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Reviewed by:
  • Cabin, Quarter, Plantation: Architecture and Landscapes of North American Slavery
  • Maurie D. McInnis (bio)
Clifton Ellis and Rebecca Ginsburg, editors Cabin, Quarter, Plantation: Architecture and Landscapes of North American Slavery New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010. 294 pages. 49 black-and-white illustrations. ISBN 978-0-300-12042-4, $45.00 HB

Cabin, Quarter, Plantation opens with an essay by W. E. B. DuBois called "The Home of the Slave." Originally published in 1901, it is an excellent beginning to Ellis's and Ginsburg's volume on the architecture and landscapes of slavery because DuBois is able to give voice to the human cost of the "peculiar institution." Of the twelve essays in the volume, it is the only one that could be considered a primary source; the others are a combination of four previously published pieces and seven new scholarly works. Taken together, the authors hope the work will serve as both a teaching resource for professors and a spur to additional research among scholars.

The architectural history of slavery is still a young field. Despite decades of work on vernacular architecture, archaeology, and material culture, there is still a dearth of published materials from these fields that deals with human bondage in America. This volume thus promises to fill an important gap.

The book's essays cover a range of geographies, chronologies, and methodologies. Like almost any anthology, the editors comment in their Introduction that they were challenged by the proper arrangement of the essays. They considered chronology and geography but opted instead for grouping essays according to three theoretical approaches: agency, racialization, and standpoint theory. The first, agency, is well defined in the historiography of American slavery, although no longer a primary theoretical construct; the other two, argue the editors, provide additional routes to understanding the complexities of the landscapes of slavery. Readers will notice the [End Page 118] variety of their methodological and disciplinary approaches, with archaeological and vernacular architectural studies predominating.

Together these essays make important advances in how to think about the architectures of slavery by extending beyond the house to the yard, beyond the yard to the plantation, beyond the plantation to the fugitive landscape, beyond the landscapes of freedom to the geographic mapping of the United States itself. In making these extensions, the essays demonstrate that the entire landscape of the United States was shaped by slavery. These are essays that everyone interested in American history should read.

Much of the challenge in writing about the material life of enslaved African Americans is the paucity of extant structures and how comparatively few primary sources survive. It is thus apt that many of the authors in the volume are archaeologists. Those who specialize in the African diaspora have led the way in expanding our knowledge of the material world of slavery. The essays by Barbara Heath and Garrett Fesler draw from archaeological research in Virginia and demonstrate that for African slaves it is the area outside the cabin—that is, the yard and landscape beyond—where we can begin to understand the communities that they built in the face of enslavement. Heath's essay, although it appears nearly halfway through the book, is one of the few to offer a needed historical overview touching on such important topics as the regions of origin for African slaves, settlement patterns in the Chesapeake, and archaeological topics such as subfloor pits and yards.

Dell Upton's "White and Black Landscapes in Eighteenth-Century Virginia," originally published in 1985, is arguably one of the most important in the field. It is hard to imagine a volume on slave landscapes that did not include this work because so many of the other authors in this collection were influenced by Upton's methodology of close fieldwork and archival research and his articulation of a processional landscape. This determination to combine fieldwork and archival research is clearly evident in the work of several authors. Clifton Ellis's essay details the various plans that James Bruce employed in the houses of his enslaved workers in antebellum Virginia. Through careful examination of building details, Ellis argues that these structures clearly marked the architecture of enslavement despite the planter's attention...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-6832
Print ISSN
1936-0886
Pages
pp. 118-120
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-22
Open Access
No
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