+ Note on these notes
I began this project for selfish reasons, thinking that having to post these notes would help me to be thorough in my preparation for oral exams, but hopefully you will find them useful as well. The "In Briefs", are my summary sound-bytes, condensed, without judgment, and mainly focused on the author’s argument and contribution with reference to their key evidence. Some summaries are a bit circular, which may reflect the author’s uncertainty or the fact that it was the tenth one written that day. I tried to write these summaries in my own words, which could help you understand a book you have already read even if my use of language is sometimes less specific than that of the author. The “Questions" are rather blunt and they suggest one of the primary goals of the author’s inquiry. The “Quotes,” usually 3 or 4 selected sentences, should be read with due caution. They are not intended to reveal the argument so much as indicators of the author’s style, analytical methods, and often really interesting details that will encourage you to read the book in full. Lastly, the “Conversations" are books that came before and after publication; and the connections I make are not always ones that the authors always made themselves even though the overlap can be quite substantial.
+ 1935, W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880
In Brief: Du Bois tells a more compromised story of Reconstruction in which northern capital enables reform and then blocks it. Northern capital was the unreliable ally of the black worker who struck against slavery. Slaves quickly transformed the meaning of the war and in its aftermath freedmen defined the meaning of emancipation with demands for suffrage and land. Du Bois ties this struggle to global patterns, and he makes it clear that freedmen’s political and economic goals were completely intertwined. The alliance between black workers and northern industry helped to make suffrage possible, however the rise of the corporation, the importance of debts, and railroad stocks, bonds, and fraud fueled new alliances between businessmen in the North and South that recognized common threats from labor or the government. Yet an enduring freedom depended on both federal protection and economic independence in the form of land. The refusal to give land to freedmen represented the different goals and ideologies of an alliance that could all too easily crumble. Du Bois’s first goal was to redirect his readers’ attention to a global struggle between capital and labor and to appreciate the successes as well as failures of Reconstruction.
Questions: Why was industry allowed to triumph over democracy? How did battles over labor shape the Civil War and Reconstruction?
Quotes: “His was the only appeal which would bring sympathy from Europe, despite strong economic bonds with the South, and prevent recognition of a Southern nation built on slavery.” (79) “On the other hand, humanitarian radicalism, so far as the Negro was concerned, was not only completely harnessed to capital and property in the North, but its program for votes for Negroes more and more became manifestly the only protection upon which Northern industry could depend." (327) “The difficulty was that a flock of cormorants whose business was cheating and manipulation in the issue and sale of bonds and other certificates of enterprise, moved first West and then South, and took charge of railroad promotion.” (407)
Conversations:Woodward, Origins; Foner, Reconstruction; Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights
+ 1951, C. Vann Woodward, Origins of the New South 1877-1913
In Brief: Woodward explores how the business elite secured near absolute control of political and economic power in the years after the Civil War and Reconstruction in the South. Both former planters and newly arrived industrialists used their interpretations of the recent past to sow resentment and also retrenchment while enriching themselves and their businesses; this alliance concentrated economic power. The antidemocratic nature of this system only served to heighten racism as poor whites blamed African Americans for their defeat at the polls both before and during the populist revolt, leading to disenfranchisement and the rise of a new state-enforced segregation. Racism meanwhile prevented a wider class unity that could have resisted the effects of one party rule and the issue of low wages. Ultimately disenfranchisement served to limit the voting power of poor white and black people.
Questions: Why did the New South develop so unevenly? How did racism limit the gains of all poor people in the South?
Quotes:“The same was true of true of the white people, but the Negroes, with few exceptions, were farmers without land.” (205) “The propagandists of the New-South order, in advertising the famed cheap labor of their region, were not meticulous in distinguishing between the color of their wares.” (221) “It was a time when the hope born of Reconstruction had all but died for the Negro, when disfranchisement blocked his political advance and the caste system closed the door to integration in the white world, when the North had abandoned him to the South and the South was yielding to the clamor of her extremists.” (356)
Conversations: Southern History and United States History
+ 1951, George Rogers Taylor, The Transportation Revolution 1815-1860
In Brief: The War of 1812 showed the nation the need for better roads and transportation while the creation of the Erie Canal set off a canal boom, not to mention an economic boom. Not all of the canals built rewarded their funders, but they all served to increase the links between markets and the flow of goods and information. Railroads only further fueled economic expansion with the greater speed and the lessening of limitations like the freezing of canals in the winter. On the national level many regions opposed federal funding for infrastructure, New England opposed these projects because it already had good roads. Other groups meanwhile opposed transportation on the grounds that they simply wanted to avoid these connections to the broader market. Improvement projects also redirected trade, most prominently sending a higher proportion of trade between the East and West instead of the natural link (Mississippi River) between the West and South. Transportation investments were themselves a stimulus to the economy, especially the capital investments needed for railroads. The faster flow of information even altered the way banks functioned as they could no longer hold onto deposits in remote corners of the country.
Questions: How did new transportation technology transform the United States’ economy? Why did some individuals or institutions consciously choose to distance themselves from transportation improvements?
Quotes: “The same report points out that a ton of goods could be brought 3,000 miles from Europe to America for about nine dollars, but that for the same sum it could be moved only 30 miles overland in this country.” (133) “For the western states the great improvements in transportation tended on the one hand to discourage manufacturing development based primarily on regional isolation, and on the other to stimulate those which involved processing the products of agriculture and forestry.” (246) “As long as transportation and communication were relatively slow and no effective clearing system had developed, mere distance from the centers of commerce was a valuable asset to a bank.” (312)
Conversations: Howe, What God Hath Wrought; Hudson, Creek Paths; Goodrich, Government Promotion
+ 1963, Walter LaFeber, The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion, 1860-1898
In Brief: As northern industrialists took control of the Union in 1860 they led the nation in search of new markets for their rapidly expanding economy. William Seward viewed his purchase of Alaska as a foothold for exporting American goods even further west. Over time the influence of businessmen on future Presidents like McKinley only increased as they saw America’s foreign policy as the key to ensuring their survival and growth. This expansion was further fueled by people like Fredrick Jackson Turner, who in arguing for the closing of the frontier suggested to many leaders the need for territorial expansion beyond the continent. Likewise economic depressions and a series of popular revolts from both the Populists and urban workers led many of elites to view access to new markets for farm and factory products as the key to securing social peace.
Questions:Why did America choose to become an imperial power in the late 19th century? What is the connection between economic and military expansion?
Quotes: “American businessmen and policy makers in increasing numbers viewed expanding foreign markets as a principal means of removing the causes of this discontent.” (16) “As Carl Schurz had pointed out in his Harper’s article, a refusal to assume political responsibilities did not mean a refusal or abnegation of strategic and commercial benefits.” (205-6) “By mid-March, however, he was beginning to discover that, although he did not want war, he did want what only a war could provide: the disappearance of the terrible uncertainty in American political and economic life, and a solid basis from which to resume the building of a new American commercial empire.” (400)
Conversations: Hobsbawm, The Age of Capital; Jacoby, The Strange Career of William Ellis; Kramer, The Blood of Government
+ 1965, Eugene D. Genovese, The Political Economy of Slavery: Studies in the Economy and Society of the Slave South
In Brief: Genovese argues that despite the slave South’s important role in a global capitalist market, the South was in fact a precapitalist society which is apparent in both its social relations and its slave-centered economy. The large slaveholders, who accounted for a small percentage of the population, controlled most of the region’s political and economic resources which they dedicated to preserving their particular slave society. Compared with the North, the South was relatively unproductive and found itself unable to compete or develop a more diversified economy, even thwarting the expansion of railroads that fueled so much growth in the North. Every path to reform whether through industry, the development of cities and home markets, or more efficient agriculture encountered the institution of slavery as a barrier which planters did not want to threaten because it represented most of their social and economic capital. Thus with this inability to reform and the exhaustive effect of slavery and cash crops on the land, slave society’s survival depended above all on territorial expansion that would also protect slaveholder’s political power and offer the rest of white southerners the possibility of becoming planters as well.
Questions: How did issues of territorial expansion and slavery lead to the Civil War? Why was the antebellum South unable to develop a more efficient economy?
Quotes: "Capitalism has absorbed and even encouraged many kinds of precapitalist social systems: serfdom, slavery, Oriental state enterprises, and others.” (19) “Although one can never be sure about such things, the evidence accumulated by historians of science end technology strongly suggests that the social and economic impediments to technological change are generally more powerful than the specifically technical ones.” (58) “This conflict between class and personal interests reflected one of slavery’s many paradoxes: the dominant rural slaveholders required some industrial expansion to support their plantation economy and political power but could not sustain economically or tolerate politically a general industrialization.” (181)
Conversations: Johnson, Soul by Soul; Hobsbawm, The Age of Capital
+ 1965, Robert H. Wiebe, The Search for Order, 1877-1920
In Brief: In response to the changes taking place in the United States, above all the growth of cities and the decline of small towns, a new middle class developed to face the challenges and seek broader solutions that went beyond the isolated communities that had defined the United States prior to the late 19th century. While many people clung to their isolated communities and fought blindly against the chaos they saw around them, others found an orderly way forward. Though these middle class professionals were often highly specialized, doctors or professors for example, they found a common thread in their specialization and search for solutions that allowed them to coalesce as a group around the turn of the century. While Progressivism was the most visible example of this group’s emergence and its values, their faith in expertise and a more bureaucratized government persisted beyond the Progressive Era.
Questions: How did a bureaucratic impulse become dominant in American life? What values did middle-class professionals have in common?
Quotes:“Although antimonopoly occasionally singled out a definite enemy–some large corporation, a specific banking practice, a particular form of landholding–it usually served as a general method of comprehending the threats to local autonomy.” (53) “They had enough insight into their lives to recognize that the old ways and old values would no longer suffice.” (132) “In a more general sense the mobilization of 1917 and 1918 illuminated the degree to which an emerging bureaucratic system had actually ordered American society.” (293)
Conversations: Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings, Hofstadter, The Age of Reform; Lears, No Place of Grace
+ 1975, Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Capital, 1848-1875
In Brief: Hobsbawm explores the central role of capitalism in shaping global history as it took hold in much of the world during a booming economic era that limited political revolutions and state intervention, at least until the bust of the 1870s. The rapid expansion of the global market is partly explained by the invention and capitalization of telegraphs and railroads, allowing access not only to formerly impenetrable markets but also the flow of economic ideas, experts, and entrepreneurs. States embraced free trade while their military might came to depend largely on their industrial might, as evidenced above all by the Union’s victory in the Civil War. The faith in science and progress that adhered in this new order made offering alternatives all the more difficult in spite of the dislocation and disorder. In the countryside many people were pushed off the land even as larger commercialized farms experienced high demand from growing cities as a huge boon.
Questions: Why did capitalism spread with such speed during this era? How did technology allow for the consolidation of a global capitalism?
Quotes: “What strikes us retrospectively about the first half of the nineteenth century is the contrast between the enormous and rapidly growing productive potential of capitalist industrialization and its inability, as it were, to broaden its base, to break the shackles which fettered it.” (33) “Thus the American Civil War, whatever its political origins, was the triumph of the industrialized North over the agrarian South, almost, one might even say, the transfer of the South from informal empire of Britain (to whose cotton industry it was the economic pendant) into the new major industrial economy of the United States.” (78) “Both are aspects of that extraordinary widening and deepening of the world economy which forms the basic theme of world history at this period.” (174)
Conversations: Chandler, Visible Hand; Zakim, Ready Made Democracy; Hahn, Roots of Southern Populism; Genovese, The Political Economy of Slavery
+ 1968, Paul W. Gates, History of Public Land Law Development
In Brief: Much of pre-20th century American history can be boiled down to law and land—and this book further explains why title insurance is so expensive. One tension Gates explores is the extent to which the law was either effective or enforced, requiring creativity on behalf of lawmakers and lawyers. Gates describes the ways that both squatters and large-scale speculators eventually created laws to protect what they had illegally claimed. In this narrative raw wealth and power did not always triumph; land speculators represented much of the population. Investing in land was the most logical of investments and early settlers often successfully grouped together to fend off the powerful corporations claiming the land they lived on. Land law and the distribution of land was above all political, as preemptors or speculators represented widespread powerful political voices, while land itself served as the primary vehicle of wealth. For the government, land also served as an alternative to taxation, allowing the government to raise revenue for its needs and development, though many Americans found ways to obtain land at very low prices that limited the revenue flowing into federal coffers.
Questions:How did the distribution of land shape United States History? Why were so many illegal land claims legalized?
Quotes: “It must have been difficult for Jefferson, who was so sincerely devoted and who was, with Madison, critical of the activities of speculators, to have had a part in opening the public lands to them.” (62) “It is not so much the acreage of the claims that makes their story important, but their location.” (112) “To protect their rights in improvements settlers found it necessary to buy their land two and sometimes three times.” (204) “He drove a work animal ‘hitched to a canoe across thousands of acres’ of pinelands at fairly high elevations, listed his sections, and though contested by the Federal government they were finally patented to the state.” (328)
Conversations: Horwitz, The Transformation of American Law; Banner, How the Indians Lost Their Land; Rothman, Slave Country
+ 1970, Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War
In Brief: The Republican Party’s foundation lay with free labor, giving free men the chance to work their way up economically, in sharp contrast to the permanence of slave labor which also served to degrade those people who were not enslaved. Thus free labor depended upon free soil, which in turn depended on stopping or even reversing the spread of slavery. This contrast with slavery papered over the differences that existed within the free labor such as those between urban wage workers and independent farmers, and these divisions would reappear prominently in the years after the end of the Civil War. Abolitionists successfully played on these contrasts to help make slavery a concern in the North, but in doing so they also contributed to downplaying concerns over wage labor itself, while others viewed free labor as being limited to free white men.
Questions: Why did Republicans come to see the end of slavery as inevitable? How did free labor tie such a diverse coalition together?
Quotes: “The radicals thus had a very expedient attitude toward political parties–they viewed them as means, not as ends, and they were ready to abandon a party if it would help further the anti-slavery cause.” (113) “After 1856, as anti-slavery supplanted nativism in the Republican program, the Protestant foreign vote began to shift away from the Democrats.” (259) “For in each ideology was the conviction that its own social system must expand, not only to insure its own survival but to prevent the expansion of all the evils the other represented.” (312)
Conversations: Genovese, Political Economy of Slavery; Oakes, Freedom National; Smith, Freedom’s Frontier
+ 1972, Eugene D. Genovese, Roll Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made
In Brief: Genovese explores the relationship between planters and slaves to show how they formed distinctive, separate cultures that nonetheless depended upon their interactions with each other. As a system of paternalism developed, both slaveholders and slaves attempted to use it to their advantage. The slaveholders used paternalism to justify slavery and show how their interactions with enslaved people suggested their benevolence and slave’s acceptance of their rule. This was not simply a question of maintaining power but of slaveholders’ image of themselves which depended on the slaves themselves. Slaves used paternalism to pit slaveholders against cruel overseers, to force a recognition of their humanity, or to turn gifts and concessions into rights that had to be perpetuated. Furthermore, even as they faced limits, enslaved people formed their own culture through religion, blending Christianity with traditions from Africa, from which leaders emerged and another attack on slavery could be sustained. Both this religion and paternalism opened space for resistance, but not rebellion, hence tactics like work slow downs, whereas open violence would have meant certain death. For even as planters’ hegemony rested on the relationships sustained through paternalism, they did not fear using force if necessary to sustain their illusions.
Questions: How did slaves shape southern society? How did paternalism simultaneously create possibilities and limits?
Quotes: “The slave, being neither a wagon nor a horse, and to be dealt with as a man, but the law dared not address itself direct to the point.” (28) “In Gramsci’s terms, they had had to wage a prolonged, embittered struggle with themselves as well as with their oppressors to ‘feel their strength’ and to become ‘conscious of their responsibility and their value.’” (149) “The synthesis that became black Christianity offered profound spiritual strength to a people at bay; but it also imparted a political weakness, which dictated, however necessarily and realistically, acceptance of the hegemony of the oppressor.” (284) “And by laughing at themselves, they freed themselves to laugh at their masters.” (584)
Conversations: Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage; McCurry, Masters of Small Worlds; Pennigroth, The Claims of Kinfolk
+ 1977, Morton J. Horwitz, The Transformation of American Law, 1780-1860
In Brief: Horwitz argues that lawyers worked to transform, or rather destroy, common law into a tool for entrepreneurs. The laws were changed to actively redistribute wealth from the poorest to the richest. Property owners underwrote economic development. Contract law obscured unequal power relations and ignored traditions of equity and fairness. Changes in the law fueled industry and the building of mills at the expense of farmers and workers. These changes also fueled the profession of law itself, and lawyers self-consciously crafted these changes to ensure their existence while allying with commercial interests. Lawyers and judges also worked to remove politics from the rules of property, though still favoring specific interests, lessening both uncertainty and democracy in the process.
Questions: What role did changes in the law play in generating inequality in the United States up to the Civil War? Why did lawyers feel the need to transform the law?
Quotes:“This issue presented the court with the opportunity to encourage a vast geographical expansion of industry under the protective wing of the mill act by sanctioning the flooding that would result from a network of canals on which dams would be built.” (52) “There is reason to suppose, therefore, that the choice of subsidization though the legal system was not simply an abstract effort to avoid political contention but that it entailed more conscious decisions about who would bear the burdens of economic growth.” (101) “The emergence of the objective theory, then, is another measure of the influence of commercial interests in the shaping of American law.” (201)
Conversations: Steinberg, Nature Incorporated; Sellers, Market Revolution; Pagan, Anne Orthwood’s Bastard
+ 1978, Claude F. Oubre, Forty Acres and a Mule: The Freedmen’s Bureau and Black Land Ownership
In Brief: During Reconstruction the implications for denying freedmen access to their own land appeared obvious to most Americans. Individual officials in the Freedmen’s Bureau and millions of freedmen worked towards the goal of land ownership and economic security even as the government ultimately failed to realize its guarantee. Many freedmen followed government instructions and false promises only to enrich their former slave-owners and find themselves even further from landownership. Oubre shows how Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15 generated the idea that the government planned to provide all freedmen with forty acres and a mule. The small handful of freedmen who received such a grant served as a reminder to the vast majority of the failure of Reconstruction. Oubre uses the Southern Homestead Act of 1866 to further highlight the government’s role in making false promises. During the first year of the Southern Homestead Act, only freedmen could claim public land in the southern states that had public land remaining. Yet by the time the act had been passed, many freedmen had already signed contracts binding them to work for planters. The freedmen who could move lacked sufficient tools and food to settle new land. Oubre argues that despite passage of the Southern Homestead Act or Field Order No. 15, no reasonable opportunity for freedmen to obtain land existed in Reconstruction. In the years after Reconstruction white landowners sold their worn out land to freedmen because they realized it would no longer disturb the labor regime of sharecropping and tenancy. Oubre sees landownership as a personal triumph that did not change the nature of daily life for most freedmen. These gains suggested how much could have been accomplished if land had been provided to all freedmen at the time of emancipation.
Questions: Why did so few freedmen gain land after the Civil War? How did false promises from the federal government serve to strengthen planters?
Quotes: "The Freedmen’s Bureau bill, therefore, although it did not offer free land, promised that by working diligently the freedmen would be able to purchase land.” (21) “When the freedmen learned that the whites would not sell land to them, they became more interested in securing homesteads on the public lands.” (99) "Although the bureau cannot be assigned credit for land ownership in 1900, one must admit that without the bureau freedmen would have experienced considerably more opposition in their efforts to acquire land.” (196)
Conversations:Du Bois, Black Reconstruction; Crouch, The Freedmen’s Bureau; Miles, The Ties That Bind
+ 1978, Paul E. Johnson, A Shopkeeper’s Millenium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York, 1815-1837
In Brief: On the eve of the great revivals in Rochester, church attendance was in decline, classes were increasingly differentiated and in conflict, and concerns over alcohol consumption were on the rise as workers no longer drank with their bosses, who had ceased the practice of providing room and board for their laborers. These bosses found their efforts to control the ever-growing number of urban workers faltering while such workers reacted to such efforts with contempt. Attempts to use the town government to enforce stricter mores failed under an elite still fractured from anti-masonry. When Charles Finney brought his revivals to Rochester, entrepreneurs flocked to his revivals, seeing the revivals as a solution to social disorder while justifying their economic power. Many workingmen joined as well, both of their own accord and under coercion from their bosses. In this process workers and entrepreneurs found a common ground not only in their religion, but in their sobriety and discipline. Albeit people joined the revivals for many reasons, but in the process free labor became rationalized and businessmen no longer had to worry quite as much about an unruly workforce with this new form of social control.
Questions: Why did workers and entrepreneurs join the revivals of the 1830s in such great numbers? What conditions in Rochester made it such an important center for revivalism?
Quotes: “The sequence of rapid urbanization, religious revival and political and social reorganization stuck that community with uncommon force.” (13) “Business-owning families were in retreat from the world of work, and from the increasingly distinct world of working-men.” (52) “Charles Finney’s revival mobilized economic power and injected religious motives into its use.” (127)
Conversations:Taylor, William Cooper’s Town; Howe, What God Hath Wrought
+ 1980, Charles Reagan Wilson, Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920
In Brief: This book explains the reason why it is so difficult for researchers working in historical archives in the South to find documents that do not commemorate or otherwise focus on the Civil War. After the Confederacy’s military, political, and economic defeat in the Civil War it became embedded through ritual in the region's culture and religious institutions as a constant process of looking to the past while denying important truths about the nature of the war itself. Those truths in part explain the success of the Lost Cause, as it offered defeated southerners pride and righteousness rather than shame from both their cause's failure and immorality. The Lost Cause formed the basis for white Protestant unity in the years after the war while providing justification for racism and then segregation. Former Confederate leaders played an active role in the creation of the Lost Cause whether through making direct links between their cause and southern religion or by portraying themselves as martyrs. By the end of World War I the Lost Cause lost much of its power as the process of reunion, begun during the Spanish-American War, was complete. Groups like the Klu Klux Klan long shielded by the Lost Cause, shifted much of their hatred towards Catholics in what became a national resurgence of nativism.
Questions: Why did white southerners celebrate their defeat so persistently? How did religion empower and give shape to the Lost Cause?
Quotes: “An explicit linkage between Confederate images and religious values was made in the stained glass windows placed in churches to commemorate Confederate sacrifices.” (25) “Southerners refused to admit that God’s displeasure with the peculiar institution was the cause of Confederate defeat.” (68) “The Lost Cause, originally the rationale for a provincial culture, during World War I was reinterpreted to justify international warfare by the American nation.” (178)
Conversations:Woodward, Origins; Blight, Race and Reunion; Williams, They Left Great Marks on Me
+ 1981, James Smallwood, Time of Hope, Time of Despair: Black Texans During Reconstruction
In Brief: Given the limited fighting that took place in Texas it was one of the last areas of the South to end slavery. Labor contracts were harshly enforced and unlike other states in which the federal government controlled public land, in Texas it was controlled by the state government and its distribution to freedmen was restricted. The Freedmen’s Bureau worked with limited resources, making a small difference in the areas where it existed at all, especially by helping to establish schools. Many black churches were created during Reconstruction, and once the the initial black codes were overturned there were political gains, such as the state police that Governor Davis established. However state support for black voting rights disappeared after his defeat in 1873 and freedmen faced increased violence and few viable options for achieving political and economic freedom.
Questions:Why did freedmen’s hopes turn to despair so quickly during Reconstruction in Texas? How did the Freedmen’s Bureau improve life for freedmen in Texas?
Quotes: “Some slaveholders who desperately wanted to control their labor force added to the violent atmosphere by refusing to free their chattels.” (33) “As the bureau expanded into North and East Texas, agents reported that worse conditions existed there, away from concentrations of troops, than in coastal and central Texas.” (80) “With Democrats in control, the legislature quickly acted to undo many Davis reforms which had been designed to guard the freedom of black people.” (155)
Conversations: DuBois, Black Reconstruction; Campbell, Grass-Roots Reconstruction; Moneyhon, Texas After the Civil War
+ 1981, T.J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920
In Brief: By emphasizing self-expression in their search for meaning in a rapidly changing society, anti-modernists served to reinforce the trends they were revolting against in the late 19th century. Among the monotony and bureaucratization of life in the 1880s many intellectuals sought comfort outside of consumer society through raw experience. Hence they turned to militarism, medievalism, or anything else primitive. Yet their individual approaches lacked a greater coherence or edge against modernism, rather their personal fight soothed their psyches enough to accommodate a new order, which in turn used premodern symbols to justify the ongoing consolidation of a capitalist bureaucracy. Likewise they did not replace the liberalization of Protestantism in the upper-class with a firmer morality, they simply reinforced the trend towards expressions of the self that lacked a true commitment to any particular tradition.
Questions: How did anti-modernists facilitate the development of modern consumer society? Why did tradition lose ground at the turn of the century?
Quotes:“The new bureaucratic world of work often fragmented their labor and reduced their sense of autonomy: more important, it isolated them from the hard, substantial reality of things.” (60) “At bottom, the turn toward medieval mentalities was animated by a religious impulse–an impulse which varied with each individual’s circumstances.” (181) “He remained, to the end, an antimodern modernist.” (297)
Conversations:Wiebe, The Search for Order; Marsden, Fundamentalism in American Culture; Leach, Land of Desire
+ 1983, Steven Hahn, The Roots of Southern Populism: Yeoman Farmers and the Transformation of the Georgia Upcountry, 1850-1890
In Brief: Hahn focuses on two Georgia counties to explain the decline of the yeoman and their turn to populism. In the antebellum period yeoman valued their independence, they did not avoid the market economy altogether, but they focused on subsistence while they were sheltered from the full force of the market economy by the domination of plantations on the South’s economic landscape. Yeoman’s relationship to the planters differed depending on their region, those yeoman living in areas where plantations predominated were more closely tied to the planters through debt and other types of obligation. Many yeoman relied on slave labor, while slavery also served to limit the extent to which the planters could exploit white labor. As the Civil War approached, the slaveowners were partly able to mobilize the yeomanry, who were themselves property owners, for their cause, by claiming that after the slaves were seized then inevitably their land would be as well. The war destroyed much of the yeoman’s productive property and the alliance between the yeoman and slaveowners. The bitterness yeoman felt over the Confederacy’s slaveowner exemption was nothing compared with planters’ abandonment of the yeoman who faced a usurious credit system at the very moment they were trying to rebuild their farms. In the years leading up to the Populist movement such yeoman found themselves in credit arrangements that forced them to grow increasing amounts of cotton for declining prices while merchant and planter interests worked to close the open range that once provided an important source of venison and ham.
Questions: How did the former yeomen come to identify themselves as a class in conflict with merchants, planters, and Democratic politicians? Why did yeoman initially support planters in the Civil War?
Quotes: “Although the abolition of slavery struck the planting elite a telling blow, in a rural society control of land as much as control of labor defined the boundaries of social relations.” (153) “The hard-money men of the Jacksonian era spoke for petty producers who feared the market’s encroachments; the soft-money men of the Populist era spoke for petty producers who lived under the market’s hegemony.” (192) “Consequently, they located exploitation in the sphere of exchange rather than at the point of production and looked directly to the credit and money, not the land, question as a solution to their predicament and as a means for rallying political insurgency.” (286)
Conversations: Goodwyn, The Populist Moment; Genovese, Roll Jordan Roll; Woodward, Origins
+ 1986, Barbara Jeanne Fields, Slavery and Freedom on the Middle Ground: Maryland During the Nineteenth Century
In Brief: Well before the Civil War Maryland had come face to face with the contradictions of slavery. On the eve of the war it had a large population of free black people who faced a variety of restrictions while also providing a vital source of labor both to slaveholders and non-slaveholding farmers and businesses. As planters in Maryland began growing more wheat and less tobacco they had specific labor bottlenecks where they depended on the labor of free black people even though they feared the implications such free labor had for the institution of slavery. The political and economic inequality in the state was most evidently witnessed in slavery, but also came across from the disproportionate power held by a core group of slaveholders even as the population and economy of the northern part of the state outstripped them. As war became a reality, the so-called moderates were anything but moderate, playing off the North and South, obstructing Union efforts, claiming that slavery was not the issue, and resisting its ultimate abolition. After the war black soldiers were singled out for especially severe harassment, few freed slaves gained land, facing many of the same constraints that free black people had endured before the war. Most free black people worked for the wages, which by the end of the century were low for all wage workers regardless of race.
Questions:Why would people assume that Maryland’s slaveholders were moderate? How did a spectrum of unfree labor shape politics in Maryland?
Quotes: “The joining of the issues of protecting slave property and regulating free black people revealed the inevitable weakness of a dual labor system operating in the context of a stagnating slave economy.” (69) “The abolition of slavery finally resolved the contradiction so long ensconced in the heart of Maryland’s social being between slavery and free labor.” (137) “Enthusiasts of the free and competitive market–then and since–theorized that the abolition of slavery out to place them in a strong position.” (186)
Conversations: Genovese, Political Economy of Slavery; Rockman, Scraping By; Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage
+ 1987, Patricia Nelson Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West
In Brief: Limerick argues for the importance of place over process in order to incorporate all of the actors in the West, to emphasize continuity, and to escape the false boundaries that Fredrick Jackson Turner’s frontier thesis imposed on the study of the West. And if there was a dominant process, it was one of business in which some people sought survival and subsistence while many others came with dreams of riches from fur, gold, cattle, or the land itself. The injustices perpetuated by this attempt at conquest and control by white people has also served to obscure the considerable diversity of the West and to present these conquerers' perspectives as hegemonic even as their ancestors themselves have become disillusioned by the reality of their own tenuous positions in society and on the land. Pretending that the history of West is not continuous only sets people up for disappointment and an inability to face the accumulating problems generated by this history.
Questions: How has the myth of the West shaped the expectations of the people who came to live there? What does an emphasis on continuity add to an understanding of the West?
Quotes:“Living out of cans, the Montana ranchers were typical Westerners, celebrating independence while relying on a vital connection to the outside world.” (18) “The events of Western history represent, not a simple process of territorial expansion, but an array of efforts to wrap the concept of property around unwieldy objects.” (71) “First, Americans came West with high hopes for improved personal fortune, hopes that carried both the seeds of disappointment and frustration and, not far beyond, the need for someone to blame.” (269)
Conversations:Kelman, A Misplace Massacre; Jacoby, Shadows at Dawn; White, The Middle Ground
+ 1988, Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877
In Brief: Foner’s Reconstruction focuses on politics as the locus of Reconstruction while also positioning freedpeople as the drivers of history. The end of slavery represented the most dramatic departure that found people facing the limitations embedded within the system of free labor that preceded the war, meanwhile a new nation had formed with the power to grant rights and protect those defined as citizens. Black people sought political power to ensure their freedom while also building schools and churches to strengthen their communities. In response many white southerners reacted with calls for local control and racist claims for a more exclusive citizenship. The revolution that Reconstruction began went unfinished even as it laid the foundation for the complete realization of a lasting freedom.
Questions: To what extent was Reconstruction a revolution? Who was responsible for the growth of the state during this time?
Quotes: “Sanctified by the North’s triumph, the free labor ideology would emerge from the war further strengthened as a definition of the good society, an underpinning of Republican party policy, and a starting point for discussions of the postwar South.” (29) “And considerable numbers, attracted by wages substantially higher than in the East, emigrated to Texas, Louisiana, and other southwestern states.” (81) “Slavery was gone, but in the absence of large-scale land distribution, the plantation system endured.” (399)
Conversations: Du Bois, Black Reconstruction; Downs, After Appomattox; Smith, Freedom’s Frontier
+ 1988, Lawrence W. Levine, Highbrow Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America
In Brief: At one point in American history people made no effort to distinguish between high and low culture: Shakespeare for example was popular with all classes even as the plays' performance accommodated different styles depending on the audience’s access to eggs and other projectiles. Both the upper class and the rest of society enjoyed listening to Italian operas or parlor songs. The distinction that emerged between high and popular culture occurred over the course of the second half of the nineteenth century. In part because of anxiety over urban disorder and immigration, elites set about distinguishing themselves by making their culture sacred and exclusive. Thus they differentiated between the art they collected and that which was mass produced; while claiming certain cultural spaces as exclusive. Patronage of museums or symphonies by wealthy families meant that these institutions had to listen to elites' demands about what songs could be performed or the type of art displayed, though it is ironic that such patrons used their gains in the market to isolate their culture from its influence.
Questions: Why did Shakespeare plays become something that only the upper class attended? What is lost by simply calling culture popular or high culture?
Quotes:“The use of such arbitrary and imprecise cultural categories has helped obscure the dynamic complexity of American culture in the nineteenth century.” (31) “The Astor Place Riot, which in essence was a struggle for power and cultural authority within theatrical space, was simultaneously an indication of and a catalyst for the cultural changes that came to characterize the United States at the end of the century.” (68) “The primary debate was less over who should enter the precincts of the art museum, the symphony hall, the opera house as over what they should experience once they did enter, what the essential purpose of these temples of culture was in the first place.” (167)
Conversations: Miller, Segregating Sound; Rodgers, An Age of Fracture; Leach, Land of Desire; Beckert, Monied Metropolis
+ 1990, Richard Franklin Bensel, Yankee Leviathan: The Origins of Central State Authority in America, 1859-1877
In Brief: In the Civil War two newly centralized states emerged. The Confederacy was particularly centralized, controlling every aspect of daily life far more than the Union, in part because the Union’s superior economic and industrial resources and its reliance on the market allowed it to interfere less in people’s lives. The war and victory mobilized resources and revealed the ultimate sovereignty of the American state, however the central state also emerged from the consolidation of Republican control. This one-party rule and the Republicans’ close relationship with northern industry tied the growth of the state to economic development. During the war the state relied heavily on finance capital to pay for the war, enriching and drawing in these finance capitalists as an arm of the state. However this alliance unravelled during Reconstruction as finance capitalists wanted the federal government and the Treasury to return to the gold standard and to commit to paying interest on their debts rather than focusing on other areas of economic development or especially in spending state resources in the South for helping freedmen. As radicals failed to grasp the self-interest that underlay many of their gains, they lost the ability to further expand the state in the interest of defending this newly achieved freedom. Meanwhile the issue of secession served to obscure possibilities for achieving class coalitions that could make their own demands on the state.
Questions: Why did the rapid growth of the American state end so abruptly? How did coalitions built in the Civil War enable and block reform?
Quotes:“It was this drive to unify the national marketplace that eventually broke the back of southern separatism.” (16) “Many more slave-state members contended that Congress had the power to prohibit polygamy because all the states in the Union did so and the federal government could act as the collective agent of the states.” (90) “For one thing, the greenback system compelled the Treasury to conduct open-market operations for which the department had neither the talent nor, it appeared at times, the inclination.” (294)
Conversations: Witt, Lincoln’s Code; Hobsbawm, Age of Capital; Capozzola, Uncle Sam; Du Bois, Black Reconstruction
+ 1991, William Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West
In Brief: Cronon shows us what the West looked like from Chicago’s perspective. He uses the story of his own childhood to explain why he wrote this book, contrary to his fears of alien Chicago, the city and country were a part of a single economy and world. Cronon reveals the deep links between city and country that extend far beyond the boundaries of Illinois. Yet he also shows how these links were hidden. This book explains the market of ‘frontiersmen’ and cowboys, who might buy green lumber from Chicago and send back grain or cattle. People who lived in nature were involved in the market. They were not growing grain for fun and they were not building houses on the open prairie without lumber from far away. Prior to the railroads, most farmers spent a lot of their time getting their goods to market. When much of that time spent transporting goods ended, they had that much more time to make improvements and alter the landscape. Yet it was in the city where nature was made to disappear: even the naturalness of something as primitive as meat, cutting it, wrapping it, hiding its bloody death.
Questions: “When did Chicago cease to be a part of nature?” (Cronon 17)
Quotes: “To read von Thunen in this way is suddenly to realize that one is reading Turner backwards, and that Turner’s frontier, far from being an isolated rural society, was in fact the expanding edge of the boosters’ urban empire.” (51) “The grading system allowed elevators to sever the link between ownership rights and physical grain, with a host of unanticipated consequences.” (116) “Unconscious of my material ties with Chicago, I understood it in symbolic terms not very different from those of nineteenth-century farmers.” (371)
Conversations: Platt, Shock Cities; Klingle, Emerald City; Linder and Zacharias, Of Cabbages
+ 1991, Chris Sellers, The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846
In Brief: Sellers argues that in the first half of the nineteenth century a market revolution happened in the United States that allowed the market to sweep over nearly every region and relationship, making American into an entirely capitalist society. This wrenching transformation left farmers with no place to subsist and trade for a few necessities among their neighbors, but Sellers argues that many Americans resisted the implementation and coercion of capitalism at every turn. Jacksonians fought the bankers and businessmen, and ended the Bank of the United States, however they were unable to resist the unrelenting push of these wealthy promarket forces who actively undercut democracy in their efforts to make the market and their interests dominant.
Questions: How was a market revolution imposed on all Americans? What was the alternative to the market revolution?
Quotes: “To realize it, they were now anxious to exercise with wartime vigor the peacetime power of an activist capitalist state.” (70) “Providentially the market revolution was fostering a new mode of social control, even as it undermined the old.” (263) “Asserting premarket values against all respectable opinion, Jackson mustered democracy to defend patriarchal independence, equality, and therefore honor, against an activist capitalist state.” (331)
Conversations: Howe, What God Hath Wrought; Johnson, A Shopkeeper’s Millennium; Horwitz, The Transformation of American Law
+ 1992, Barry A. Crouch, The Freedmen’s Bureau and Black Texans
In Brief: Crouch focuses on specific bureau agents, highlighting the obstacles they endured and arguing that they did all they could considering the circumstances. Agents improved the lives of freedmen who lived near their posts. Crouch considers the lives of the agents themselves, who faced threats, murder, or death from disease. Given how thinly stretched they were from the beginning, losing an agent to a murder or as in the case of yellow fever, losing many agents and teachers, could cripple the Freedmen’s Bureau ability to provide protection and education to freedmen. Agents' attempts to help freedmen gain unpaid wages or fair prices for provisions were overwhelmed by the fact that extortion, in addition to much violence, was so widespread and common during this time. Nonetheless, in the places where agents survived, they intervened in labor disputes and sought justice for freedmen whose lives would have been much worse without the presence of the Bureau. The gains that agents achieved were made evident by the number of freedmen that migrated to towns in order to be closer to such agents, but ultimately their presence was so short that it had relatively little impact on the lives of most Texans.
Questions: What difference did bureau agents make in the lives of freedmen after the Civil War? What obstacles did agents face in fulfilling their duties?
Quotes: "Relatively untouched by the ravages of war and unsecured by the psychology of defeat, Texans carried into the post-Civil War era the idea that their state had never been subdued.” (12) “When troops were detached to the area, although never entirely peaceful, less violence did occur.” (67) “The twin facets of securing justice for and protecting freedmen from violence posed problems which the Texas assistant commissioners never resolved.” (129)
Conversations: Woodward, Origins; Smallwood, Time of Hope; Downs, After Appomattox
+ 1995, Stephanie McCurry, Masters of Small World: Yeoman Households, Gender Relations, and the Political Culture of the Antebellum South Carolina Low Country
In Brief: The hierarchy of the master/slave relationship extended into the yeoman household where the patriarch held absolute power over everyone in his household regardless of whether they were slaves, wives, or daughters. Such a household formed the basis for the yeoman’s political image of himself and his actual economic independence which depended on the labor of everyone in his household. This gendered understanding of power influenced every aspect of yeomen politics and their willingness to support slavery, since planters could present threats to the hierarchy of slavery as threats to the hierarchy and sanctity of the yeoman household. This alliance was further strengthened through ownership of property and the implication that all property holders held absolute power within their dominion. Within this alliance tensions remained as planters controlled political offices even though yeoman held the right to vote. Though once again for different reasons, both planters and yeomen embraced evangelism, with yeomen deemphasizing spiritual equality and elevating their hierarchical homes into a sacred ideology. Thus despite all of their differences and conflicts, planters found a common language they could use to mobilize the yeomanry in the move to secession
Questions: Why did such defiant yeoman ally themselves with haughty planters? What is the relation between slavery and gender?
Quotes: “The relevant term in their vocabulary, as in political discourse, was ‘freemen,’ among whose ranks lowcountry yeomen, however poor, proudly numbered themselves.” (16) “Indeed, the distinct trajectories of the coming of age of Sloan’s eldest son and his eldest daughters suggest the generational reproduction of gendered relations of power and their implications for the assumptions yeomen brought to public political culture.” (84) “For the ideological work of slavery assumed the greatest significance precisely where it confronted the greatest challenge: in holding nonslaveholders and small slaveholders to planters within a common system of meanings and values.” (213)
Conversations: Genovese, Political Economy of Slavery; Glickman, A Living Wage; Brown, Good Wives
+ 1998, Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America
In Brief: Berlin shows the centrality of slavery to North America’s history while also drawing out the dramatic changes that took place within slavery, beginning with the charter generation, then plantation generation, and finally revolutionary generations. Many of the early slaves, often creoles, found that the boundaries of slavery were fluid whereas later generations found increasingly hard boundaries with only physical escape as a possibility for ending their enslavement, and through this process the idea of race also reformed into a more restrictive concept. Berlin makes a further distinction between societies with slaves and slave societies where slavery constituted the central political and economic institution, and there was signification variation within North America in regards to the centrality of slavery. Slaves’ actions, the American revolution, or the Saint Domingue refugees all played a role in either the intensification or weakening of the institution of slavery. The nature of the work being done or the types of crops harvested helped to determine the routine and culture of slavery in each region.
Questions: How did people change the meaning of slavery? Why is it so important to recognize the changes that took place in slavery in North America?
Quotes: "But the free blacks’ presence and growing numbers subverted the logic of racial slavery in the eyes of white and black alike.” (38) “In time, saltwater slaves and their descendants shifted the balance of power, and in the process transformed themselves from Africans to African Americans.” (104) “It was no accident that free people of color expanded their privileges when the danger of slave rebellion was greatest.” (349)
Conversations: Blackburn, American Crucible; Johnson, Soul by Soul; Morgan, Laboring Women
+ 1999, Walter Johnson, Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market
In Brief: Johnson focuses on the internal slave trade and the New Orleans slave markets to show that despite the relentless contradictions of antebellum slavery, and despite slave traders’ maligned position in planter society, that the buying and selling of human beings reveals all the naked truths about slavery. This was a thoroughly capitalist system. Selling slaves from plantations had an obvious economic function, and a more subtle one as planters used the threat of sale to force their slaves to work harder or more obediently and thus increase the planter’s profit. Slave sales broke up families and in the markets all sorts of meanings were imposed onto enslaved people and their bodies in an effort to quantify their value. Yet at the same time of all its horrors, slavery also forced traders and planters to recognize their slaves’ humanity in order to maximize their profit. Slaveholders in turn defined themselves by their slaves, dreaming of buying slaves that would make them into rich men, while they could use paternalist excuses to distance themselves from the slave traders who took less effort to hide their dependence on the market itself.
Questions: How can you look at the slave market and not call it capitalism? How did planters manipulate and obscure their connections to slave trading?
Quotes: “The contradiction was this: the abstract value that underwrote the southern economy could only be made material in human shape–frail, sentient, and resistant.” (29) “They imagined who they could be by thinking about whom they could buy.” (79) “And, in one of the more incredible contradictions that characterized the law of slavery, the courts of Louisiana occasionally allowed testimony about slaves’ statements at the time of their sale to be figured into the law that governed their owners.” (211)
Conversations: Berlin, Many Thousands Gone; Rockman, Scraping By; Genovese, Roll Jordan Roll
+ 2000, Brian Black, Petrolia: The Landscape of America’s First Oil Boom
In Brief:The discovery of oil in Pennsylvania and its immediate demand as a new source of light for consumers and lubrication for a rapidly industrializing nation, set off an unprecedented boom that ravaged the surrounding landscape of Oil Creek. Oil flowed down streams, fires burned wildly, and some former farmers got rich. Most people faced great hazards in their livelihoods and lives themselves. Property laws encouraged drillers to extract as much oil as they could as quickly as possible. Myth meanwhile, encouraged people to view this frenzy as a good thing, to accept destruction as the cost of progress.
Questions: Why would you view the nation’s first oil boom, with all of its problems, with so much nostalgia? How did Americans come to accept the devastation of places like Petrolia?
Quotes: "The oil boom created an industrial wasteland, but that does not emblazon it as a simple story of ruin.” (9) "A place was created that became mythical to the American public, and this intensified the region’s use and exploitation.” (83) “The lack of basic necessities defined the oil boomtown and were of little concern to speculators.” (159)
Conversations: Andrews, Killing for Coal, Johnson, Carbon Nation, Melville, A Plague of Sheep
+ 2000, Sharon Ann Holt, Making Freedom Pay North Carolina Freedpeople Working for Themselves, 1865-1900
In Brief: Examining a single North Carolina county in the piedmont, Holt argues that property accumulation by freedpeople was part of a larger quest for freedom. Holt uses the household economy to show how freedpeople attained their gains, with landownership one step in the process of defining freedom. Holt presents strong evidence for freedpeople working together, not only as families, but also in the larger community. Small farm owners, working with limited resources, sometimes shared a mule to work the farms of multiple families. After the Civil War freedpeople attempted to reunite their families and to control their working situation as much as possible. By limiting their work in the field, women could engage in the household economy, providing food for the family, but also obtaining small sums of cash that rarely could be gained through tenancy alone. Making the task of a historian difficult, the household economy’s invisibility served as a strength to freedpeople, allowing them to hide their gains from public view. Chattel mortgages, not crop liens, Holt argues, served as the freedmen’s primary avenue to advancement. Farmers could receive cash, thus allowing freedpeople to pay cash prices at the store instead of a usurious credit merchant’s arbitrary price. Holt believes the small size of most of their farms reflected freedpeople’s fears of retaliation and their tenuous economic positions. Still, these farms helped; many farmer owners rented farms where they grew cash crops while growing subsistence crops at home. However during economic downturns, Holt suggests some farm owners may have been worse off than non-farm owners as they put all their resources into holding onto the land.
Questions: How did freedmen gain land after the Civil War? How did rural families obtain cash in the decades after the Civil War?
Quotes: “Nothing could demonstrate more vividly the multiple forms and purpose of chattel mortgages; nothing could capture more graphically the irreconcilable tension between credit as an avenue to advancement and credit as the prelude to bankruptcy.” (48) “There was very little social or geographical distance between black tenants and black farm owners.” (62) “As freedpeople set about the work of building new lives for themselves, they also took the biggest part in the great redesign of American freedom itself.” (132)
Conversations: Penningroth, Making Freedom Pay; Petty, Standing Their Ground; Oubre, Forty Acres and a Mule
+ 2001, Karl Jacoby, Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation
In Brief: Jacoby reveals that the impulse towards conservation, driven by fears and uncertainty over the rise of an urban industrial order, brought with it a wider distaste for the lower class even if they happened to be intimately connected and dependent on the land. The massive parks that conservationists built out of the ‘wilderness’ such as Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, or the Adirondacks contained thousands of white settlers or Indians who had to be contained or removed entirely. This disruptive and wholesale process of state-imposed dispossession was wholly modern, despite conservationists' intent to return to nature. Once the parks were established, most of the residents’ prior uses whether gathering timber or subsistence hunting were deemed irresponsible, unscientific and simply illegal. Like the closing of the range in the South, such measures pushed residents into new dependencies, however this process was much more systematic. From the eyes of such residents enforcement was anything but uniform as the Havasupai were singled out by wardens in Arizona or settlers in the Adirondacks watched as robber barons hunted deer. It was not just a question of ending resource use in these parks but of social control.
Questions: What happened to the people who lived in the parks created by the conservationists? How did local residents understand state-imposed conservation/ displacement?
Quotes: "Unlike much of the rest of the American countryside, the economic modernization of the Adirondacks did not center on agriculture—the region remained too remote and its soil too thin to support intensive farming—but rather on the forests themselves.” (24) “This use of poaching to distance oneself from the strictures of the workplace, however, left its practitioners vulnerable to charges that they lacked the appropriate commitment to the work ethic and to community improvement.” (137) “To Hough, Sparks, and other early conservationists, such appropriations were not only illegal, they nurtured a worrisome set of values.” (168)
Conversations: Spence, Dispossessing the Wilderness; Sutter, Driven Wild; Guha, The Unquiet Woods; Lears, No Place of Grace
2001, David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civl War in American Memory
In Brief: The descriptions and history of the Civil War created by many Americans in the late nineteenth-century omitted the central and pivotal role of slavery in the Civil War and this omission reflected the failure of Reconstruction and a desire for national unity over the truth. While white southerners devoted themselves to the Lost Cause immediately after the Civil War, the rest of the nation moved towards reconciliation by forgetting as Reconstruction wound down and such ideas became dominant by the start of the Spanish American War. This impulse to forget came from a variety of directions, whether from Booker T. Washington or the perceived political and economic needs of northern leaders. In place of a moral war fought over slavery, war memories became a common glorious story of heroism on both sides. In the process of divorcing the memory of the Civil War from much of the actual experience, black people’s rights were abandoned and the Civil War’s connection to race and freedom was ignored. Not everyone, black or white, forgot the meaning of the Civil War and continued to use their own understanding of why the war was fought to demand justice.
Questions: Why did so many Americans choose reunion over the truth? What is the connection between reconciliation the rise of Jim Crow?
Quotes: “As Reconstruction conflicts and economic revival and expansion began to dominate American consciousness, many commentators lamented a war-induced loss of moral bearings.” (38) “In such venomous differences over the causes of the war, one can see why the most vigorous advocates of reconciliation believed they had to banish slavery and race from discussion.” (107) “His very quest to expose pretense, to uncover the horror and lubriciousness of war from the soldiers’ point of view, left open the avenue to reunion.” (248)
Conversations: Wilson, Baptized in Blood; Capozzola, Uncle Sam Wants You; Woodward, Origins; Faust, This Republic of Suffering
+ 2001, Sven Beckert, The Monied Metropolis: New York City and the Consolidation of the American Bourgeoisie, 1850-1896
In Brief: This is a story of class creation, of rich people in New York City. Secession and the Civil War made Northern economic interests dominant and wealthier throughout the nation, but the end of slavery also laid bare the contradictions within free labor. Faced with an unruly working class in the 1870s and the 1880s the bourgeoisie united in order to flex their social, political and economic power. They stopped viewing each other as competing between say merchants and manufacturers, as the fight against the South and their fluid capital blurred these old divisions. They developed clubs, intermarried, and learned from each other about how to deal with their workers. These were also the capitalists who withdrew their implicit support for Reconstruction, both in the interest of doing business in the South and over fears about growing state power. However, they increasingly came to rely on this very state power for their own purposes and used brute force to subdue their workers. They made vocal claims of cultural superiority, attracting businessmen from the rest of the country who wanted to take part in this exclusive world. Though this class did not always get what they wanted, they were clearly recognizable as a single class, formed above all by their reaction to the people they feared the most.
Questions: How did changes unleashed by the Civil War create the bourgeoisie? How do you explain the elites’ contradictory stance on state power?
Quotes: “The upper-class supporters of the city’s Republican Party were overwhelmingly manufacturers, lawyers, and western merchants who had little to lose from a conflict with the South– or at least much less than the majority of merchants.” (93) “In this age of exuberant confidence, support for Tweed reflected economic elites’ continued belief in stewardship and a shared polity, while indirectly acknowledging the strength of labor.” (175) “These colleges and schools constituted networks in which national elites not only could transcend their particularistic economic interests rooted in the specific kind of capital they owned, but could also overcome localism and even build lasting ties to university-trained experts who eventually joined their firms as lawyers, managers, or engineers.” (240)
Conversations: Levine, Highbrow/ Lowbrow; Wiebe, The Search for Order; Bensel, Yankee Leviathan
+ 2003, Ari Kelman, A River and its City: The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans
In Brief: Ari Kelman shows the role that the city of New Orleans played in shaping the Mississippi River and vice versa. Kelman argues that as definitions of who belonged to the public changed, so too did different ideas of public space along the riverfront. The riverfront connected people to the river, but an increasingly powerful elite worked to sever this connection through remaking the riverfront into a more ordered commercial space, even as their goals were sometimes foiled by other residents or the river itself. Yellow fever outbreaks in the middle of 19th century or the flood of 1927 reminded residents that they were in fact never isolated from the the flow of upstream water or global trade networks that helped spread disease. Though Katrina happened after its publication, Kelman’s book helps to explain the hubris in regards to the control of nature that made Katrina into such a tragic disaster.
Questions: What is the relationship between public space and ideas about nature? How did the river contribute or limit democratic decisions?
Quotes: “Many New Orleanians believed that Livingston did not respect or understand the river, and they worried that if he gained control of the waterfront, environmental as well as economic disaster would ensue.” (48) “And for most New Orleanians, the persistent and unchecked power of the Mississippi and the steamboat explosions resulting in part from battling the river’s currents usually felt like little more than choppy water along the winding route to empire.” (86) “The riverbanks told the story of a city captivated by the potential of technological innovation and uncertain about the value of its once hallowed natural advantages.” (125)
Conversations: Morris, The Big Muddy; Klingle, Emerald City; Buchanan, Black Life on the Mississippi; White, The Organic Machine
+ 2003, Dylan C. Pennigroth, The Claims of Kinfolk: African American Property and Community in the Nineteenth-Century South
In Brief: Though considered property, slaves owned considerable property themselves, in part because of the underground economy that planters encouraged in order to gain more work from their slaves while having to supply them with less, but that is the part of the story that had already been told. Penningroth explores the connection between property and kinship, a mutually constitutive relationship in which social networks allowed for the accumulation of property while simultaneously reinforcing those ties. Penningroth draws out the importance of this relationship by showing its predominance beyond the United States on the Gold Coast of Africa, many differences notwithstanding. Simply put, people had to work together to claim property and, for better or worse, this served to bind them together. Such ties did not mean that they were bound within a harmonious community and that very property could find itself at the center of disputes. The limits placed on free black people in the South encouraged many enslaved families, real or imagined, to focus on property accumulation that could improve their lives rather than a contingent freedom. In the aftermath of the Civl War, freedpeople had to convince a northern legal system that their extra-legal claims to property should be legally recognized. They succeeded by incorporating legal notions even as their emphasis remained on the informal relationships that underlay their own experience of property, and when they failed it was often because of planters’ attempts to limit freedpeople's ability to live independently. After the war families grew in size at the same time that they became more clearly defined, while disputes within families often spilled out into public view, this only reveals the centrality of such a network to gaining property and the means to it.
Questions:What do disputes over property within freepeople’s families tell us about the relationship between kinship and property? How did families work together after emancipation?
Quotes: "And though colonialism and independence mostly stamped out slavery, they did not unravel the knot of kinship and property that slavery depended upon.” (14) “Although the claims officials and judges would not have recognized it, in the daily practice of making claims and disputes there was often little distinction between legal and extralegal processes in the South during Reconstruction.” (124) “Moreover, emancipation permitted some older folks to make grown-up children and grandchildren work for them, long past the age when masters used to put children into the ‘main crop.’” (168)
Conversations: Chang, Color of the Land; Miles, Ties That Bind; Holt, Making Freedom Pay; Genovese, Roll Jordan Roll
+ 2003, Michael Zakim, Ready-Made Democracy: A History of Men’s Dress in the American Republic, 1760-1860
In Brief: Zakim explores the capitalist transformation by showing how cheaper clothing production did not depend on mechanization or interchangeable factory parts–it was the management and control of labor that changed, along with the introduction of a few basic tools like the tailor’s compass. Changes in the way that men’s clothing was produced, marketed, and sold in turn reveal the relationship between capitalism and democracy. While homespun clothing was closely linked to the cause of independence and the revolution, ready-made clothing came to replace this ethos of household production and limits with a vision of abundance for the masses that developed alongside an expansion of citizenship for all white men. Women meanwhile were excluded from citizenship, with poor women laboring for low wages in sweatshops while middle-class women were expected to remain outside of the market, sewing for charity in home as representatives of virtue. Ready-made clothing at once revealed (not all could afford to buy) and denied class in its modest style, but the changes it represented also fueled the broader growth of the bourgeoisie.
Questions: How did capitalism and democracy emerge in tandem? How did capitalism contribute to a democratic egalitarianism?
Quotes: “Clothiers created a ready-made product because it matched the exigencies of a far-flung, impersonal exchange system.” (55) “But the continual enhancement of land values in the city pushed the cost of independent artisanship in Manhattan to prohibitive levels, thereby encouraging waged out-work.” (141) “This then allowed him to divorce virtuous women from capitalist production without sacrificing the republican equivalence of industry and virtue.” (184)
Conversations: Howe, What God Hath Wrought; Beckert, Monied Metropolis; Rockman, Scraping By; Glickman, A Living Wage
+ 2003, Steven Hahn, A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South From Slavery to the Great Migration
In Brief: Hahn connects the fight for freedom from the antebellum period to the Great Migration, noting both the communal foundations and the consistent political push for greater freedom. These foundations rested on kinship networks and religious groups that simultaneously empowered and represented freepeople’s goals for independence and community life. By the time the Civil War broke out slaves were able to expand their resistance and carry that momentum forward into Reconstruction where they campaigned for office, supported their claims to land with rumors, and actively fought white vigilantes. Indeed in the years after the Civil War politics was violent, and freedmen formed units to fight back and defend their families and wider community. The shots fired back or their strikes on plantations is part of the reason that Jim Crow was imposed with such violence at the turn of the century. This political struggle continued into the 20th century when the Great Migration returned political power to African Americans who shaped the laws of the Civil Rights Era.
Questions: How did networks and institutions built in slavery sustain a black political struggle? How did freedpeople fight back against the violence of Reconstruction?
Quotes: "As the Confederacy organized and mobilized to defend its newly proclaimed independence and the foundation of slavery on which it rested, new opportunities were opened for slaves to become better acquainted with each other and with the course of political events.” (67) “By drilling, marching, and posting sentinels, freepeople reminded each other of the risks they faced while offering protection in their numbers, warning systems, and weapons of self-defense.” (175) “The results would be seen not simply in the extension and reconstitution of black communities, but also in the changing social and political face of the country as a whole.” (465)
Conversations: Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage; Woodruff, American Congo; Du Bois, Black Reconstruction
+ 2003, Thaviola Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household
In Brief: Glymph looks at the plantation household and tears down the myths about plantation mistresses. Their frequent cruelty was used to shore up slavery even as their violence was excused and these white women were upheld as models in contrast to the black women who worked for them. The close contact between plantations mistresses and their slaves did not breed affection. While the Civil War served to wipe away many of the assumptions of paternalism, freedwomen continued to distance themselves from the planation household and to claim greater control over the terms under which they labored. Resistance ranged from the effects of gossip to physical counterattacks. Mistresses found themselves doing work for the first time and had to bargain for work, and though they could no longer inflict violence with impunity, racism perpetuated a double-standard about what constituted work or indolence. The only reason that black women did not leave these plantation households altogether was the importance of the cash they received for their families’ survival, and they continually fought back against the ‘ladylike’ pretensions of their tormentors in order to claim freedom for themselves.
Questions: Why have historians ignored the interactions and power relationships among southern women? How did freedwomen distance themselves from the plantation household?
Quotes: “Plantation mistresses did not have to be abolitionist-minded to deplore the seduction and rape of slave women by white men.” (54) “When parents removed them from white households, it was a matter of economic survival as well as a means of protecting them from abuse.” (173) “To dismiss the evidence of this politics as mere imitation is to miss or perhaps overlook the rules of consumption that buttressed slavery by keeping the inequality of black and white women on display, day in and day out, in myriad small facts and acts of denigration.” (205)
Conversations:Genovese, Roll Jordan Roll; Fields, Slavery and Freedom; McCurry, Masters of Small Worlds; Penningroth, The Claims of Kinfolk; Brown, Good Wives
+ 2003, Paul E. Johnson, Sam Patch: The Famous Jumper
In Brief: Johnson uses the life of one man to illuminate the changes that took place in the first half of the 19th century. Born around 1807 Sam Patch found himself working as a child in one of the country’s first mills in New England after his family failed at farming and entrepreneurship. Patch learned to become a mule spinner, tending to the delicate threads while also learning to jump off the adjacent waterfalls that powered the mills. As he moved around the Northeast, he became a symbol for an emerging working-class at the same time that many “middle-class” men worked to differentiate themselves or to privatize and control formerly public spaces. Patch became famous for his jumping skills in places like Niagra Falls, and it was in Rochester that he met his death in 1829 as he was too drunk to execute his jump. Patch’s drunkenness was part of a broader conflict in Rochester over drinking and the respectability that the leaders of the rapidly growing city sought. Patch gained fame from the proliferation of newspapers and this fame endured in his death as people like Andrew Jackson claimed this rough and tumble man for the Democrat brand and its own critique of the commercialization of the United States.
Questions: What do the public divisions over the heroism or banality of Sam Patch reveal about 1820s political and cultural life? How did the working-class react to the market revolution?
Quotes: “It called for bravery that verged on foolhardiness, but it required self-possession and a mastery of skills as well.” (39) “He had already learned to identify Patch with the followers of Andrew Jackson, who were upending the founders’ republic and replacing it with a noisy, plebeian mass democracy.” (92) “Celebrity is one of the materials from which people in democratic, capitalist America make their folklore and themselves.” (165)
Conversations: Sellers, Market Revolution; Howe, What God Hath Wrought, Miller, Segregating Sound
+ 2004, William D. Carrigan, The Making of a Lynching Culture
In Brief: Historical memory and rhetoric plays a key role in this history, whether in the erasure of memories of cruel violence in later years or when earlier migrants came to Texas: having heard about the violence they were prepared to take part in it. Mob violence built on itself over time as memories of past acts were commemorated and celebrated. Ideas about race influenced much of this violence such as in white settlers' desire to annihilate Indians in order to protect their wives and children. Violence against Mexicans was justified in the memory of the war against Mexico, and the brutal, extralegal methods of the Texas Rangers were praised in the collective folklore. White supremacy and violence built upon each other. As Democrats gained control of the state during Reconstruction white on white violence declined and use of the legal system expanded through the turn of the century. Whites used violence to intimidate black voters, while using the perceived and past wrongs of Reconstruction to justify their brutality. Disenfranchisement only made the state less likely to stop lynchings, while black resistance fueled further sadism. The lynching era ends with the 1916 lynching of Jesse Washington in Waco, attended by thousands, but also photographed, shocking the nation and leading white Texans to stop lynching in the interest of their reputation and economic development.
Questions:Why was public violence condoned and supported by so many Texans? How did memory encourage violence?
Quotes: “Instead, they shrouded the economic and political origins of the conflict by emphasizing racial and cultural differences.” (44) “Politics, not historical memory, had been the key cause of Reconstruction’s mob violence.” (131) “Not only did the law stand idly by while viewing the lynching but authorities, by failing to indict or punish members of the mob, also helped ensure that the event was not an isolated incident.” (169)
Conversations: Johnson, Revolution in Texas; Williams, They Left Great Marks on Me; Capozzola, Uncle Sam Wants You; Foley, The White Scourge
+ 2004, Jeffrey Ostler, The Plains Sioux and U.S. Colonialism From Lewis and Clark to Wounded Knee
In Brief: Ostler uses the framework of colonialism to understand the relationship between the U.S. and the Sioux nation and the violent process of conquest that underlay this relationship. An expanding U.S., built on the foundation of private property, could not coexist with the Sioux nation, and the results were relentless attempts at erasure of the Sioux that were carried out by the United States military. Ostler shows how the panic of 1873 reverberated across the content as it intensified the quest for material goods such as gold, which was a particularly vital commodity for the economy and the national debt and brought a flood of gold seekers to the Black Hills. The Ghost Dance was a social movement that envisioned white destruction even as it avoided violent confrontation. The Wounded Knee massacre resulted not only from misinterpretations of the Ghost Dance, but of individuals like Nelson Miles who wanted to show his military prowess and make a claim for military control of Native Americans.
Questions: How did the Sioux resist United States’ colonialism? How could Wounded Knee have been avoided?
Quotes: "After the Civil War, public officials were eager to reduce the army’s size, yet the army retained important commitments.” (46) “By contesting these principles, labor agitators, angry farmers, non submissive blacks, and militant Indians threatened to destroy the nation.” (60) “No one (literally) put a gun to their head, but there were more subtle forms of coercion.” (159) “Given these views, it is easy to understand why Miles saw the government’s authorization of military action as an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the capacity of a modernizing western army to respond to Indian unrest.” (305)
Conversations: West, Last Indian War; Rothman, Slave Country; Witt, Lincoln’s Code; Banner, How the Indians Lost Their Land
+ 2005, Tiya Miles, Ties That Bind the Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom
In Brief: Miles explores the issue of Native American slaveownership and understandings of race from the 1790s to the end of the 19th century. Miles focuses on the family of the Cherokee Shoe Boots and his black slave and lover, Doll, who raised their children. While Cherokees began to legally recognize white intermarriage, they refused to do the same with black intermarriage that was also common. Slavery gave Cherokees additional economic power and they also used their subjugation of black people to justify their civilization and to fight threats to their nation from white settlers and the state and federal government. As a slave Doll was denied membership in the Cherokee’s matrilineal network, however in 1824 Cherokee leadership conferred citizenship to their children because of Shoe Boots’s acclaim as a warrior. After the death of Shoe Boots and her own emancipation, Doll later successfully claimed a land grant from the United States government as the wife of Shoe Boots, a veteran of the Creek War. Meanwhile the Dawes Commission denied the claims of their son William whom they claimed was not Cherokee, a ruling based in part on the Cherokees' own definitions of race and citizenship even as other contemporary Cherokees supported William’s claim.
Questions: How did Cherokees seek liberation in relation to African Americans? How did slavery shape Cherokee identity?
Quotes: “Not only did Doll give birth to a slave, she also created a person who reproduced her classless status.” (63) “And Cherokee lawmakers solidified the identity of their republic through the definition and regulation of racial categories.” (108) “In contrast, Elizabeth Shoeboots’s inheritance rested on an enduring Cherokee respect for kinships ties and recognition of familial obligation across racial lines.” (141)
Conversations: Penningroth, Claims of Kinfolk; Rushforth, Bonds of Alliance; Snyder, Slavery in Indian Country
+ 2005, Adam Rothman, Slave Country: American Expansion and the Origins of the Deep South
In Brief: Rothman bridges the gap from the Revolution to the antebellum period, while showing how American expansion, the spread of slavery, and the expulsion of Indians was all connected. The growth of the slave economy further empowered the planter class, which was a key part of the leadership of the federal government, to demand military intervention and infrastructure investments while ironically using state’s rights to defend federally supported slavery. Though planters' search for profits drove the expansion, the scale of the slave economy and investments connected the rest of the nation to slavery. During this time freedom’s boundaries grew for white men, constricting for everyone else. The War of 1812, slave rebellions, the Haitian revolution all came across as critical threats to slavery, but the responses to these crises served to consolidate the power of slaveholders. Thus even as the Haitian Revolution realized planters’ worst fears, they used it as an excuse to further restrict the lives of slaves while profiting from the disruption of the sugar industry to build sugar plantations around New Orleans. State government further supported slavery with generous grants of the land forcibly taken from Creeks and other Native Americans.
Questions:Why the spread of slavery in an era of apparent freedom? What is the connection between slavery and Indian removal?
Quotes:“Diffusionism bridged the gap between the extensionists and restrictionists.” (30) “Local officials orchestrated the rebels’ executions to magnify the degrading and terrorizing effects of their punishments.” (114) “Plantation slavery shaped the physical, psychological, and poltical terrain of the battle even if it did not decide its outcome.” (148)
Conversations: Hudson, Creek Paths; Howe, What Hath God Wrought; Morgan, American Slavery
+ 2008, Karl Jacoby, Shadows at Dawn: An Apache Massacre and the Violence of History
In Brief: Jacoby moves backwards and forwards in time to understand the 1871 Camp Grant Massacre committed against the Western Apaches, by Mexican-American, Anglo-American, and Tohono O'odham Indians. The perpetrators’ motives varied from greed, hatred, efforts to assimilate, or long-running feuds with the Apache. Despite the atrocity, the courts provided no justice and each group remembered the event differently as part of their longer history in the region (though some groups had lived there much longer than others). Thus local Anglo-Americans used the massacre to both show what they had endured as pioneers and that it was now safe for people to take the railroad out and join their ventures. The O’odhams remembered the event as one of many conflicts with the Apache while Anglo development of the region limited their independence. Isolated on reservations, Western Apaches remembered the trauma of the massacre silently. And the Mexican Americans tried to use the event as a claim on their place alongside Anglos even as they found themselves marginalized in the borderlands by growing Anglo emigration.
Questions: Why did the Camp Grant Massacre happen? How did different groups justify their involvement in the massacre?
Quotes: “Economic growth, however, also invited violence.” (51) “If the stated goal of the campaigns in which Conner participated was to eliminate potentially hostile Apaches, the unstated goal was to call the Indians’ very humanity into question.” (113) “Mexican Americans found themselves nostalgic for a vanished agrarian past and torn between asserting a right to their land through violent conquest or critiquing such forcible dispossession altogether.” (216)
Conversations: Kelman, Misplaced Massacre; Blight, Race and Reunion; Johnson, Revolution in Texas
+ 2008, Hannah Rosen, Terror in the Heart of Freedom: Citizenship, Sexual Violence, and the Meaning of Race in the Postemancipation South
In Brief: Rosen explores three areas of violence in the years after the Civl War expanding out from 1866 Memphis riot to Arkansas and creation of its state constitution, and finally a broader study of sexual violence that the Klan and other terrorists inflicted on black families throughout the South. Rosen is interested in the rhetoric that preceded and followed these acts of violence. The white press could incite violence by decrying the destruction of a white manhood or targeting black soldiers, but the testimony by black women raped in the Memphis riot also served their own claims to demand state protection. Terrorist violence, Rosen argues, was not simply intended to kill and prevent black men from voting, it was intended to humiliate and to inscribe race as a marker that revealed an incapacity for citizenship. When white night-riders invaded homes and raped black women they sought to deny emancipation by undermining the ability of black men to protect their families and claim citizenship.
Questions: How did sexual violence in Reconstruction relate to the redefinition of citizenship? How did freedpeople mobilize the federal government to act in the South?
Quotes: “The visible and audible presence of black soldiers in public endowed with the trappings of manhood–guns, alcohol, leisure time, and power over others–challenged whites’ sense of privilege as the only urban residents who were ‘citizens’ and white men’s sense of privilege as the only ones who were ‘men.’” (49) “The debates over race, sex, and marriage that resulted highlight how gender and sexuality became instruments for constructing racial difference and inequality despite universal male suffrage.” (137) “As they destroyed the structure constituting the protective space of her family life, they severed her from protective relationships with family members.” (204)
Conversations: Williams, They Left Great Marks on Me, Block, Rape and Sexual Power
+ 2008, Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War
In Brief: Many, many soldiers lost their lives in the Civil War, over half a million, and proportionally it meant that few families were untouched by grief. For those who did not lose a loved one, there was now photography to bring images of the bloated dead into every parlor. Furthermore, as the Civil War led to the creation of a new nation and an expansion of citizenship, the sacrifice of life served to remind people of the cost of these gains and their own duty to the often anonymous dead buried in the national cemeteries. The process of identifying and burying the dead mobilized new bureaucracies while survivors also depended on such a system in order to claim the pensions they were owed. With so much death a new army of embalmers and clothiers mobilized to profit from the war. Given the brutality and scale of killing and death, soldiers no longer believed in the rituals of a calm Christian death that had been upheld in an earlier era of sentimentalism embodied by best sellers like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, instead they died for their nation.
Questions: How did the grief generated by the Civil War help to consolidate the nation?
Quotes: “To kill and to be, as soldiers, permitted to kill was ironically to claim a human right.” (55) “Advertisements in northern papers announced far greater variety and availability of wares both in specialty stores and in more general establishments like New York’s Lord & Taylor, which opened its own mourning department in April 1863.” (151-2) “Instead the Civil War cemetery contained ordered row after row of humble identical markers, hundreds of thousands of men, known and unknown, who represents not so much the sorrow or particularity of lost loved one as the enormous and all but unfathomable cost of the war.” (249)
Conversations: Hodes, Mourning Lincoln; Blight, Race and Reunion; McCurry, Confederate Reckoning
+ 2009, Seth Rockman, Scraping By: Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore
In Brief: Rockman looks at the range of people who labored for others in Baltimore during the early republic with the rise of a booming market economy and the decline of labor-intensive tobacco cultivation in the surrounding countryside. This boom offered few benefits for people who were held in slavery or free wage laborers who could not find enough work to survive. Slavery served to degrade all types of menial labor, while lowering the wages that people could receive, and term slavery forced more work from people during the most productive years of their lives. Yet this very insecurity and these low wages helps to explain the boom and the riches that fueled an emerging class of capitalists. The wealthy meanwhile developed a language to explain inequality in terms of moral deficiencies rather than any structural problems related to a fluctuating wage labor market, and those who made it to almshouses found work requirements there that further undercut wages for all laborers. While the dual presence of slavery and free labor explains much of this insecurity, other divisions were also used to justify lower wages such as the constraints on women’s work both in the jobs available to them and the level of compensation, since it was assumed that they would not have to support a family and could receive lower pay even if they did in fact have to support a family. In addition to low labor costs, Rockman also points out that the work itself was vital to the development of the Port of Baltimore or the sewing of dresses.
Questions: How did the working-class survive during the market revolution? How did slavery impact Baltimore’s wage-labor market?
Quotes: "No poor man looking for a job in Baltimore could dwell on the consequences of performing manual labor for wages alongside slaves.” (52) “Still, direct competition from enslaved women–whose owners advertised them even more aggressively–pushed free black women further to the margins of the labor pool.” (124) “As the city’s leading citizens came to see the poor as deviant, they began advocating measures that were neither liberal nor benevolent.” (229)
Conversations: Fields, Slavery and Freedom; Howe, What Hath God Wrought; Zakim, Ready-Made Democracy
+ 2009, Elliott West, The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story
In Brief: The Nez Perce, long on friendly terms with the United States government, found themselves in conflict following run-ins with settlers and General Howard’s attempt to impose a treaty and reservation life on all of the Nez Perce. In part this conflict was determined by local conditions, of greedy settlers or the younger members of Chief Joseph’s band of Nez Perce, but this was also the result of structural changes that occurred in the three decades leading up to the 1877 war. Thus West coined the term “Greater Reconstruction” to describe the unification of the continent, the spread of state power, and a debate over citizenship. General Howard, seeing the unification of his nation, failed to understand that there were multiple autonomous groups within the Nez Perce that differed on how to approach his demands. In a series of engagements and long marches, the Nez Perce nearly reached the Canadian border before being captured by the Army. In the process they find themselves up against the material forces unifying the nation like telegraphs and railroads, even if their horses and experience provided key advantages at further remove from such technologies. Excluded from citizenship, the Nez Perce is not a redemptive story of Reconstruction, yet Chief Joseph also used the higher ideals behind Reconstruction and public misperceptions about his power as the leader of Nez Perce to make gains for his people within the confines of a new nation.
Questions: How do you bring the West into the periodization of the Civil War Era? Why were the Nez Perce denied citizenship?
Quotes: “The treaty faction essentially accepted the political order of a reconstructed America; the nontreaties did not.” (74) "The double crisis of distance and disunion pushed government and business into an unprecedented marriage that was crucial to remaking the nation.” (180) “They faced a competitive acquisitive culture with many thousands like Frank Meyer who looked on every western resource as possible income once it was plugged into the economic network.” (263)
Conversations: Du Bois, Black Reconstruction; Ostler, Sioux Plains Colonialism; White, Railroaded
+ 2010, David A. Chang, The Color of the Land: Race, Nation, and the Politics of Landownership in Oklahoma, 1832-1929
In Brief: Chang ties together African American, white, and Native American uses and conceptions of landownership. The impetus behind the removal of the Creek Nation was demand for their land, but Creeks also found new ways to claim land in a changing legal and social system. Thus some members of the Creek Nation used slavery and the labor it provided, to gain access to more of their community’s land, and they also used slavery to justify the exclusion of all black Creeks from citizenship. Following emancipation small Creek farmers and black Creeks allied themselves against an elite group of Creeks who sought to claim common land for their own personal use. This trend only worsened with the Dawes Act as the federal government forced Creeks onto individual allotments while imposing race as a criteria that excluded black Creeks from the land. Other legal structures like access to credit made it even harder for the landless to become landed, but the discontentment of a growing class of landless Creeks, black, and white people served to foster new alliances that could contest such inequality.
Questions: How does a close study of the land reveal the connections between race, nation, and class? How did the contest over land unite or divide Creeks?
Quotes: “Defending their interests in land and nationhood despite their differences required Creek conservatives and black Creeks to do the work of nationhood rather than simply assert nationalism.” (64) “Credit and taxation policies and their discriminatory enforcement underscore the close relationship between class, race, political power, and landownership in early twentieth-century Oklahoma.” (137) “Discrimination in lending may have insulated some non-whites from foreclosure.” (194)
Conversations: Foley, White Scourge; Miles, Ties That Bind; Rothman, Slave Country; Hudson, Creek Paths
+ 2010, Angela Pulley Hudson, Creek Paths and Federal Roads: Indians, Settlers, and Slaves and the Making of the American South
In Brief: Hudson shows the role of roads in the expansion of an American empire in the early republic that ultimately led to the removal of the Creeks and Choctaws. For the Creeks, their paths were a geographic representation of both their ties to other Creeks and the supernatural. Roads were used for commerce, communication, and war. Creeks did not unanimously oppose converting their paths into federal roads as many elites sought to profit by it, whether from working on building the roads or by increasing business for their taverns or stores. The inequality generated by these developments only served to make the Creeks more vulnerable and more politically fractured; the effect of such fracturing was compounded by the fact that a unified United States made it harder for Creeks to take advantage of imperial divisions. As white settlers setup along the road this also paved the way for the later land cessions. Slaves meanwhile were put to work building and repairing the very roads, first laid out by the Creeks, that contributed to the spread of slavery into the Deep South.
Questions: How did Creeks' understanding and use of their paths shape the expansion of the United States? Why did the United States place so much emphasis on running roads through the Creek nation?
Quotes: "While each state, like the colonies that preceded them, continued to proceed largely independent of one another, there was an increased unity of Indian policy on the federal level.” (29) "As the crisis escalated, the paths on which such valuable information traveled through Creek country would also become a primary theater for bloody confrontations.” (98) "Similarly, he was willing to facilitate American movement through Creek lands if it meant that travelers would pass his plantations, taverns, and stores, buy his goods, and keep him well connected to the southern market.” (138)
Conversations: Chang, Color of the Land; Rothman, Slave Country; Taylor, Transportation Revolution; White, Railroaded
+ 2010, Stephanie McCurry, Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South
In Brief: The Confederacy was created as a slave regime with limited democratic consensus. Women and all the slaves did not have a say in its creation, and in some states like Georgia the Confederacy may not have even been supported by a majority of those who did hold the vote. Thus the Confederate state was built on extremely shaky foundations which crumbled from the inside out. As the Confederacy attempted to claim all of the South’s resources, women fought back as political actors demanding welfare support or an end to excess taxation, while reinforcing their claims against the state through their position as soldiers’ wives. Even as the Confederacy formed because of slavery and depended on it, slavery represented its greatest weakness. For one, slaves actively resisted whether through mass escapes or spreading intelligence through their own networks. Yet full mobilization also served to undermine slavery whether in the case where planters' slaves were impressed or in the possibility of making slaves into soldiers. The more the Confederacy recognized what it needed to do in order to continue the war, the more those facts served to undermine the basic premise of the regime itself.
Questions: How did women and enslaved people shape the expansion of the Confederate state? What caused the defeat of the Confederacy?
Quotes: "Implausibly, but according to the script, assertions of unity were made.” (74) “For Confederate authorities, the turning point in the struggle with their own citizens came early, with the passage of the Conscription Act in April 1862.” (123) “Southern citizens’ experience of a big state was hardly rendered obsolete with reunification.” (208) “The Confederate state’s willingness to concede slave men’s membership in the body politic proceeded from the need to establish accountability, to counter slaves’ treasonous activity with state violence.” (308)
Conversations: Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage, Bensel, Yankee Leviathan
+ 2011, Richard White, Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America
In Brief: The building of the transcontinental railroads, resulted from and was sustained by massive amounts of corruption and immoral dealings whether at the level of Congress or within the financial community that emerged out of the Civil War. The government provided incentives to build unnecessary lines which might have failed to provide a profit for some of their investors, while enriching the railroad tycoons who built the lines or other speculators who benefitted from monopolies that influenced land prices. On the one hand these tycoons required intelligent use of corporations to hide their profits and fool other investors, on the other hand, some like Leland Stanford were not always able to summon much intelligence, bungling his way to riches. When people came to depend on the railroads it was the government rather than the tycoons that had to pay to keep the railroads operating. In the process railroads also changed the way Americans understood space and time, while serving to galvanize a growing resentment against monopolies and railroads especially. These railroads were not only built at a great cost to the Treasury, but also to many communities through which they crossed, especially to Native Americans who had to contend with the settlers and buffalo hunters that came with the new rail lines.
Questions: Why were so many unnecessary railroads built? How did the robber barons profit from unprofitable railroad lines?
Quotes: “The new virtual world was, then as now, temptingly easy to manipulate.” (68) “The exclusive right to build a railroad was more valuable than an actual railroad in a newly settled agricultural region because an actual railroad in such a region would lose money until the population grew thick enough to provide the traffic necessary to turn a profit.” (212) “During the great boom of the 1880s, they had vouched for, and thus given value to, paper that investors would otherwise not have touched, and they sought to bolster this dubious paper with even more dubious reports.” (378)
Conversations: Hudson, Creek Paths; West, Last Indian War; Taylor, Transportation Revolution
+ 2012, William Leach, Butterfly People: An American Encounter With the Beauty of the World
In Brief: Butterfly People traces the tension between nature and commerce in late 19th century American life. Farms and railroads are two alterations of the natural world that are central to the rise and fall of the butterfly people. The farm not only places most Americans in close proximity to butterflies, it allows the butterflies to flourish with plants like milkweed and mallow. It was the railroads however, that put butterfly people into a life of contradiction; railroads made possible the destruction of forests and much more, and they also allowed naturalists to travel to new areas or to trade specimens among themselves. Railroads contributed to the loss of the family farm as industrial farms took advantage of the economies of scale made possible by the railroads. William Henry Edwards found himself at the heart of this contradiction, as his son supported him with funds generated by tearing apart the countryside. Edwards loved working with butterflies and yet his life also contributed to their downfall in West Virginia. This tension did not necessarily lead to a resolution or a choice–it just existed for individuals and society, though most people probably did not acknowledge it in the way that Edwards did. American life pushed people to seek out beauty as temporary escape, which could ultimately refresh and fuel their efforts within the marketplace.
Questions: How did the growth of the American economy foster and limit people’s interactions with nature? How did individuals resolve the tension between their admiration and destruction of nature?
Quotes: "In mid-nineteenth century America, both Brooklyn and Staten Island had an alluring mix of wild nature and rural topography, distinguished by fertile flatlands, handsome farmsteads, and ‘orchards abounding in fruit.’” (71) “Monarchs must have been flying back and forth for many years, but not until the 1860s and 70s, after Americans had embraced Western natural history that created a context (context is all, after all) in which looking at such things made sense, did Americans suddenly begin to observe the monarch’s habits.” (167) “Color photography created a tension between nonhuman nature and human nature, and so did chemical colors.” (241)
Conversations: Sutter, Driven Wild; Lewis, Transforming the Countryside; Rome, Bulldozer in the Countryside
+ 2012, John Fabian Witt, Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History
In Brief: Witt shows how Lieber’s code shaped the Civil War and subsequent conflicts even when it was violated. Witt also acknowledges the extent to which following these laws does not remove the danger of atrocity. On the issue of soldier exchanges following the enlistment of black soldiers, Witt lays out the balancing act that Lincoln faced between the suffering and 55,000 soldiers who died in Civil War Camps and the goal of justice that could only be obtained through winning the war. Lincoln’s moral modesty did not presume absolute righteousness even as it achieved that ends. Necessity sometimes meant that there were high human costs in the short term. The actors that followed Lincoln/Lieber used the law to their own ends even as they were constrained by it. Provisions in Lieber's Code specifically undermined slaveholders' contention that slaves as property had to be returned at the end of the war as previous customs had dictated, thus Lieber’s Code helped to lay the groundwork for a lasting emancipation.
Questions: How did Lieber’s Code contribute to the Union victory and the end of slavery? How did Lieber’s code lay the groundwork for Sherman’s march to the sea?
Quotes: “Slave insurrections, in this view, were the outward expression of a suppressed state of war that already existed on plantations across southern colonies.”(30) “If civilization abhorred slavery, it followed for Lieber that slavery could not possibly be protected by the law of war among civilized nations.” (227) “The American code had made the laws of war safe for the powerful states of late nineteenth-century Europe, just as it had for the Indian wars in the American West.” (345)
Conversations: Oakes, Freedom National; West, Last Indian War; Kramer, The Blood of Government; Downs, After Appomattox
+ 2013, James Oakes, Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865
In Brief: Oakes shows the strength of the Republican Party’s commitment to end slavery before the war, in which its leaders interpreted the Constitution as denying protection to slavery: the question of slaves as property or persons was up to individual states. Oakes makes it clear that the Republicans' anti-slavery stance did not make them abolitionists at the same time that they actively fought for the end of slavery that had led to disunion. Yet it was also the anti-slavery stance of the Republican Party that convinced the South to secede in order to preserve slavery. Only with secession did the Republicans establish a majority in Congress and find common ground to end the institution that caused the war. Fighting slavery also gave the Republican Party the moral capital with which it could continue the war and rebuild the union according to their interpretation of the Constitution.
Questions: What motivated people in the North to fight in the Civil War? How did the Republican Party come to embrace the fall of slavery?
Quotes:“They fully conceded that the federal government could not abolish slavery in the states where it existed, but they found ingenious ways to work around that restriction by making ‘freedom’ the national policy of the United States.” (22) “The problem was not merely slaveholders who rebelled; the problem was that the institution of slavery bred rebellion within the slaveholding class.” (243) “The repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act was uncontroversial among Republicans because it flowed logically from the principle that freedom was national and slavery merely local.” (435)
Conversations:Foner, Free Labor Free Soil; Witt, Lincoln’s Code
+ 2013, Stacey L. Smith, Freedom’s Frontier: California and the Struggle Over Unfree Labor, Emancipation, and Reconstruction
In Brief: Smith brings the West into the narrative of the Civil War and Reconstruction, revealing a world far more complex than the binaries of black and white or free and unfree labor. In California the state-level debates over slavery and contract labor ultimately led the United States to pass the Chinese Exclusion Act, with the 13th amendment outlawing slavery used as the justification for this unjust legislation. National discourses over labor and race were put to particular use in California where white people, black people, Indians, Hawaiians, South Americans, and Chinese all worked under different labor regimes. The coercive aspect of Chinese labor contracts, for example, could be used against them as people drew connections between race and an apparently expanding, but also exclusive definition of freedom. At the same time fears about granting Chinese more rights served to impede the expansion of rights for African Americans who tried to distance themselves from the Chinese. Changes in the economy heightened paranoia surrounding unfree labor as the mining industry underwent a transition to a more capital-intensive form of mining that limited the ability of small-scale miners to make a profit.
Questions: How did conflicts in California contribute to the limitations of freedom in the Reconstruction Era and beyond? How did a variety of coercive labor regimes lead to the Chinese Exclusion Act?
Quotes: “The state’s small population of slaveholders found allies in southern-born state legislators and jurists who, though they may have had no slaves in California themselves, were eager to defend slaveholding rights in the West.” (67) “Free men who bargained away their liberty and the rewards and dignity of their labor to their hirers, peons and coolies came to stand as powerful illustrations of the degradation of labor under the wage system.” (108) “Indians might be exempt from laboring for white masters as apprentices but they could not choose to live outside the market altogether.” (192)
Conversations: Lee, At America’s Gates; Foner, Reconstruction; West, Last Indian War
+ 2014, Christopher F. Jones, Routes of Power: Energy and Modern America
In Brief: Jones explores the origins of the transportation networks that bring coal, electricity, and oil into our lives. Jones wants to connect energy transportation with our energy-intensive lifestyles. Routes of Power makes visible the canals and pipelines that made a transition from organic energy possible and which in turn makes future transitions more difficult. While the building of a railroad or a canal might be a much heralded event, once in place a barge carrying coal becomes accepted, and ultimately forgotten. He believes that if Americans made one transition, then they can make another, but the next transition might be more difficult. The sunk costs of these networks encourage energy transportation on a massive scale and many people have a stake in profiting from such networks. Not just governments, but capitalists benefit from this system and they will not give it up lightly. In effect these routes of power exert an economic monopoly. Regardless of public policy’s source, whether it be referendums, legislative laws, or court opinions, Jones sees public policy as the key ingredient for ending our dependence on fossil fuels. These energy networks are so ingrained into our society that Jones does not call for their total abolishment, proposing instead that we funnel renewable energy through these same networks.
Questions: How has the creation of our infrastructure made us dependent on fossil fuels? Who benefits from these networks of power?
Quotes: “Canals, pipelines, and wires played a pivotal role in the creation of these sacrifice zones.” (12) “The river was further, ‘mineralized’ through its integration into a network with steam-powered electricity generators.” (184) “Yet an irony of the mineral energy regime is that higher levels of use are often correlated with lower levels of awareness.” (227)
Conversations: Taylor, Transportation Revolution; Mitchell, Carbon Democracy; Needham, Power Lines
+ 2015, Gregory P. Downs, After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of the War
In Brief: The Civil War did not end with the surrender at Appomattox, continuing for several more years in most of the former Confederacy. This continuation was a legal and political requirement that made it possible for the military and the federal government to help freepeople establish and defend their newly obtained rights. The military served as a witness and funnel of information to the North where politicians could learn about the unrepentant rebels. And this news was a major impetus for Congress to act. Yet Congress was also constrained by major financial challenges and widespread demands for demobilization, including by the troops themselves, which served to limit the presence of the military in the South. Where they were stationed, these troops made a real difference in the lives of freedmen and Unionists facing planter recalcitrance and Klan terrorism. Furthermore the presence of the military helped to ensure that states would be readmitted on the victor’s terms with full support for the new Constitutional Amendments as a condition of their reconstruction.
Questions: Why was an extended occupation of the South necessary after Appomattox? How did continuation of the war enable reform?
Quotes: “Once finally occupied, Texas presented many challenges as the site of multiple threats: Confederate, international, and Indian.” (27) “Although Northerners had long understood that slavery depended upon state support, many only learned during the war that emancipation, too, would require ongoing government action.” (44) "Rather than a counterpoint, the West remained a complement to the South; both regions faced deep challenges to the federal government's claims of authority and had pockets of defensible national sovereignty as well as large areas that were nearly ungovernable." (144) “The peace that had settled upon the South looked to officers like anarchy.” (154)
Conversations: Witt, Lincoln’s Code; West, Last Indian War; Richter, Army in Texas during Reconstruction
+ 2015, Thomas S. Kidd and Barry Hankins, Baptists in America: A History
In Brief: Baptists have mirrored and often foreshadowed many of the key conflicts in American history. Kidd and Hankins argue that while Baptists have been both outsiders and insiders, they have retained their outsider attitudes to the present. Baptists fought hard for the separation of church and state, and following the revolution and disestablishment they made their greatest gains while formerly state-supported churches suffered. At first this separation allowed them to argue that slavery was a political issue outside of the church, however antislavery Baptists in the South were increasingly silenced, especially following the slave revolt led by the Baptist preacher Nat Turner. The northern and southern Baptists separated, and remain separated to this day, though many, many other schisms have happened in the meantime. In the twentieth-century, future conflicts included fights between liberals and fundamentalists, who differed on issues like evolution, but nonetheless agreed on prohibition. Many people also tried to connect Baptists' freedom to find salvation with American freedom. Baptists experienced tremendous growth even as they fractured, and they can be found across the political, social, and cultural spectrum, leading to few generalizations about Baptists as a group other than their history of independence, specific baptism rituals, and their self-identification as Baptists.
Questions: How have Baptists reflected the course of American history? What explains the Baptists’ dramatic gains in membership in the United States?
Quotes: "The tide of religious freedom was rising, bolstered by Baptist appeals and a sincere desire by Patriot leaders to match the rhetoric of liberty with he actual practice of it (for free men, at least).” (63) “In spite of white southerners’ departure from the Triennial Convention, abolitionist Baptists were still frustrated with moderate northern Baptists’ unwillingness to cut ties with slaveholders.” (130) “The sermon became the classic articulation of the Baptist principles of religious liberty, separation of church and state, individualism, democratic polity, and freedom of conscience.” (179)
Conversations: Brekus, Sarah Osborne’s World; McCurry, Masters of Small Worlds; Moreton, To Serve God and Wal-Mart
+ 2015, Sam Haselby, The Origins of American Religious Nationalism
In Brief: Haselby’s focus on religion reveals both the unifying and divisive forces related to the development of American nationalism. The millions of settlers who lived west of the Appalachians by 1820, came into conflict with the easterners over the form of religion, over whether revivals or something less chaotic would define the religion of the frontier. On the frontier Haselby shows how religion informed both people’s passions and their ideas about authority–it was not the republicanism of the revolution that informed their nationalism. Eastern Protestant missionaries attempted and ultimately failed to impose their views, but this also served to define the ensuing conflict over Jacksonian democracy. Even though churches represented the most obvious authority in the frontier, its residents turned their understandings of sovereignty towards the nation to make their own claims against Biddle’s Bank just as they had come into conflict with the national missionary groups.
Questions: How did the religious conflict between the East and the frontier shape American religious nationalism?
Quotes: “The contrast captures much of the changes that came with the popularization of nineteenth-century American nationalism: from gentlemen speaking the language of universal rights to a commoner, a man of the people, presenting racialist theories of exclusion.” (17) “But it rose, and fell, on the Virginia Tidewater, where American nationalism was very strong, while the Church as a whole, flourishing on the periphery, remained indifferent to the American national project, well into the early republic.” (163) “One must understand that they were crucibles of nationalism and capitalism, that they excelled at organization and made historic efforts, especially through publishing, to bring the ‘good news’ of the nation to the world, especially the American frontier.” (234)
Conversations: Sellers, The Market Revolution; Johnson, A Shopkeeper’s Millennium; Furstenberg, The Significance of the Trans-Appalachian Frontier; Holton, Unruly Origins