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Author Archives: dannymillum


New reviews: inter-war Chile, Anglo-Saxon England, women investors and Isabella of Castile

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We start this week with The Cry of the Renegade: Politics and Poetry in Interwar Chile by Raymond Craib. Camila Gatica and the author discuss a microhistory of Chile that allows the reader to make uncomfortable connections with the current situation of the country (no. 2128, with response here).

Next up is Tom Lambert’s Law and Order in Anglo-Saxon England. Philippa Byrne reviews a book which engages with matters of identity and community as much as it does legal and social order (no. 2127).

Then we turn to Silent Partners: Women as Public Investors during Britain’s Financial Revolution, 1690-1750 by Amy Froide. Helen Paul praises a book likely to become a key text, which will make a good addition to reading lists about women’s history and/or the Financial Revolution (no. 2126).

Finally we have Giles Tremlett’s Isabella of Castile: Europe’s First Great Queen. Elena Woodacre enjoys an in-depth and approachable biography which will bring Isabel to a wider audience (no. 2125).

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New Frontiers in American Slave Revolts

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This post has kindly been written for us by Kathryn Olivarius, Past & Present Fellow.

No champion of American slavery had a larger pulpit or did more articulate and forward proslavery ideology than Senator John C. Calhoun, the former Vice-President and darling of South Carolina’s planter class.[1] With his “positive good” thesis, he was the first Southerner of national eminence to say openly in Congress what historian Richard Hofstadter claimed, “almost all the white South had come to feel.”[2] In 1838, Calhoun claimed “a mysterious Providence” had brought African slaves to America. The parallel lives of blacks and whites had “secured the peace and happiness of both… Each had improved; the inferior greatly… [Achieving] a degree of civilization never before attained by the black race in any age or country.” Calhoun continued, “Every plantation is a little community with the master at its head, who concentrates in himself the united interests of capital and labor, of which he is the common representative.” These small communities “aggregated make the State in all, whose action, labor, and capital is equally represented and perfectly harmonized.”[3]

Calhoun enslaved hundreds of people during his lifetime. It is highly doubtful that the people he owned—working under threat of physical, sexual, and psychological violence—would have echoed his idea that the plantation was “perfectly harmonized.” Moreover, it was not a “mysterious providence” that brought Africans to the Americans. Rather, it was thousands of human beings, working at all levels of the vast imperial trans-Atlantic slave trade who unwillingly carried 12 million Africans to the Americas, over 300,000 of whom landed on North American shores.[4] And despite Calhoun’s pious pronouncements, the plantation and larger system of American unfreedom was anything but “peaceful.” Generations of black Americans lived and worked their entire lives in bondage, with no chance at freedom, all to increase the capital—social, political, and economic—of whites.

The “peace” was disrupted in other ways, too. During the period of American slavery (1619 to 1865), hundreds of slave revolts took place – moments of black-on-white violence where enslaved blacks armed themselves, marched on cities, killed whites, destroyed property and crops, and demanded that the ideas of the American Revolution, colour-blind in rhetoric, could be so in fact.

Slave resistance has long been a focus of historical attention. Enslaved persons worked slowly, feigned sickness, ran away, poisoned their masters, and broke machinery. Some slaves (especially women) committed suicide and infanticide and induced abortions – desperate to save their kin from a lifetime of brutality.[5]

Slave revolts, however, have garnered the most historiographical attention, perhaps because they were often violent, white people wrote a great deal about them, and they caused widespread social panic. Moreover, they also almost always ended in extreme legal and extra-legal retribution which saw dozens if not hundreds of allegedly-involved slaves executed.

Historians such as Herbert Aptheker’s American Negro Slave Revolts (1943) to Eugene Genovese’s From Rebellion to Revolution (1992) to Junius P. Rodriguez’s Encyclopedia of Slave Resistance and Rebellion (2007) have chronicled between 200 and 300 individual slave revolts that took place in mainland North America, firmly situating these events within a larger Caribbean and South American nexus. Other historians have analysed the motivations of slaves who chose to rise up. Echoing the assertion of C. L. R. James that “Voodoo was the medium of the conspiracy” in Haiti (1791 to 1803), Virgin Islands (1790s), and Afro-Cuban rebellions (1820 to 1847), historian William Suttles described how African religious traditions infused insurrections in the United States.[6]

Certain large slave revolts have been analysed in great detail. Recent books about the 1739 rebellion in Stono, South Carolina (at least 86 people killed in punishment)[7], the 1811 German Coast uprising in Louisiana (over 200 people involved)[8], and Nat Turner’s 1831 revolt in Southampton, Virginia (55-65 people killed by the insurgents; perhaps 200 blacks killed by mobs in retaliation)[9] have shown that slaves were highly organized and animated by the actions of slaves elsewhere. Certain revolting slaves like Gabriel Prosser of Richmond, Virginia (1800) and Cinqué of the Amistad rebellion (1839) are now American folk heroes. These rebellious men have been described in mythic, even romantic terms for their actions against a brutal white supremacist regime and the inspiration that they offered to others.

Considering that American slavery lasted for almost two-hundred and fifty years, involved millions of people, was legal (at times) in every American colony and state, penetrated every industry in both cities and rural districts, dictated that in some regions (particularly in cotton and sugar growing districts of the Mississippi River Valley and Carolina Low Country) black people outnumbered whites by over 100 to one, geographically spanned tens of thousands of square miles, and was a brutally violent system, some historians have expressed surprise that only between 200 and 300 revolts occurred. As historian Peter Kolchin wrote in 1987, most “revolts and conspiracies…were minor incidents of unrest that were quickly put down with a minimum of local force or were nipped in the bud before they occurred. Other historians have been more impressed with the paucity than with the ubiquity of American slave revolts.” Kolchin concluded that in comparison with their “Russian counterparts,” American slave rebellions were “small-scale affairs.”[10]

Though future generations of historians have revised the number of slave revolts and their impact on American history, certain questions have persisted: Why were there not many more successful revolts in the United States? Why were there not more Nat Turners? Why were most revolts so easily suppressed? Why were they, apparently, so often betrayed by fellow slaves, free blacks, and poor whites?

These questions run the risk of assigning blame to enslaved persons for not resisting oppression “adequately.” They also privilege insurrection over other, perhaps more personally successful, forms of resistance like running away. Moreover, such questions suggest that slave revolts were only “successful” if they permanently abolished slavery, as in the Haitian Revolution.

But this is an extremely high bar. Perhaps we should be asking a different set of questions: What was a slave revolt? How many people needed to be involved? What legal and social structures existed to curtail more slaves from revolting? Must there have been an ideological, abolitionist component for it to have been a slave revolt? Does our conception of slave revolts change if free blacks or whites were involved? Were there places where slaves were more likely to revolt? What conditions (geographic, climatic, demographic) were more likely to spark a revolt? Why were slave revolts often male-dominated events?

Most of all, historians can shed light on this form of resistance by looking beyond the most famous insurrections to the smaller and often more idiosyncratic patchwork of revolts staged in America. Over the last few years, I have assembled a spreadsheet of every slave revolt that I have found reference to in the archives: in letters, insurance claims, state documents, municipal records, court minutes, doctor’s ledgers, slave narratives, and newspapers. The recent expansion of digitized newspaper and primary source databases has made it possible to trace the wider impact of such events within the South and the larger nation.

I have identified well over 350 discrete actions that we could call “slave revolts” – events that involved three or more people, organised with the express purpose of killing whites, achieving personal or group freedom, pillaging, causing physical damage to property, personal enrichment, or ending slavery altogether. Not all revolts meet all of those criteria. My revolt database is ever evolving, especially as it is difficult to determine whether a revolt was real or just imagined. (Historians are faced with the nearly impossible task of triangulating “truth” from a wide range of rumours, biased sources, and dispatches – almost all of them written by whites seeking to justify their fears and violent retaliation.) But in expanding our definition of slave revolts, we can see that enslaved persons—like all persons—were animated by a wide range of personal and ideological motives and were well-aware of events like the Haitian Revolution, even on isolated plantations.

For example, in December of 1837, a “vague report” in various newspapers across the country that over 50 slaves, free people of colour, and whites were involved in a plot in Alexandria, Louisiana.[11] The (nameless) leader was allegedly seeking revenge after being moved from house to field work. Apparently, the plan was to coordinate an attack from various plantations, kill all the white men but spare the women and children, loot and destroy the surrounding plantations, and march on New Orleans – the region’s economic, cultural, social, and political hub. The plot, however, was betrayed by a slave named Lewis, belonging to Mr Compton of Rapides Parish, who was granted his freedom and $1,500. The rebellious slaves were condemned by an extra-judicial “vigilance” committee comprised of 12 of the area’s “most influential citizens.” At least nine slaves were hung and probably 50 were imprisoned.

This instance shows that slaves revolted for a plethora of evolving reasons. Indeed, slaves revolting together could have very different reasons for joining on. This instance 1837 also illustrates the strong limitations historians face in investigating slave revolts. Was this an actual revolt? Or was this just white imagination run amok, in a frenzy of fear? As the vigilance committee almost certainly used torture to exact confessions, can historians use their “evidence” or even consider the confessions reliable? Could the informing slave have made the whole thing up in order to gain his freedom?

Slave revolts were one end of a spectrum of resistance – moments that often remain vague in the historical record and nearly impossible to substantiate. The fact that they happened at all (not that they happened infrequently)—with uprising slaves knowing almost certainly that they would die—shows just how totalizing and brutal American slavery was. But revolts, even imaginary ones, offer a window into the psyche of this region, betraying exactly what whites were most fearful of. Most of all, revolts open a door into the often-elusive slave experience, showing how slaves communicated across plantations, absorbed news of revolts far away, and identified and exploited the vulnerabilities of America’s slave system.

[1] Eugene Genovese, The World the Slaveholders Made, Two Essays in Interpretation (New York, 1969), 136.

[2] Richard Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition: and the Men Who Made It (New York, 1948), 78; John C. Calhoun, ‘Speech on Slavery,’ U.S. Senate, Congressional Globe, 24th Congress, 24th Congress, 2nd Sess. (February 6, 1837), 157-159.

[3] Calhoun, ‘Speech of January 10, 1838,’ from Eric McKitrick, Slavery Defended: Views of the Old South (Englewood Cliffs, 1963), 19.

[4] Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, slavevoyages.org.

[5] Herbert Aptheker, “American Negro Slave Revolts,” Science & Society, vol. 1, no. 4 (Summer, 1937), 512-38; Carolyn Fick, The Making of Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution from Below (Knoxville, Tenn., 1990), 48.

[6] C. L. R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (New York, 1963), 86; William Suttles, “African Religious Survivals as Factors in American Slave Revolts,” Journal of Negro History, vol. 56, No. 2 (April, 1971), 97-104.

[7] Jack Shuler, Calling Out Liberty: The Stono Slave Rebellion and the Universal Struggle for Human Rights (Jackson, Miss., 2009); Peter Charles Hoffer, Cry Liberty: The Great Stono River Slave Rebellion of 1739 (Oxford, 2010).

[8] Daniel Rasmussen, American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt (New York, 2011); Albert Thrasher, On to New Orleans! Louisiana’s Heroic 1811 Slave Revolt (New Orleans, 1995);

[9] Patrick Breen, The Land Shall Be Deluged in Blood: A New History of the Nat Turner Revolt (New York, 2015); David Allmendinger, Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton County (Baltimore, 2014).

[10] Peter Kolchin, Unfree Labor: American Slavery and Russian Serfdom (Cambridge, Mass., 1987), 250.

[11] See for example, “From the National Intelligencer,” Vermont Phoenix, 3 November 1837.

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New reviews: Naval impressment, war satire, Mughal culture, Irish charity

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We start this week with Poseidon’s Curse: British Naval Impressment and Atlantic Origins of the American Revolution by Christopher Magra. Paul Gilje and the author discuss a well written, carefully organized, and deeply researched book which perhaps takes the evidence too far (no. 2124, with response here).

Next up is Lesley Milne’s Laughter and War: Humorous-Satirical Magazines in Britain, France, Germany and Russia 1914-1918. Pip Gregory enjoys a book which offers a well written overview of the humour of four nations during the Great War (no. 2123).

Then we turn to Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court by Audrey Truschke. dmond Smith praises an evocative, expertly researched book that brings the collaborative, sometimes combative, world of translation to life (no. 2122).

Finally we have Karen Sonnelitter’s Charity Movements in Eighteenth-Century Ireland. Philanthropy and Improvement. James Kelly reviews an engaging study of the improving and charitable impulses of the 18th century (no. 2121).

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New reviews: Russian Empire, New York, Siberia and frontiers

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We start this week with The Russian Empire 1450-1801 by Nancy Shields Kollmann, as Orel Beilinson and the author discuss a masterpiece of equal value to specialists and the general public (no. 2120, with response here).

Next up is Tyler Anbinder’s City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York. Jonathan Wilson recommends a book which is likely to remain a standard work of reference for many years (no. 2119).

Then we turn to A Prison Without Walls: Eastern Siberian Exile in the Last Years of Tsarism by Sarah Badcock. Jonathan Smele praises a notable achievement that will be of interest to scholars of tsarist and Soviet Russia (no. 2118).

Finally we have a response by author Gregory Evans Dowd to last week’s review of  Groundless: Rumors, Legends, and Hoaxes on the Early American Frontier (response to no. 2115) .

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New reviews: Henry VII, medieval marriage, frontier rumours and mass tourism

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We start this week with Henry VII’s New Men and the Making of Tudor England by Steven Gunn, as Christine Carpenter praises a long-awaited book of breathtaking scholarship and thoroughness (no. 2117).

Next up is Philip Reynolds’ How Marriage Became One of the Sacraments: The Sacramental Theology of Marriage from its Medieval Origins to the Council of Trent. Wolfgang Müller and the author discuss a magisterial and comprehensive guide to Western theological reflection (no. 2116, with response here).

Then we turn to Groundless: Rumors, Legends, and Hoaxes on the Early American Frontier by Gregory Evans Dowd. Asheesh Siddique believes this book innovatively reorients the narrative of colonization and conquest in early North America (no. 2115).

Finally we cover a new digital resource, Leisure, Travel and Mass Culture – The History of Tourism. Susan Barton enjoys a fascinating collection of sources for researchers, students and teachers of travel and tourism (no. 2114).

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New reviews: 1960s, peace, Heligoland and Eisenhower

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We start this week with Christopher Strains’s The Long Sixties: America 1955-1973. Louisa Hotson praises a textbook that lives up to the best ideals of the genre (no. 2113).

Next up is a review of the current Imperial War Museum exhibition People Power: Fighting for Peace. Alison Wilcox reviews this depiction of the history of peace movements and the anti-war cause (no. 2112).

Then we turn to Heligoland: Britain, Germany, and the Struggle for the North Sea by Jan Rüger. John R. Davis believes the reader of Rüger’s volume will be fascinated, surprised, horrified and moved (no. 2111).

Finally we have a response by author David Haven Blake to last week’s review by Thomas Tunstall Allcock of Liking Ike: Eisenhower, Advertising and the Rise of Celebrity Politics (response to no. 2107)

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4,027 Parliamentarians, with added XML

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Wencelas Hollar image: Earl of Essex on his own. [Wikimedia Commons]

This post has kindly been written for us by Dr Philip Carter, Head of IHR Digital.

This week the Institute of Historical Research published a remarkable new biographical work, charting the lives of 4,027 officers who fought for Parliament during the first English Civil War of 1642-46. The Cromwell Association Online Directory of Parliamentarian Army Officers is a work of extensive scholarship which promises to transform historians’ understanding of those who took up arms against Charles I.

The Directory appears as a searchable and browsable text within British History Online (BHO), the IHR’s digital library of key printed and primary and secondary sources in medieval and early modern British and Irish history. It recreates the lives and military careers of many hundreds of previously little-known Parliamentarian officers, with a particular focus on the years 1642–45 before the creation of the New Model Army. Entries range from a sentence for the most obscure individuals to close to 1,000 words for major figures.

Where known, information is provided on family background and social networks, as well as details of the armies in which each officer served and the sources used to assemble a life. These biographies are freely available via British History Online and are published using a Creative Commons licence which also permits the downloading of the full text in its XML-mark up version. With this, historians will be able to undertake new research by searching and grouping the officers by age during military service, the armies in which they served and other attributes.

The Directory has been prepared for publication by the British History Online editorial team, who are members of the IHR’s Digital research department. The new collection is one example of a growing number of titles added to BHO as ‘born-digital’ resources – works created specifically for online publication or which, having existed online in other formats, now find a permanent home as part of this widely-used resource for the study of British and Irish history.

Similar titles recently added to BHO include The Court of Chivalry database which records trials brought for defamation and insult during the 1630s. Born-digital publications of this kind highlight the increasing importance attached to preserving and promoting web-based research, together with BHO’s contribution to digital sustainability for completed and current projects.

The Cromwell Association Directory of Parliamentarian Army Officers was launched on 17 May at an event organised jointly by the IHR and the Cromwell Association and held at the Institute. Research and publication was funded by the Cromwell Association with generous assistance from the Marc Fitch Fund and the Aurelius Trust. You can read more about the research for and aims of the project in Lives of the Civil War by the Directory’s general editor Dr Stephen K. Roberts.

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New reviews: China, drink, reformations and Ike

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We kick off with Robert Bickers’ epic Out of China: How the Chinese Ended the Era of Western Domination. Phoebe Chow tackles a well-written, exciting and important book on the Sino-Western relationship (no. 2108).

Next up is A History of Drink and the English, 1500-2000 by Paul Jennings. Pam Lock praises a valuable addition to drink history literature which provides a much-needed introduction to the subject (no. 2110).

Then we turn to Carlos Eire’s Reformations: the Early Modern World, 1450-1650. Sam Kennerley finds this volume provides a readable and stimulating overview of European history between 1450 and 1650 (no. 2109).

Finally, we have Liking Ike: Eisenhower, Advertising, and the Rise of Celebrity Politics by David Haven Blake. Thomas Tunstall Allcock enjoys a book which prompts the reader to consider how we choose our political leaders and the means by which the foundations of presidential images are created (no. 2107).

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New reviews: Southern slaveholders, pied-noirs and harkis, naval families and royal confessors

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We start with Matthew Karp’s This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy. David Tiedemann explores a good example of how to combine a study of American ideas about world power, and the global economy, with a study of federal policy (no. 2106).

Next up is From Empire to Exile: History and Memory Within the Pied-Noir and Harki Communities by Claire Eldridge. Sung eun Choi believes this book will remain indispensable reading for those interested in the role played by memory in decolonization (no. 2105).

Then we turn to Ellen Gill’s Naval Families, War and Duty in Britain, 1740-1820. Catherine Beck recommends this book to anyone looking to incorporate a naval dimension to 18th-century patriotism, family and friendship (no. 2104).

Finally, we have Voices of Conscience: Royal Confessors and Political Counsel in Seventeenth-Century Spain and France by Nicole Reinhardt. Jonathan Dewald praises a fine exploration of political advice-giving in the early modern centuries (no. 2103).

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New reviews: Dutch football, twilight of history, medieval Hungary & tuberculosis

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We start this week with Four Histories About Early Dutch Football 1910-1920: Constructing Discourses by Nicholas Piercey. Matthew McDowell and the author discuss a radical post-modern work of sport history (no. 2102, with response here).

Next up is Twilight of History by Shlomo Sand. Beverley Southgate praises an eminently readable book of clear importance for both politics and education (no. 2101).

Then we turn to Ritual and Symbolic Communication in Medieval Hungary under the Árpád Dynasty by Dušan Zupka. Nora Berend reviews a patchy study of rituals and symbolic communication in medieval Hungary (no. 2100).

Finally, we have a response from author Christian McMillen to last week’s review of his Discovering Tuberculosis: A Global History, 1900 to the Present (see response here) .

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