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33). Slavery was an institution, and as such, it had become outmoded in modern society of the time. Elkins feels slavery could have been viewed less emotionally and more realistically as an institution, rather than an ethical or moral dilemma, and this is one of the most important arguments in his book, which sets the stage for the rest of his writing.
In his arguments for his theses, Elkins continues, "To the Northern reformer, every other concrete fact concerning slavery was dwarfed by its character as a moral evil - as an obscenity condemned of God and universally offensive to humanity" (Elkins, 1959, p. 36). Slavery was a moral evil, and it is still seen as such. Elkins indicates society was becoming disillusioned with it at the time (at least Northern society), and that the institution needed to change or disappear.
Another of the important points Elkins attempts to make is that slavery in American turned out differently than slavery in other countries, particularly Latin America. He writes, "Every slave bound for Brazil was to receive baptism and religious instruction before being put on board, and upon reaching port every ship was boarded by a friar who examined the conscience, faith, and religion of the new arrivals" (Elkins, 1959, p. 71).
Finally, Elkins maintains, "The presence or absence of other powerful institutions in society made an immense difference in the character of slavery itself" (Elkins, 1959, p. 81). His arguments differ greatly from Raboteau's arguments, which center on the institution of black religion, thereby showing the presence of a powerful institution that directly affected blacks.
Each of the author's arguments seems logical and well thought out. There did not seem to be any logical fallacies in their arguments, or lingering questions that were not answered. This is probably due to the extensive research each author put into their work, and their overall understanding of American history. Their research and their sources worked to produce documentation that proved their theses and left little doubt in the readers mind that they knew what they were discussing and presented it well. They present their arguments logically, and there is no reason to question their results or their theories.
Each author uses a variety of sources to support his arguments, and would be expected in history books such as these. Many of the sources in both books are primary sources, taken from personal accounts, memoirs, diaries, and recollections of the time. Secondary sources in both books include manuscripts and journal articles, statistics, and other history works that cover the period.
Raboteau spells out his sources in the Preface of his book. He writes, "I have tried to investigate slave narratives, black autobiographies, and black folklore in order to gather, literally out of the mouths of former slaves, the story of their religious experiences during slavery. Supplementing these sources with the more traditional ones of travel accounts, missionary reports, and journals of white observers, I have attempted to picture the religion of American slaves in all its complexity" (Raboteau, 1978, p. x). The notes section of his book indicates the depth of research Raboteau did for this book. It covers 50 pages and shows a wide variety of sources, from manuscripts to oral histories and statistics. His use of documents of the time, such as diaries, memoirs, oral histories, and such is quite exhaustive and adds to the overall strength of this book. While of course some of these types of recollections can be skewed by time and memory, overall, they are reliable sources of people's experiences and feelings, and so they are reliable for their personal qualities, if not for their absolute historical accuracy. Using these kinds of personal memoirs adds a more personal note to Raboteau's book, and makes the experiences seem more real and emotional to the reader.
Elkins work seems more scholarly somehow, and not surprisingly, his sources reflect this. He uses a wide variety of primary and secondary sources, from judicial records to journals, historical documents, and manuscripts. He relies less heavily on personal memoirs, diaries, and such, and uses no real folk tales as such. His work has a different purpose than Raboteau's book, so his choice of sources makes sense for his work, as does Raboteau's for his work. Elkins sources seem impeccable, and there is little doubt they are reliable and correct. Both men understand how to conduct research and use it effectively in their works.
The evidence each author uses does support their arguments, and indicates the depth of the research both authors conducted. In Elkins book the evidence is primarily quantitative, based on his extensive research, while in Raboteau's book, there are both types of evidence, with quite a bit of personal anecdote, which gives it a more personal and often emotional note.
Personally, the Raboteau book more accurately describes antebellum American slavery, simply because it gives more description and memory of actual slaves and their lives. Some of the quotes from slave literature are quite emotional and powerful, and give a vivid picture of what it was like to be a slave in the South. Elkins work is concerned with the "why" of slavery, and gives a good foundation for how and why it evolved as it did, while Raboteau's book is concerned with the "what" of slavery, and why religion played such an important part in slaves' lives. They are simply two different approaches, and because of that, they offer different results to the reader.
In conclusion, both of these books paint a vivid and interesting picture of a disturbing time in American history. Reading them both gives a more complete picture of the institution of slavery, including the things that helped it form, grow, and even thrive in American history. Reading just one of these books would introduce the many facets of slavery to the history student, but reading them both gives a bigger picture, and thus, a greater understanding of slavery, and Americans at the time of slavery. Thus, both books should be utilized in a complete history of slavery, especially in the foundations of slavery and what make it "tick."
Elkins, S.M. (1959). Slavery:…[continue]
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