Historiography On Four Works Written Term Paper

Length: 10 pages Sources: 4 Subject: Black Studies Type: Term Paper Paper: #3780872 Related Topics: Sojourner Truth, Concentration Camps, Antebellum America, 12 Years A Slave
Excerpt from Term Paper :

Blassingame presents his information in a more unbiased manner. Perhaps he was worried of being accused of bias because he was black, and so, he worked hard to eliminate it from his work. Whatever the reason, his book seems the most balanced and effective of all these works, partly because he does not moralize, he simply presents the facts, as he knows them.

Later he writes that the whites often felt they were giving the slaves everything they needed, and they should show more gratitude. He quotes, "The quantity, quality, and variety of food, clothing, housing, and medical care the slave received rarely satisfied him. The fact that another man determined how much and what kind of food, clothing, and shelter he needed to survive posed a serious problem for him."

This would seem to prove to be a serious problem for just about anyone, because the slaves had no freedoms and rights of their own, including the right to choose their own food and clothing. Everything was chosen for them, dictated to them, and decided for them, so their lives had little meaning because they had no control.

He looks at the Sambo myth, as well as the concentration camp thesis that Elkins believes, and came up with his own ideas about them. He acknowledges that the Sambo generalization existed, but he shows how it also applied to runaway slaves, and that they were extremely organized, motivated, and clever to be able to manage the semantics of running away, something the Elkins assertions did not take into account. He also agrees at least in part that the violent plantations were very similar to concentration camps, and resulted in demoralizing the inhabitants. He writes, "The plantation was a battlefield where slaves fought masters for physical and psychological survival."

Thus, he has some of the same conclusions as Elkins, but he presents them in a more balanced way, and so, they seem less outrageous than those of Elkins do, somehow.

His writing style is also very straightforward, and he always backs up his assertions with reasons and research that has led him to reach them. His book is probably the most interesting of all these readings, and of course, it is the most complex, as well. Blassingame clearly did enormous amounts of research, and it shows in this book, because it is the one that I personally would keep in my collection, in favor of all the others. Elkins book is certainly important because it was so controversial, but Blassingame's is more interesting to me, and it seems to paint the most valid picture of slave life, especially the importance of community in that life, than any of the others.

John W. Blassingame lived from 1940 to 2000, and during that time, he was recognized as a premier scholar on the American South and slavery. A black historian, he attempted to paint a more realistic picture of slavery and how the slave community evolved, and he used a balanced set of research documents, both first-hand and secondary sources from white and black southerners, to attempt to show the lives of the slaves. He taught history at Yale University, and worked their until his premature death at the age of 59.

In Nell Irvin Painter's "Soul Murder and Slavery," the author attempts to point out the full "costs" of slavery, including what she calls "tragic overhead" costs. Painter writes, "By focusing attention on women's lives, feminist scholarship has made women visible rather than taken for granted and queried the means by which societies forge gender out of the physical apparatus of sex."

She also believes history has largely ignored the family, and that many slaves suffered not only physical abuse but also sexual abuse, often at a young age, and this results in the term "soul murder" or the killing of the soul. She continues, "Abused persons are at risk for the development of an array of psychological problems that depression, anxiety, self-mutilation, suicide attempts, sexual problems, drug and alcohol abuse."

She also cautions against using modern ideals of


She maintains the constant abuse created generations of continued abuse in black families, and that it affected all of American society. She also soundly renounces Stanley Elkins work in the book "Slavery," disagreeing with most of his major points, including that of the concentration camp analogy.

However, Painter's own analysis is somewhat difficult to follow because it jumps between several subjects during the course of the article. She talks about religion, work ethic, gender, sexuality, abuse, and psychology throughout the article, and as a result, sometimes it feels disjointed and as if it is taking off in too many directions. Her thesis ties these items together, but it still is sometimes difficult to follow and discern as she flits from topic to topic and then attempts to tie them all together.

Painter herself is a noted historian with a doctorate from Harvard University. She has written nine history texts, and one of her focuses is on Sojourner Truth, who she discusses in this article. She has received numerous honorary awards, and she often lectures and speaks about United States history. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers -- the State University of New Jersey.

It is quite clear from her writing that she is a woman, and that may bring at least some bias into her work. She writes almost exclusively on black and slavery issues, and while she does attempt to see both sides of the slavery issue (black and white), her work focuses on the black experience, thus leaving her work open to bias and gender issues.

In conclusion, these four authors represent four very different elements of American slave history. The only one to totally discredit is Phillips, who writes from his own bias and prejudice, rather than true representation of African-American slave life. Phillips was the least objective and persuasive of these authors and his work was the least satisfying, as well. Painter's work focuses on women and family in slave times, which is often overlooked, and it proved some important theses, especially about the "soul murder" of those trapped in slavery, and how the brutal treatment they received often translated to brutality in their own homes toward their family and loved ones. This phenomenon has been studied in relationship to child abuse, and it is well documented, so Phillips shows she knows how to research and apply it to her own knowledge of history. If there is a weakness to her work, it is the inclusion of so many different points that add up to the whole, it can sometimes be confusing and convoluted for the reader.

Elkins work is quite fascinating, and his copious footnotes indicate he may have done more research into his subject than the other authors. His conclusions are a bit unusual, to say the least, and they created quite a storm when the book was first published. They continued to be debated for decades afterward, as well. It is easy to see how he came to his conclusions, because he proves his debates quite well, adding details of Africans and their capture, how they reacted to the massive changes in their lives, and how that would have affected them as they coped with their new situation in America. He does similar detailing in life in the Nazi concentration camps and how both situations led to dependence, patriarchy, and dominance at the expense of the blacks and their way of life. In effect, Elkins is making an argument for Painter's thesis, that the camps and the life of the Africans who were stolen and shipped to America essentially had their souls murdered, and they became new, unique individuals, dependent on the whims of others for their survival.

Finally, Blassingame's work is the one that most proves the author's points and gives an accurate account of slavery as an institution. It is balanced, it makes several key points, and the author backs up his assertions with research and study. While most of these works are valid, and are important to the study of slavery, Blassingame's makes the most sense…

Sources Used in Documents:


Blassingame, John W. The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Editors. "Nell Irvin Painter." Nell Painter.com. 2008. 12 May 2008. http://www.nellpainter.com/

Editors. "Stanley Elkins." Smith College. 2004. 12 May 2008. http://www.smith.edu/history/fac_selkins.htm

Editors. "Ulrich Bonnell Phillips." Encyclopedia.com. 2008. 12 May 2008. http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-PhllpsUB.html

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