". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

NY Times Obit for Kenneth M. Stampp

Full obituary plus photo here.

His reputation was founded on two books that turned accepted wisdom inside out and engendered seismic shifts in the scholarship of the period. They became staples of university classrooms.

The first, in 1956, was “The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Antebellum South,” which juxtaposed the views of slaves themselves with the more conventionally researched perceptions of slave owners, yielding a far different picture of the institution than historians had previously created.

Rather than portraying slaves as docile, simple-minded creatures who were complicit in their own subjugation, Mr. Stampp showed how by working slowly, breaking tools and stealing from their owners, the slaves were in constant rebellion. And rather than portraying the owners as beneficent upholders of a genteel culture determined to maintain racial harmony, Mr. Stampp revealed the slave-keeping impulse to be an economically motivated choice.

“We now viewed slavery not only through the eyes of the masters but through the eyes of the slaves themselves,” said Leon Litwack, a long-time colleague and former student of Mr. Stampp’s at Berkeley, and the author of “Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery,” which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1980. “He was clearly one of the influential historians of the 20th century. All you have to do is open history textbooks and compare what you find in them to what you found before 1960.”

The second seminal book, “The Era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877,” published in 1965, demythologized another favorite trope of previous historians: that the decade after the Civil War was disastrous for the South, a time of vengefulness visited upon it by the North, of rampant corruption and of vindictive political maneuvering.

Mr. Stampp’s more measured account showed that much good was accomplished in the period; he called Reconstruction “the last great crusade of 19th century romantic reformers” and viewed it as a progenitor of the 20th-century civil rights movement that was in progress as he wrote.


K. said...

As late as 1968, white southern teachers constructed a case for slavery built on twin foundations: the owners were benevolent and the slaves "weren't ready" for freedom. I know because I was there.

I hope Stampp analysis has penetrated to schools at the K-12 level. I'm skeptical, but I hope.

Foxessa said...

Not in the South it hasn't, according to my black friends who teach in historically black colleges.

Just as Grooms just cannot let go of Grant the Drunk, even though he KNOWS. So very neocon, to bring up even what has been disproven, just to bring it up, repeat it repeat it repeat it -- I'm not even sure Grooms realize in this case what he is doing, even though his argument is, very rationally, that the Confederacy lost any chance of winning the war when Vicksburg fell, and the followintg two years, which were what made the war for the south such an economic and infrastructural disaster that could have, and should have been avoided -- but Davis and his cohorts just refused to admit reality.

Funny our irrationalities aren't they? Though not so much for those hit as collateral damage to our stubbornly hugged irrationality.

Love, C.

Love, C.