Bonnie Martin, James F. Brooks, eds. Linking the Histories of Slavery: North America and Its Borderlands. School for Advanced Research Advanced Seminar Series. Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research Press, 2015. Illustrations. 416 pp. $39.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-938645-60-0.
Reviewed by Garrett W. Wright (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Published on H-Early-America (October, 2017)
Commissioned by Joshua J. Jeffers
In recent years, scholars have broadened our collective understanding of the history of slavery. No longer is the study of slavery confined to the race-based plantation slavery of the antebellum American South. Works by James F. Brooks, Alan Gallay, Christina Snyder, and others have drawn attention to systems of Native American slavery across the continent and sparked an exciting new focus for historians of early North America. Linking the Histories of Slavery: North America and Its Borderlands, an anthology with origins in a 2012-13 public symposium at the School for Advanced Research, brings this historiographical expansion full circle. In this volume, scholars from multiple disciplines analyze North American slavery in order to draw attention to previously unexamined aspects of slavery and linkages across time and space.
The book is composed of eleven chapters, which are divided into three sections that proceed chronologically. Part 1 consists of two chapters covering indigenous slave systems through the eighteenth century. The authors make connections across time and space, providing synthetic overviews of indigenous slavery across the continent. Catherine M. Cameron details slavery as it operated in small-scale societies in four regions across the continent: the Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, and Northwest. Focusing on the value, roles, and incorporation of captives in each type of society, Cameron argues that captives themselves performed vital roles within their captors’ society both as laborers and as “others” against which groups constructed their social identities. Eric E. Browne provides a comparative study of two prominent slaving societies—those of the Comanches in the Southwest and the Westos in the Southeast—to show how indigenous people adapted their slave systems to the intrusions of Atlantic empires and European settlers. As Browne shows, Comanches and Westos similarly used their access to such European goods as firearms and horses to raid sedentary neighbors, who ultimately formed new coalescent societies to cope with the violence of enslavement. Though these two chapters cover ground that is increasingly familiar to historians of Native American slavery, they provide a necessary overview and introduction for the connections examined in the subsequent two parts of the volume. Moreover, their comparative lenses bring together formerly disparate regions and peoples. Whereas most histories of indigenous slaveries focus on a single region—usually the Southeast or Southwest—both Cameron and Browne show that enslavement was a truly continental phenomenon with a long history.
In part 2, six scholars turn our attention toward geographic linkages to explain changes in North American slavery over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The first three chapters focus on the unique systems of slavery in under-studied regions. Paul Conrad follows eighty-six Apache slaves through the Southwest and the Caribbean world to emphasize the creative ways in which captives adapted to and resisted enslavement. Boyd Cothran draws attention to the Upper Klamath Basin, where the entrenchment of slavery led to a restructuring of political authority as the presence of horses and guns exacerbated raiding and slaving and “entrepreneurial” laláki co-opted political authority from spiritual leaders (kíuks) within Klamath basin communities. Natale Zappia similarly shows how, in Sonora and Alta California, raiders continued to wield power even as the expansion of white settlements undermined Native power in the region. The final three chapters in this section analyze the relationship between indigenous slaving practices and the rise of plantation slavery in the Cotton South. Calvin Schermerhorn and Mark Allan Goldberg both analyze the entanglement of Native displacement and the rise of plantation slavery. Schermerhorn argues that the expansion of the Cotton South was both an extension and foundation of US settler colonialism, as land speculators and slave traders worked in tandem to transform Native peoples’ homelands into profitable plantations upheld by slave labor. Similarly, Goldberg shows how Comanches’ trade with white settlers in central Texas inadvertently fueled US expansion and land expropriation. Andrew J. Torget then draws attention to debates over liberty and slavery in the US-Mexican borderlands, arguing that debates over federalism and labor in the region contributed to enduring instability.
Part 3 brings the book’s theme full circle by focusing on the ways in which past trauma continues to reverberate in the present. Musicologist Enrique Lamadrid opens the section with an analysis of indigenous and Spanish peoples’ use of music, poetry, stories, and pageantry to explain and cope with endemic violence in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century New Mexico. Law professor Sarah Deer then shifts attention even more toward the present, by explicitly analyzing the ongoing nature of settler colonialism through the lens of violence toward women and children. Contending that continued and widespread violence against Native women has its roots in nineteenth-century federal policy, Deer effectively links the long history of slavery and violence to current calls for action in response to the thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada. Finally, clinical psychologist Melissa Farley draws links between systems of slavery in the past and pimp-controlled prostitution in the present. Examining the carceral circumstances of contemporary brothers, Farley argues that such prostitution often is as exploitative and dangerous as enslavement, with roots in settler colonial violence.
Readers who are familiar with the historiography of indigenous slaveries will notice that many of the chapters in this volume cover topics analyzed in greater detail elsewhere. Yet the primary value of an anthology such as this comes from the conversations among the scholars published therein. Most of the authors here explicitly draw connections to other chapters in the volume, and each part has an introduction explaining its overarching themes, making Linking Histories of Slavery a cohesive unit even as its individual components cover a wide variety of places and time periods. Indeed, the widespread foci of these authors allows readers to see both the continuity and diversity of North American slave systems across time and space. Moreover, the interdisciplinarity of the third section lends a fresh perspective to the study of North American slavery, as the authors there offer novel approaches to the topic by forcing readers to confront the enduring legacies of settler colonial violence, exploitation, and enslavement.
Given its wide-ranging scope, this volume will be an invaluable resource for anyone who is interested in teaching or learning new histories of slave systems in North America. As a comprehensive overview of slavery in multiple corners of the continent, Linking Histories of Slavery brings together new and old scholarship and will undoubtedly spark renewed conversations about the range and nature of North American slavery for years to come.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-early-america.
Garrett W. Wright. Review of Martin, Bonnie; Brooks, James F., eds., Linking the Histories of Slavery: North America and Its Borderlands.
H-Early-America, H-Net Reviews.
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