Today's edition of The Scholars Speak comes from Anthony Kaye who teaches history at Penn State University. He is the author of Joining Plaecs: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South, a fascinating examination of how slaves made space in the Natchez District of southwest Mississippi and eastern Louisiana.
It's an interesting question. From a birds-eye view, I can certainly see how my account and Walter's can be opposed to one another. Walter portrays the South as the product of the vastmobility of people in the buying and selling of the slave market. I'm arguing that at the core of slave society was a profound sense of place in neighborhoods. The attachment to place seems like the opposite of mobility. On closer inspection though, my account and Walter's can be reconciled. The first thing we have to do is consider these arguments diachronically--how they line up in sequence in time. In effect, slave neighborhoods are an account of what happened after slaves left the slave market and how they repaired the social ruptures it caused. In other words, slave neighborhoods were created in the aftermath of the slave trade. We might say that, if you line up these arguments in time, slave neighborhoods follow the slave market. The accounts follow in another sense: the role of mobility. Slave neighborhoods, I point out again and again, were the product of slaves' mobility. Slaves created neighborhoods by going courting on adjoining places, making families on adjoining places, working and socializing on adjoining places. The key to the making of slave neighborhoods was the movement of slaves. Johnson is making a similar point about the creation of the South.
2. What primary document or documents do you find work best with students when teaching slavery in general?
I think slave narratives,especially the autobiographies written before the Civil War, offer the most vivid glimpse of slavery through slaves' eyes.
3. What primary document or documents do you find work best when teaching about notions of space and place in the antebellum South?
Indies, plantations were organized to minimize the distance between the tasks of work. Then I ask studentsto think like a slave, and think about where the paths of least--or best--resistance lay. Where on the plantation could slaveholderssee/not see slaves? Where could slaves see planters and
overseers without being seen by them? Where would you run away to? Where was plantation production most vulnerable to sabotage? Once students begin to read the terrain this way, they also get a feel for how slaves struggled with owners and their agents.
4. If you had to set up a debate about antebellum slavery differently from _Major Problems_, how would you do it? What would be in the principle contest or major problem? What would be the take home message for students?
Far be it from me to suggest that the major problem in the history of slavery lies anywhere but at the center of my own work. Another way of thinking about slavery though is whether it was a modern way of organizing society that anticipated many features of our own day or an archaic vestige of older ways of organizing society. Historians used to think about slavery as a holdover from Feudal society, but they have increasingly come to see it as an early form of modernity. But my narcissism is showing again (I've written a little about slavery and modernity).
5. What are you working on now or are there any of your more recent articles or books that would help students more interested in this topic?