". . . 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

Saturday, October 18, 2014


To describe the conference's focus as plainly as possible:

Currently, the revolutionary, game changer in terms of nineteenth century U.S. historical research is the recognition of, and redemption of, the abolitionists, their efforts and actions, black and white. Abolitionists were as much written out of the narrative as until recently slavery had been by the revisionists of the Glorious Lost Cause. If looked at they were considered at best cranks and sidebars.  Without their fanaticism and fire eating. it was said, the war wouldn't have happened, as we saw, for instance, Edmund Wilson going on about with many a sneer, in his Patriotic Gore (1962 -- I talked about this myself, a while back, here), published as part of the centennial war observances.

Interesting too, though nobody made a deal of it, mentioned now and again in passing, currently our government has been taken over by radical extremist aristo plutocrats, just as it was back in the years leading up to the Civil War. (Though, Foxessa observes, currently there's no competing capitalist economic system to counter the current plutocrats, as there was with the northern states' industrialization, transportation and communications explosions.  NOBODY wants to spend money on infrastructure -- which is the ultimate win-win for the Jacksonians, nullifiers and slave power sorts -- they didn't either!)

The coolest thing?  How generationally diverse the conference was. A high school kid, who asked questions in every q&a session after the panels.  In the summing up period, he inquired, "How did anybody buy this shit ever? about slavery being right, that people who wanted to stop it were bad, and that slavery was a good thing for anybody, and nobody should go to war about it?"  The way the Big Dawgs from the unis converged upon him, he's going to be offered some very nice packages at some very nice schools, straight into grad school programs of his choice.

What wasn't cool?  Only one person on the stage / podium, etc., as presenter or moderator, was a person of color, and he was a moderator, i.e. he didn't say anything, other than introductions. There was one woman of color, a great scholar, whom we do quote in The American Slave Coast, presenting.  But she was the only woman and person of color there as one of the "stars", and who talked. There were some female (white) grad students or new faculty who presented terrific material, though mostly bibilographic, especially the one who did it for the Underground Railroad.  She got maybe the biggest round of applause for someone who wasn't a Big Dawg.

The conclusion was that, yes, the War to End Slavery was inevitable. Nothing could have stopped it from taking place.  Recall, historians are not at all fond counter-factuals, as they are irrelevant to what did happen.

The Take Away: it's time for American historians to research deeply the colonization movement, as well as look more at anti-slavery and abolition actions and movements locally.  We must remove the Civil War from the discourse, because nobody knew they were living in the antebellum era and nobody knew there was going to be a war, much less that the abolitionists would win it.  Rather, right up to secession the abolitionists were so depressed by what looked like the Slave Power's ever expanding power (particularly as it had taken over the federal government entirely, which locked down any other progressive action, not even to mention abolition or emancipation), so that not only did Frederick Douglass believe he had to move to Haiti -- self-colonization -- but a movement began to have the north secede from the USA -- which wouldn't have happened, but it does show how high the levels of disappointment and pessimism had risen.

Thomas Jefferson wasn't mentioned once by anybody.

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