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Freedom in a Slave Society
Stories from the Antebellum South

$26.00 USD

Part of Cambridge Studies on the American South

  • Date Published: August 2012
  • availability: This ISBN is for an eBook version which is distributed on our behalf by a third party.
  • format: Adobe eBook Reader
  • isbn: 9781139512299

$ 26.00 USD
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About the Authors
  • Before the Civil War, most Southern white people were as strongly committed to freedom for their kind as to slavery for African Americans. This study views that tragic reality through the lens of eight authors - representatives of a South that seemed, to them, destined for greatness but was, we know, on the brink of destruction. Exceptionally able and ambitious, these men and women won repute among the educated middle classes in the Southwest, South and the nation, even amid sectional tensions. Although they sometimes described liberty in the abstract, more often these authors discussed its practical significance: what it meant for people to make life's important choices freely and to be responsible for the results. They publicly insisted that freedom caused progress, but hidden doubts clouded this optimistic vision. Ultimately, their association with the oppression of slavery dimmed their hopes for human improvement, and fear distorted their responses to the sectional crisis.

    • Uses biographies to illustrate important historical concepts and dramatise the idea of freedom so as to make it more easily comprehensible
    • Sheds light on why the educated middle classes of the South, with a small stake in slavery and ties to the national economy, were indecisive and ineffective in the sectional crisis
    • Takes seriously antebellum white Southerners' repeated claims that they loved freedom, but it shows how much slavery corrupted their ideas
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    Reviews & endorsements

    '… a significant entry into the burgeoning literature of the once-neglected Southern middle class.' Christopher A. Graham, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

    'Johanna Nicol Shields engagingly portrays the lives of individual Alabama authors who published in national and regional markets, and through these writers and their works, she illuminates middle-class southern values.' Jennifer R. Green, Journal of Southern History

    '… a compelling and complicated work, in which the thesis combats a historiography that has often ignored the South as an intellectual centre … Shields presents a composed, complex and intriguing narrative.' Danielle Demiantschuk, Southern Historian

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    Product details

    • Date Published: August 2012
    • format: Adobe eBook Reader
    • isbn: 9781139512299
    • contains: 10 b/w illus. 3 maps
    • availability: This ISBN is for an eBook version which is distributed on our behalf by a third party.
  • Table of Contents

    1. Regarding a 'weird utopia'
    Part I. The Origins of Individual Freedom:
    2. Self-making in southwestern towns
    3. The domestic foundations of self-determination
    4. The voluntary bonds of friendship
    Part II. Writing Freedom, with Slaves:
    5. Southwestern histories for a divided market
    6. Slave characters and the problem of human nature
    Part III. The Crisis of the Rising South:
    7. Slavery and political trust
    8. Self-determination and slavery in conflict.

  • Author

    Johanna Nicol Shields, University of Alabama
    Johanna Nicol Shields holds a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Alabama. She taught at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) between 1967 and 2007 and is the founding director of the UAH Humanities Center. She has won numerous awards for teaching and research, including UAH's Alumni Association Distinguished Faculty Award. Shields has held research awards from the American Association of University Women and National Endowment for the Humanities. Her work has been published in the Journal of the Early Republic, the Journal of Southern History, Southern Cultures, Alabama Review and Mississippi Quarterly. She is the author of The Line of Duty: Maverick Congressmen and the Development of American Political Culture, 1836–1860 (1985), which won the Ralph Gabriel Prize awarded by the American Studies Association and Greenwood Press.

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