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Virginia Plantation Families and Their Postbellum Domestic Experiment
The Big House after Slavery examines the economic, social, and political challenges that Virginia planter families faced following Confederate defeat and emancipation. Amy Feely Morsman addresses how men and women of the planter class responded to postwar problems and how their adaptations to life without slavery altered their marital relationships and their conceptions of gender roles.
Conflict, Courts, and Change in Twentieth-Century Virginia
Women were once excluded everywhere from the legal profession, but by the 1990s the Virginia Supreme Court had three women among its seven justices. This is just one example of how law in Virginia has been transformed over the past century, as it has across the South and throughout the nation.
In Blue Laws and Black Codes, Peter Wallenstein shows that laws were often changed not through legislative action or constitutional amendment but by citizens taking cases to state and federal courtrooms. Due largely to court rulings, for example, stores in Virginia are no longer required by "blue laws" to close on Sundays.
Particularly notable was the abolition of segregation laws, modified versions of southern states’ "black codes" dating back to the era of slavery and the first years after emancipation. Virginia’s long road to racial equality under the law included the efforts of black civil rights lawyers to end racial discrimination in the public schools, the 1960 Richmond sit-ins, a case against segregated courtrooms, and a court challenge to a law that could imprison or exile an interracial couple for their marriage.
While emphasizing a single state, Blue Laws and Black Codes is framed in regional and national contexts. Regarding blue laws, Virginia resembled most American states. Regarding racial policy, Virginia was distinctly southern. Wallenstein shows how people pushed for changes in the laws under which they live, love, work, vote, study, and shop—in Virginia, the South, and the nation.
A Sympathetic History of American Spiritualism
A product of the "spiritual hothouse" of the Second Great Awakening, Spiritualism became the fastest growing religion in the nation during the 1850s, and one of the principal responses to the widespread perception that American society was descending into atomistic particularity.
InBody and Soul, Robert Cox shows how Spiritualism sought to transform sympathy into social practice, arguing that each individual, living and dead, was poised within a nexus of affect, and through the active propagation of these sympathetic bonds, a new and coherent society would emerge. Phenomena such as spontaneous somnambulism and sympathetic communion with the dead—whether through séance or "spirit photography"—were ways of transcending the barriers dissecting the American body politic, including the ultimate barrier, death. Drawing equally upon social, occult, and physiological registers, Spiritualism created a unique "social physiology" in which mind was integrated into body and body into society, leading Spiritualists into earthly social reforms, such as women’s rights and anti-slavery.
From the beginning, however, Spiritualist political and social expression was far more diverse than has previously been recognized, encompassing distinctive proslavery and antiegalitarian strains, and in the wake of racial and political adjustments following the Civil War, the movement began to fracture. Cox traces the eventual dissolution of Spiritualism through the contradictions of its various regional and racial factions and through their increasingly circumscribed responses to a changing world. In the end, he concludes, the history of Spiritualism was written in the limits of sympathy, and not its limitless potential.
Robert S. Cox is Curator of Manuscripts at the American Philosophical Society.
From Robinson Crusoe’s cave to Henry Selwyn’s hermitage, the domestic interior tells a story about "things" and their relation to character and identity. Beginning with a description of a typical middle-class interior in America today—noting how its contents echo interiors described in literatures of the past—Julia Prewitt Brown asks why certain features persist, despite radical changes in domestic life over the past three hundred years. The answer lies, Brown argues, in the way the bourgeois interior functions as a medium, a many-layered fabric across which different energies travel, be they psychological, political, or aesthetic. In this way, objects are not symbols but rather the materials out of which symbols are made--symbols that constitute the very soul of the bourgeois.
In a wide-ranging analysis, moving from works by Daniel Defoe, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Henry James to those by Virginia Woolf, Ingmar Bergman, John Updike, and W. G. Sebald, Brown shows that what is at issue is less the economic basis of class than the bourgeoisie’s imagination of itself. The themes explored include the middle class’s ever-increasing desire for more wealth, as well as Victorian women’s identification with the domestic interior and the changes that took place when they began working outside the home. Brown also examines the ambivalence of economically determined objects both as repositories of memory and dreams and as fetishized commodities that become detached from everyday reality. Does the bourgeois possess the interior and its objects, or do the interior and its objects possess the bourgeois?
British-Native American Relations in the Colonial Southeast
The arrival of English settlers in the American Southeast in 1670 brought the British and the Native Americans into contact both with foreign peoples and with unfamiliar gender systems. In a region in which the balance of power between multiple players remained uncertain for many decades, British and Native leaders turned to concepts of gender and family to create new diplomatic norms to govern interactions as they sought to construct and maintain working relationships. In Brothers Born of One Mother, Michelle LeMaster addresses the question of how differing cultural attitudes toward gender influenced Anglo-Indian relations in the colonial Southeast.
As one of the most fundamental aspects of culture, gender had significant implications for military and diplomatic relations. Understood differently by each side, notions of kinship and proper masculine and feminine behavior wielded during negotiations had the power to either strengthen or disrupt alliances. The collision of different cultural expectations of masculine behavior and men's relationships to and responsibilities for women and children became significant areas of discussion and contention. Native American and British leaders frequently discussed issues of manhood (especially in the context of warfare), the treatment of women and children, and intermarriage. Women themselves could either enhance or upset relations through their active participation in diplomacy, war, and trade.
Leaders invoked gendered metaphors and fictive kinship relations in their discussions, and by evaluating their rhetoric, Brothers Born of One Mother investigates the intercultural conversations about gender that shaped Anglo-Indian diplomacy. LeMaster's study contributes importantly to historians’ understanding of the role of cultural differences in intergroup contact and investigates how gender became part of the ideology of European conquest in North America, providing a unique window into the process of colonization in America.
Town and Society in the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic World
In the colonial era, Charleston, South Carolina, was the largest city in the American South. From 1700 to 1775 its growth rate was exceeded in the New World only by that of Philadelphia. The first comprehensive study of this crucial colonial center, Building Charleston charts the rise of one of early America's great cities, revealing its importance to the evolution of both South Carolina and the British Atlantic world during the eighteenth century.
From the Plantation to the Postcolonial
Bringing together the most exciting recent archival work in anglophone, francophone, and hispanophone Caribbean studies, Raphael Dalleo constructs a new literary history of the region that is both comprehensive and innovative. He examines how changes in political, economic, and social structures have produced different sets of possibilities for writers to imagine their relationship to the institutions of the public sphere. In the process, he provides a new context for rereading such major writers as Mary Seacole, José Martí, Jacques Roumain, Claude McKay, Marie Chauvet, and George Lamming while also drawing lesser-known figures into the story. Dalleo’s comparative approach will be important to Caribbeanists from all of the region’s linguistic traditions, and his book contributes even more broadly to debates in Latin American and postcolonial studies about postmodernity and globalization.
Returning Medusa's Gaze
Maria Fumagalli argues that, like Medusa's stare that turns people to stone, the gaze of the North Atlantic freezes its "others" into a state of perpetual backwardness, ignoring what does not conform to the story it wants to tell about itself. Across a diversity of texts, genres, and media, she shows how the Caribbean articulates its refusal to succumb to Medusa's spell.
In 1631, at the epicenter of the worst excesses of the European witch-hunts, Friedrich Spee, a Jesuit priest, published the Cautio Criminalis, a book speaking out against the trials that were sending thousands of innocent people to gruesome deaths. Spee, who had himself ministered to women accused of witchcraft in Germany, had witnessed firsthand the twisted logic and brutal torture used by judges and inquisitors. Combined, these harsh prosecutorial measures led inevitably not only to a confession but to denunciations of supposed accomplices, spreading the circle of torture and execution ever wider.
Driven by his priestly charge of enacting Christian charity, or love, Spee sought to expose the flawed arguments and methods used by the witch-hunters. His logic is relentless as he reveals the contradictions inherent in their arguments, showing there is no way for an innocent person to prove her innocence. And, he questions, if the condemned witches truly are guilty, how could the testimony of these servants and allies of Satan be reliable? Spee’s insistence that suspects, no matter how heinous the crimes of which they are accused, possess certain inalienable rights is a timeless reminder for the present day.
The Cautio Criminalis is one of the most important and moving works in the history of witch trials and a revealing documentation of one man’s unexpected humanity in a brutal age. Marcus Hellyer’s accessible translation from the Latin makes it available to English-speaking audiences for the first time.
Studies in Early Modern German History
Black Heroism in the Transatlantic Imagination
Across the centuries, the acts and arts of black heroism have inspired a provocative, experimental, and self-reflexive intellectual, political, and aesthetic tradition. In Characters of Blood, Celeste-Marie Bernier illuminates the ways in which six iconic men and women—Toussaint Louverture, Nathaniel Turner, Sengbe Pieh, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman—challenged the dominant conceptualizations of their histories and played a key role in the construction of an alternative visual and textual archive.
While these figures have survived as symbolic touchstones, Bernier contends that scholars have yet to do justice to their complex bodies of work or their multifaceted lives. Adopting a comparative and transatlantic approach to her subjects’ remarkable life stories, the author analyzes a wealth of creative work—from literature, drama, and art to public monuments, religious tracts, and historical narratives—to show how it represents enslaved heroism throughout the United States, Africa, and the Caribbean. In mapping this black diasporic tradition of resistance, Bernier intends not only to reveal the limitations and distortions on record but also to complicate the definitions of black heroism that have been restricted by ideological boundaries between heroic and anti-heroic sites and sights of struggle.