Monday, November 06, 2006

Slavery and Reparations Reading List

Just back from the AALS hiring conference--as in past years I was mightily impressed with the people we met. Lots of thoughtful research agendas.

In light of feedback to my post on the report of Brown University's steering committee on slavery and justice, I thought that I'd begin a short reading list on slavery and on reparations as well. I told the Brown Daily Herald that I think the Steering Committee's report is the best single volume ever written on reparations for slavery. So for an excellent introduction, you might start with it.

In terms of slavery, which is one of the most exciting areas of writing in all of history in the last several decades, it's hard to narrow the list down. For a great introduction, David Brion Davis' Inhuman Bondage is probably the place to start these days. You'll also be interested in his series on The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1967) and The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770-1823 (winner of the Brancroft Prize for 1975). There's huge literature on the social history of slavery, as well as antislavery and proslavery thought. Couple of books you might want to think about here are Kenneth M. Stampp's The Peculiar Institution; Robert Cover's Justice Accused: Antislavery and the Judicial Process; and Michael O'Brien's Conjectures of Order.

I taught Ariela Gross' Double Character for the first time this semester, in a legal history seminar. I've been a huge fan of Ariela's work for more than a decade. After the class discussion, I was even a bigger fan. It was the best discussion I've ever had with a monograph; I think that's partly due to how rich the themes of the book are: how she uses legal sources to plumb thinking about slave character. Check this out, for example: she looks at lawsuits for breach of warrenty for sale of humans to gauge what were the ideal characteristics of slaves. There's a lot more going on in there; I highly recommend that you check it out. Along the lines of slave law, you might also enjoy Mark Tushnet's Slave Law in the American South, which focuses around Thomas Ruffin's opinion in State v. Mann, 13 N.C. 263 (1829), and Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp.

Memory is now a huge topic in the history profession. Memory among the public (what we might also call understanding) of the era of slavery and Jim Crow bridges the scholarship between studies of slavery and reparations. Probably the best single work along these lines is David W. Blight's Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. Some years ago, as I was struggling with my own work on reparations and feeling rather much like I was losing interest in the topic of history, I picked up Blight's book. It revitalized my interest in the historical profession. And I think you'll love reading it.

I also highly recommend Lois Horton and James Horton's Slavery and Public History, a volume of essays on public understanding of the Civil War and the era of slavery. It's further along the line toward contemporary politics than Blight. I love that volume and for people who enjoy Blight, you'll also enjoy the Hortons' volume. BTW, look for a great review of it in the Journal of American History soon. :).

Then we can start talking about the reparations books. There are a couple of classics: Boris Bittker's The Case for Black Reparations (1973) and Randall Robinson's The Debt (2000). David Horowitz' Uncivil Wars (2001) is the leading anti-reparations statement. As I've said before, I don't think there's a lot of interest in discussion. Raymond Winbush's Should America Pay presents a nice cross-section of writings, though it leans heavily towards the pro-reparations side. It has John McWhorter's important essay from the New Republic in 2001, "Against Reparations."

Then there's Reparations Pro and Con, which aims to provide at least rough justice to both sides. (And it also has a much more extensive bibliography than I present here.) Obviously, in an area as broad as reparations, no one volume can treat the issues fully.

Alfred L. Brophy


Blogger Robert Justin Lipkin said...

For a nation that keeps telling its citizens--mostly its poorer citizens--in addition to the rest of the world that responsibility is a fundamentally important moral obligation, it is sad to hear that that there is not a lot of interest in reparations. This indifference raises the question of whether innocent Americans have any obligation to repair the past wrongs of the American community? If our identity as Americans is to a larger transtemporal American community, shouldn't that community's transgressions be ours to repair?

11/06/2006 9:36 AM  

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