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F O R E W O R D Christopher Leslie Brown I WISH I COULD RECALL NOW WHEN I FIRST ENCOUNTERED Winthrop Jordan's White over Black. It must have been in graduate school, when writing my doctoral thesis—the book is cited there. I know, though, that I did not engage it in an extended way. I dimly recall believing that I knew much of what White over Black had to say. The table of contents presented a familiar list of subjects I once had studied in an excellent two-semesterundergraduate course in African American history. We had discussed racial attitudes in earlyAmerica in some detail, but with a rather different emphasis: I had learned to think of racism as principally a product of slavery from Edmund Morgan's American Slavery, American Freedom. The work of George Fredrickson had taught me to see white supremacy in comparative perspective. I knew that White over Black had a different story to tell, that negative perceptions of Africans predated English settlement, that race had been there at the creation, so to speak. At the time, however, I was interested in late-eighteenth-century British attitudes toward slavery rather than the early seventeenth century, so neither the origins of race nor the beginning of colonial slavery mattered too much for my immediate purposes. This was a book, I decided, that one could knowwithout actually taking time to read it. That opinion depended upon knowing too little about it, too little about what the book said and too little about what it accomplished. I could not quite believe what I found when, at last, I decided to read White over Black properly a fewyears later. There was much that I did not anticipate. Even the familiar looked oddly new. The work was more varied, more subtle, less predictable than I had come to expect. One reviewer in 1971 had called White over Black "one of the half dozen or so best books everwritten in earlyAmerican history" (JackP. Greene, review, Political Science Quarterly, LXXXVI [1971], 481). Forty years later, with all that has been written on the subject, that judg- [vii] [viii] F O R E W O R D rnent perhaps should still stand. In the field of early American history , there is nothing else quite like it. The work endures, in part because of the prose. Fewmodern historians of any subject have written more gracefully at this length. It bears its elegance and erudition, rigor and wit, in near equal measure. That craftsmanship lightens the weight ofJordan's immense learning and unusual breadth. This range, that comprehensive vision, distinguishes the work, both then and now. More than an argument, or a point of view, White over Black insisted upon a shift in historical perspective: to know the making of American culture meant understanding the place of racial slavery in it. To do this, Jordan digested and distilled the state of knowledge on the subject, such as it was in 1966. Even more, though, White over Black presented the first attempt to tell the story in full, the first attempt to treat that early history of racial prejudice, not as a regional story, but as a national story, the first attempt to link English perceptions of and experiences with Africans to broader themes in early American history. Winthrop Jordan virtually originated the study of slavery and race in colonial America. The topic of almost every chapter became a subfield , subfields that nowhave their own scholarly literatures and their own questions. So ingrained isJordan's work now, its novelty has become more difficult to recognize with the passage of time. Some of what was new in the book was absorbed into later historical scholarship . On many subjectsit would provide the first word but hardly the last. Increasingly, parts of the work came to stand in for the whole, as individual chapters or passages were excerpted for textbooks or anthologies in colonial and American history.WhenJordan abridged his own work to publish The White Man's Burden: The Origins of Racism in the United States in 1974, he perhaps encouraged readers to know his work for its principal claims rather than by its depth, nuance, and command of the sources. On some topics, such as the origins of race and slavery and the development of scientific racism, White over Black shaped the terms of debate for many years. On other topics —the pertinence of sexuality to the history of race, the relevance of Caribbean history to...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781469600765
Related ISBN
9780807834022
MARC Record
OCLC
861793501
Pages
696
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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