What does it mean to engage “Slavery, Emancipation, and Reconstruction “ within a specifically historical framework? First and foremost, it means that we must be attentive to change over time. How did slavery begin? What culture and experiences did Africans bring with them into the fulcrum of slavery in the New World? How did slavery change as the economy, polity, and society developed?
How did it change as “the colonies” became the United States and shifted geographically from the upper south to the southwest? We must also pay attention to context. How did, first, the transatlantic slave trade, and, then, the domestic slave trade shape and reshape the lives, communities, and culture of slaves? How did the growing of tobacco shape slavery (and, of course, how did slavery shape the growing of tobacco)? How did the growing of rice, indigo, hemp, cotton, and sugar cane shape life differently? How were slaves’ lives shaped by the system within which they lived? How was their ability to create and maintain a culture, to resist, to attain freedom shaped by these contexts? And how did slaves create agency for themselves in constructing families, communities, cultures, and, ultimately, resistance? How did these experiences shape the possibilities and limits of freedom in the Civil War and the post-war periods?
Dr. Peter Rachleff