Last year Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln led to an outpouring of reviews by professional historians, who pointed out what they perceived to be a wide range of interpretive problems and omissions in the film. In sharp contrast, Steve McQueen’s powerful adaptation of Solomon Northrup’s 12 Years A Slave has garnered a very different and even muted response from the academic community. I sense a collective sigh of relief that finally we have a Hollywood film that directly challenges Lost Cause nostalgia surrounding slavery in Gone With the Wind. It could also be an acknowledgment of just how closely the movie conforms to Northrup’s autobiography.
The violence (both physical and psychological) is emotionally draining and will leave you feeling numb by the end. I never thought I would be saying this, but the final whipping scene makes Denzel Washington’s Academy Award-winning moment in Glory seem mild in comparison. In that case Tripp’s whipping eventually leads to a demonstration of his manhood and defiance in the battle scenes that take place later in the movie. There is redemption in Glory where there is none in 12 Years. We follow Solomon home to Saratoga, New York for a very brief reunion with his family, but our hearts are still with the remaining slaves on the Epps plantation in Louisiana. And then the theater lights come on. Continue reading
The most recent issue of The Civil War Monitor contains a letter-to-the-editor about a recent essay of mine on Confederate camp servants [Spring 2013]. From Mr. John H. Whitfield:
While the article was enlightening on the issue of enslaved Africans who were wartime “body servants,” it presented a rather narrow view of the panoply of roles in which the enslaved were critical to the Rebel war effort. For instance, the impressment of slaves, authorized throughout the Confederacy in 1862, sent countless men to construct earthworks at various strategic locations.
Mr. Whitfield is absolutely spot on regarding the place of enslaved blacks in the Confederate war effort. There are a number of excellent studies that examine these various roles, including books by Glenn David Brasher,Joseph Glatthaar, and Bruce Levine. Those of you with an interest in this topic will definitely want to check out Jaime Martinez’s forthcoming book, Confederate Slave Impressment in the Upper South, which will be out with UNC Press in December. Continue reading
The end of my first full year of living in Boston and what a year it’s been. It should come as no surprise that the highlight of the past year was the publication of my first book in June. I’ve always loved the social aspect of doing history, whether its teaching in the classroom, working with history teachers or lecturing in public. I’ve met some wonderful people this year and I thank each and every one of you for purchasing a copy. Based on the few notices I’ve received from the publisher it looks like sales have been brisk. I am hoping that my royalty check at least allows me to take my wife out for a really nice dinner next month.
As for 2013 I am looking forward to working with the Massachusetts Historical Society on some programs for teachers as well as the Massachusetts 150 Commission. On the writing front I am hoping to complete the Confederate camp servants book and finish up with editing the letters of Captain John Christopher Winsmith. We shall see. For now I want to thank all of you for continuing to visit Civil War Memory. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been at this thing called blogging for over seven years now. Happy Holidays to you and your family.
…and now to the list.