Historiographyof Slavery


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Describes the changing views of slavery in the 20th century

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  • Historiographyof Slavery

    1. 1. Historiography of Slavery
    2. 2. Historiography = a historical narrative ► Three specific works shaped the way slavery was viewed by most historians and scholars in the 20th century with the latter two undermining many of the claims of the earlier one. ►
    3. 3. Three dominant studies ► Ulrich B. Phillips, American Negro Slavery: A Survey of the Supply and Employment of Negro Labor as Determined by the Plantation Regime, 1918. ► Kenneth Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-bellum South, 1956. ► Stanley Elkins, Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life, 1959.
    4. 4. Studies prior to these three ► Before Phillips most accounts of slavery had been written prior to the civil war. ► They were polemical, diametrically opposed accounts that emphasized the pro or antislavery cause. ► Phillips purported to be neutral. He wrote five decades after the Civil War. His study was recognized for being more scholarly and comprehensive than earlier accounts.
    5. 5. Phillips argued: ► Slavery was basically benign. ► Slave owners behaved paternalistically, providing for slaves’ needs in exchange for labor. Slaves were largely well-treated and content. ► Slavery civilized and Christianized the slave. ► Mutual affection existed between many slaves and slave owners. ► Slavery made possible a great elite culture. ► Slavery was economically successful.
    6. 6. Phillips’s biases ► ► ► ► ► Phillips seen as corrective to biased abolitionist historians. Praised for doing an empirical study based on voluminous plantation data and focusing on the effects on individuals. However, he chose his evidence selectively to reinforce his own prejudices and white supremacist attitudes. Sample comment: “Negroes ... for the most part were by racial quality submissive rather than defiant, lighthearted instead of gloomy, ingratiating instead of sullen, and [their] very defects invited paternalism rather than repression.” Dismissed and disregarded slave testimony such as slave narratives.
    7. 7. Phillips’s influence ► The study was highly influential. ► Accepted by white historians and white Americans in general because this benign picture helped ease guilt, made it easier to rationalize continued second class status of blacks and conformed to the popular conception of blacks in white American folklore: “docile, gentle, happy-go-lucky and childlike.” (Nuruddin)
    8. 8. Stampp ► ► ► ► Stampp’s 1956 book challenged most aspects of Phillips’s view. He also drew on plantation data but uncovered and emphasized many harsh aspects of slavery. Writing as the civil rights movement was winning legal victories, he rejected Phillips preconceived ideas of racial inferiority. “In documenting the widespread resistance to slavery, Stampp deflated the myth of a docile, infantile, contented, happy-go-lucky slave” (Nuruddin).
    9. 9. Elkins ► Writing a few years after Stampp, Elkins revived the “Sambo” image of the slave presented by Phillips. ► His condemnation of slavery was even harsher than Stampp’s, but he argued that the effect of slavery was to create the Sambo type. ► Phillips had said blacks were Sambos by nature so they functioned best in slavery. Elkins said slavery turned blacks into Sambos, and that this was tragic.
    10. 10. Elkins first to use “Sambo” label ► ► “...The characteristics that have been claimed for the type come principally from Southern lore. Sambo, the typical plantation slave, was docile but irresponsible, loyal but lazy, humble but chronically given to lying and stealing; his behavior full of infantile silliness and his talk inflated with childish exaggeration. His relationship with his master was one of utter dependence and childlike attachment: indeed it was the very key to his being. Although the merest hint of Sambo’s ‘manhood’ might fill the Southern breast with scorn, the child, ‘in his place,’ could be both exasperating and lovable.” The above is Elkins’ summary of the Sambo type
    11. 11. The Elkins Thesis ► Slave owners ruled without checks on their power. ► Slaves were cut off from African culture and language and were prevented from forming their own enduring family ties. ► Acting out powerlessness and servility (i.e. behaving as a Sambo) was a means of survival, but the result was internalization of degradation. ► Elkins compared situation of slaves to concentration camp prisoners.
    12. 12. The Elkins Thesis ► Underlying thesis—Slavery damaged the African American psyche and created a dependent, pathetic person who identified with the white owners or was too frightened to resist. ► Later scholars who accepted Elkins compared this idea to the Stockholm syndrome where a kidnapped person identifies with captors.
    13. 13. Elkins work was both praised and attacked ► Combined history and sociology so created interdisciplinary interest. ► The book became “required reading” in graduate schools. ► But in time, the thesis was both over-simplified and distorted. ► Came into conflict with political realities. Black Americans looking for strong leaders and to claim power in 1960’s and 70’s reacted negatively to this book (and later to Styron’s novel).
    14. 14. Rebuttal to Elkins ► “The Southern aristocracy created the image of Sambo to ease their own fears. They desperately needed to believe in Sambo so that they could sleep easy at night“ (Nurrudin). ► Nurrudin claims the same argument applies to those who were frightened by growing black power movement in the 1950’s and 60’s. They wanted to believe in docile blacks under slavery so they didn’t have to fear black violence and could believe integration could be staved off.
    15. 15. Rebuttal continued ► John Blassingame’s The Slave Community, 1972, 1979 presented a rebuttal as well. ► B. challenged Elkins by writing about creativity and resilience of slaves and their culture. ► They could sustain family and cultural ties despite constant oppression. ► The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, by Herbert Gutman extended a similar argument. ► Meanwhile Herb Apethker’s study of slave revolts argued for more extensive black resistance.
    16. 16. More recent scholarship ► In the 1980’s writers questioned the somewhat utopian views of slave culture and family life argued by Blassingame and Guttman. Slavery did weaken or damage these institutions, but not entirely destroy them. ► Some ties to African language and cultural were retained, but these were usually fragmentary. ► Slaves did establish families but autonomy was threatened always by the power of the master.
    17. 17. More recent scholarship ► Eugene Genovese and Eliz. Fox-Genovese argued  Slave’s sense of degradation could be mitigated by sense of place in master’s family—wished to think well of masters as children do of parents even when abusive  Slaves retained sense of dignity by developing their own cultural identity yet still living within master’s norms. This might mean adopting servile role while remaining courageous and resourceful ► Stampp, Bertram-Wright and Nuruddin all suggest that the Sambo response is more a mask, a ritualized response that the slave performed, than something that became internalized. Nuruddin disputes whether Sambo was the primary personality type.
    18. 18. Sources for this report ► Nuruddin, Yusuf. “The Sambo Thesis Revisited.” Socialism and Democracy online 34. 18 Jan. 2004 http://www.sdonline.org/ 33/yusuf_nuruddin.htm ► “A Survey of Slave Trade Historiography.” Encylopedia of Historians and Historical Writing. HistoryOnline.com 1999. 18 Jan 2004 http://historyonline.chadwyck.com/ info/demo_sc/supref.htm ► Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. “The Mask of Obedience: Slave Psychology in the Old South.” 18 Jan. 2004 http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/bwyattb/sambo2.htm