Visions of Slavery | Social Sciences, March 2019

This work brings readers to see slavery, politics, and the development of photography in a new light; Reidy’s important book shows that the movement toward freedom was neither linear nor inevitable but was and must be constant; 

Fox-Amato, Matthew. Exposing Slavery: Photography, Human Bondage, and the Birth of Modern Visual Politics in America. Oxford Univ. Mar. 2019. 360p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780190663933. $39.95. SOC SCI
In this original, richly illustrated, and brilliant book, Fox-Amato (history, Univ. of Idaho) shows how photography transformed the ways Americans saw slavery, blacks, and ultimately themselves. The author neatly shifts the focus from the photographer to the photographed and back again in revealing the dynamics whereby slaveholders, abolitionists, Union soldiers, and enslaved and free blacks manipulated images of plantations, black bodies, family portraits, wartime camp scenes, and other subjects to assert or contest racial hierarchies through the “reality” of the photograph. In doing so, they made the art form a cultural and political weapon that gave visual representation and authority to written texts for and against slavery. Among the many new insights Fox-Amato offers is the ways some slaves used photography as an instrument of self-representation, akin to narratives, to claim their own personhood. Indeed, photographic images of slaves as persons contrasted powerfully with their status as property and revealed the danger of the photograph to slavery.
VERDICT This work brings readers to see slavery, politics, and the development of photography in a new light.—Randall M. Miller, St. Joseph’s Univ., Philadelphia

Jones-Rogers, Stephanie E. They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South. Yale Univ. Feb. 2019. 320p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780300218664. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780300245103. SOC SCI
Jones-Rogers (history, Univ. of California, Berkeley) expands her award-winning dissertation to correct the historical record on white women’s culpability in the perpetuation of the slave system. Using primary resources including newspapers and archives as well as many secondary sources, Jones-Rogers meticulously portrays how these women strived to maintain and control what they saw as their economic stability. Many white women were gifted or purchased slaves in their own right and as separate from their husbands, and there were complex laws available for women to use as a means to protect their investments. Jones-Rogers uses court cases and newspaper advertisements to show that Southern American women were not just victims of the patriarchy but that they were integral in making the slavery system work. The author uses strong evidence to convince readers to revisit what they think they know about white women and black slavery. Other works that can provide further context include Catherine M. Lewis and J. Richard Lewis’s Women and Slavery in America and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese’s Within the Plantation Household.
VERDICT Strongly recommended for readers interested in this period of U.S. history, or who wish to expand their understanding to include a more honest view of the Southern slave system.—Maria Bagshaw, Elgin Community Coll. Lib., IL

Reidy, Joseph P. Illusions of Emancipation: The Pursuit of Freedom and Equality in the Twilight of Slavery. Univ. of North Carolina. Mar. 2019. 520p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781469648361. $39.95; ebk. ISBN 9781469648378. SOC SCI
Reidy (From Slavery to Agrarian Capitalism in the Cotton Plantation South) draws on the massive set of documents related to emancipation, black soldiering, Reconstruction, and related issues in the National Archives to bring us into the intimate worlds of people working out the meanings of “freedom” during the Civil War era. The author’s insightful study of the many complex, contradictory, and contentious ideas about and engagements with fighting for or against black freedom shows that experience counted more than ideology, practice more than promise, in determining the scope and scale of equality. By his reckoning, blacks drove and thus in critical ways defined the issues through such actions as throwing off bondage, fighting for the Union, creating their own institutions, and working to gain property. One conclusion that comes from Reidy’s telling and compelling accounts is the persistence black Americans used to claim and stake out freedom, however incomplete, on their terms.
VERDICT Reidy’s important book shows that the movement toward freedom was neither linear nor inevitable but was and must be constant. In that, he speaks to not only history but our own day. —Randall M. Miller, St. Joseph’s Univ., Philadelphia

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