book, The Punished Self: Surviving Slavery in the Colonial South (Ithaca, N.Y., 2001), was recently published by Cornell University Press.

Hearing Slavery: Recovering the role of sound in African American slave culture, by Shane White and Graham White. Shane White is an associate professor and Graham White an honorary associate in the history department at the University of Sydney. Together they have written Stylin': African American Expressive Culture From Its Beginnings to the Zoot Suit (Ithaca: 1998) and have half completed The Sounds of Slavery, which will be a book and a twenty-four-track CD.

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