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?? B S ' JfLt Remembering Slavery Ira Berlin, Marc Favreau, Steven Miller, editors The New Press (Norton), 1998, 352 pp. + cassette, $49.95 For the past quarter century, historians of the Old South's "peculiar institution" have examined the slave experience not through the white filter of the slaveholders' perspective, which was once the accepted practice , but from the bottom up, through the experiences of the slaves themselves . The source material for this groundbreaking historiographical shift was not the famous nineteenthcentury narratives of exceptional ex-slaves such as Frederick Douglass (which once served the abolitionists' cause and consequently were somewhat suspect) but written transcripts of interviews with former slaves conducted by oral historians of the Federal Writers' Project in the late 1930s. These little-known narratives had long been tucked away in the Library of Congress and were seldom accessed by the lay public. Drawn exclusively from this unique collection, Remembering Slavery is a book-and-tape set of transcripts and recordings of historic interviews with former slaves who vividly recount their own experiences in bondage as weU as their personal thoughts on Emancipation and the meaning of freedom. For the first time the general public is introduced to the poignant voices of the last Uving victims of the institution that has most shaped American history. During the Depression, interviewers from the Federal Writers' Project spoke with hundreds of elderly exslaves about their lives in slavery and even managed to record a smaU number of them on tape. The interviewers, including such notable figures as Zora Neale Hurston and John Lomax, asked ex-slaves about everything from daily routines and ways of life to their relationships with their former masters and with other slaves. Both taped and written interviews document almost every aspect of slave life; they reveal how slaves were born, their living arrangements, what they ate, wore and thought, their relationship with the land and their daily triumphs and frustrations. Of particular interest is the way they also illuminate the subtle dynamics behind the development of a distinct slave culture and community; we see how bondsmen created and preserved their culture in the face of oppression. We see, too, their everyday forms of resistance—survival techniques that helped them to maintain a sense of control and dignity in the face of hardship. 210 · The Missouri Review As expected, the narratives underscore the cruelty ofAmerican slavery and the bitterness of its victims. One woman teUs how an abusive mistress crushed her head under a rocking chair, deforming her face for life. Others tell stories of serving as beasts of burden and of the excruciating ordeal of witnessing a family member or friend sold to another master. But there are also stories of happiness —of marriage and family, religious experiences, celebrations such as com shuckings, of bonding together and looking out for one another, of outwitting masters and overseers and of escaping or helping others to escape. We hear Civil War stories from a unique perspective— experiences by slaves behind Confederate and Union lines. Finally, we hear Emancipation described—and freedom defined—by the people who endured the worst oppression in American history. (BR) The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore Oxford U.P., New York, 1999, 286 pp., $25 The word "même" was coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins , author of the controversial theory that the gene, not the organism , is the unit of selection (The Selfish Gene, 1976). Dawkins argued that DNA is not the only conceivable medium in 'which Darwinian evolution can occur. He posited the existence of mêmes, nonbiological units of replication and competition that produce cultural evolution. Mêmes are abstract units of culture—concepts, images, instructions, stories, facts (or myths), jokes—anything that can be copied and spread. Susan Blackmore's new book, The Meme Machine, explores the possibility of a full-blown theory of memetics. With a blend of caution and boldness (she duly notes several fundamental problems in defining the nature of the même but then sidesteps these obstacles to pursue larger game), she applies memetic theory to some of the most controversial issues in evolutionary psychology and consciousness, including the origin of language, sexual attitudes, altruism, and the proportionately enormous...


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