". . . 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

Friday, March 15, 2013

The History Writer Experiences Bliss

I've been living it these last two weeks.

I made a huge discovery for The American Slave Coast a couple weeks back by doing something nobody I know has done, or at least no one I know has done in decades. I have been reading the speeches and other collected writings of John C. Calhoun. As I scrabbled with them, I discovered a tiny book, less than 200 pages, published way back in the Civil Rights and Voting Act era, 1963, John C. Calhoun, by an historian few these days are familiar with, Richard N. Current. (As a contrasting example, Robert V. Remini was coming up in that same era, and he's still got juice, as he owns Andrew Jackson and the entire era.) He's a solid scholar, one who can write. Current, Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, is jargon free. His prose is clear, concise and explains issues in astonishingly few words, sometimes issues I have been still puzzling over.


Published in something that was called The Great American Thinkers Series, by Washington Square Press, in paperback, the series begins with Jefferson >yikes<, includes some people I've never heard of, as well as those everyone has heard of Benjamin Franklin, and others that back in the day anyone with a solid B.A. should at least have a nodding acquaintance with the name, such as Veblen, Jonathan Edwards, etc.

The book's sections are a Chronology, The Man and His Career, The Theory of Government, Significance and Influence [which includes a chapter titled "The Neo-Calhounism of the Twentieth Century," which -- recall -- this was the Civil Rights era] and, Literature on the Subject. Footnotes and Bibliography. Such a guide for Calhoun's papers is splendid. I'd been going through the shelf of Calhoun's papers at Bobst Library -- this little book cut down my search time!

I found in his papers a consistent line of argument that the North was going to destroy the interstate / domestic slave trade, with statistics to show what this would mean for the economy of the Slave Power (he uses the term on occasion himself) -- you can't get more pertinent to The American Slave Coast than this.

This is the sort of thing that is unadulterated joy for an historian, with the value add that current historians seem to have written this pivotal figure out of their work, as too dusty or -- who knows?

It's the way Henry Adams's histories have been written out of the bibliographies of American history now for almost a century. Why? I have speculated, but I really don't know. He's a treasure house of information, all of it thoroughly cited in primary sources, as well as what he learned first hand, being a member of that family who was there for much of it -- and knew the figures involved personally, and even made a lot of the history themselves.

But on the other hand this allows us to bring in materials that will be brand new to a lot of people, and that's good.

He also lays out in organized and detailed arguments why there was no other consideration for living than white supremacy, and why abolition was -- I quote -- "the disease that will destroy this nation." That isn't part of our mission in The American Slave Coast, but it cannot be ignored. And with the determination to strike down the Voting Rights Act and so much other racial bigotry out in the open again in this country, one understands why Current felt it was important to do this little book in 1963, for an inexpensive, easily available series.

I bought it for $1.50. Plus shipping and handling. It's been helping me write too.

And now I seem to have come down with something. Head aches, eyes itch, throat hurts, nose sniffly. This is smashing right into my productivity.

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