A groundbreaking examination of the effect of modernity on established norms.

EXPOSING SLAVERY

PHOTOGRAPHY, HUMAN BONDAGE, AND THE BIRTH OF MODERN VISUAL POLITICS IN AMERICA

Tracing the history-changing intertwined development of slavery and photography.

As Fox-Amato (History/Univ. of Idaho) clearly demonstrates in his first book, photography helped shape the culture and politics of slavery while slavery shaped the development of photography as an aesthetic form. The daguerreotype appeared in the United States in the 1840s, followed by the ambrotype, tintype, and lighter carte de visite, which decreased exposure time, cost, and weight, enabling pictures to be mailed. Large cities had multiple studios, and itinerant photographers filled a burgeoning market. Both North and South used photography as a cultural weapon. It gave both slavers and abolitionists a sense of legitimacy and urgency, which served to heighten the crisis and kill any hope of compromise. “Part of photography’s unique and unsettling role in the Civil War era,” writes the author, “was to open up a new cultural space…through which Americans defined the boundaries of personhood and debated the social potential of enslaved African Americans.” Of course, masters controlled how slaves were photographed, and they created a picture of a comfortable, harmonious, familial form of bondage. They forbade positive depictions of stature, literacy, or intellect. As such, the photos defined the limits of slaves’ identity, eliminating their personhood. Abolitionists used photographs to build bonds with other activists. While abolitionists widely used the image of the kneeling slave begging for justice, they did not use pictures of brandings, scars, and other evidence of violence. Those pictures only showed the victimhood of slavery, and slaves were more interested in being seen as persons. Slaves—particularly city slaves, who had more freedom and cash—were quick to have photos taken. They helped tie together the families of escaped slaves and identified loved ones whose freedom a freeman wanted to buy. As Fox-Amato shows, photography played a significant role in the debates over notions of status, identity, and community, and those boundaries regarding personhood continued well into the following century.

A groundbreaking examination of the effect of modernity on established norms.

Pub Date: April 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-19-066393-3

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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