Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Book Reviews

* Do Not Plagarize* It is illegal and will get you thrown out of college. This are my reviews. Do Not Copy

Beyond the Household: Women's Place in the Early South, 1700-1835 (Comstock Classic Handbooks) Beyond the Household: Women's Place in the Early South, 1700-1835 by Cynthia A. Kierner

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
Kierner spent a majority of this book restating the obvious. Women did more than just sit home. Instead of adding new evidence for her argument she spend 2/3 of the monograph name dropping and restating her thesis.

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From Calabar to Carter's Grove: The History of a Virginia Slave Community (Colonial Williamsburg Studies in Chesapeake History and Culture) From Calabar to Carter's Grove: The History of a Virginia Slave Community by Lorena S. Walsh

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
It is difficult for historians to pinpoint and tell the story of individual slaves in the American colonies. Most slaves were not given the educational opportunities to allow them to document their daily lives. And there are few journals available to adequately illustrate individual slave histories. But by looking at the archaeological evidence collected from former slave enclaves, Lorena S. Walsh was able to give a hypothetical illustration of the lives of slaves who lived in Carter’s Grove in the colony of Virginia during the early colonial period. Due to the small quantity of evidence available, she is often reduced to using already documented occurrences and generalizations about the daily life of a Virginia slave.

Walsh uses ledger books, transaction notes, and inventories of slaves to trace the extended family unit of the slaves of Carter’s Grove. She shows how their lives changed through the years, going from bound slaves working back breaking work on a tobacco plantation, to being separated and scattered throughout the United States.

The slaves she chose to examine originate from the Burwell labor force. They worked in close contact with indentured servants and newly arrived slaves from Africa. Walsh gives a background on the areas that these new slaves most likely came prior to captivity. She describes the kind of conflicts they might have had with slaves who were more adapted and accustomed to the slave life. These new and old slaves were placed together by masters, in the hopes that they would thrive and prosper without falling ill from the harsh conditions of slavery.

Many of these groups intertwined their beliefs, customs, and language to form a new slave identity. Evidence presented by artifacts such as handmade pottery, glass beads, and tobacco pipes lead to the conclusion that these groups intermixed culturally because they show features spanning from African cultures and incorporating American art forms. Although the slave life imprisoned them, these groups were able to inadvertent ways to express their identity and exercise their limited freedom in a way in which was empowering to future generations and to their own emotional well being.

The book is very beneficial in proposing possible explanations and hypothetical answers on slave life. But due to the lack of concrete evidence, Walsh is often reduced to beginning to these explanations with “possibly,” “mostly likely,” and other phrases which would reduce the validity of the statements. T.H. Breen of Northwestern University states in his review (Journal of Interdisciplinary History vol. 30, 1999 pp. 135-136) that “Walsh’s bold claims for a multigenerational group analysis seem unfilled.”

The sources she used consisted mainly of primary documentation and archaeological findings. She traces the family units and the group as an extended family unit itself through the different generations and where they lived, died, and created families of their own. Her secondary sources seem to be used to restate to the reader a proposed idea of how they lived. Overall, the book is adequate in showing the changes within the group, but it does not appear to inform the reader of anything they could not in a general history book.

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New Worlds for All: Indians, Europeans, and the Remaking of Early America (The American Moment) New Worlds for All: Indians, Europeans, and the Remaking of Early America by Colin G. Calloway

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
In his book New Worlds For All, Colin Calloway pulls together the information provided by multiple scholars in interdisciplinary fields, to form a framework illustrating the radical changes in Indian and European life during the early years of American settlement. He states in the preface that his purpose is to show how the Native American assisted in the formation of the American identity without painting them as some “exotic subcategory in American history.” (xiv)

Calloway pulls information from many well documented scholars in academia to support the influence on American culture by the Native American and European inhabitants of colonial America. Much of the information provided to the young students in American textbooks paints a picture of the Native American as a helpless victim to the tyrannical oppression of the invading Europeans. This book is one of many that shed a new light on the battle of cultures between the native inhabitants and invading colonists.

Calloway stresses that the American revolutionists maintained that their culture and that of the Native American was not as different as it appeared. The Europeans adopted the customs, attire, farming, and hunting techniques of the Native American. As they became more Indians, they began to transform themselves into what would be the early prototype of the American identity. Essentially, the European was no longer a man of his birth country, but became someone not quite wild and yet still far from his civilized former identity. The amount of mixture between the European and Native American cultures depended on the region in which they lived. Spanish settlers were less resistant to the absorption of Indian customs into their society. The definition of “American” was also different depending on the era of colonization in which a settler lived. In the early settlement time period, Native Americans were the sole individuals identified with the term “American.” By the early nineteenth century, colonists had formed their own political identity which classified them as “American.”

In explaining how the Native Americans arrived on the continent, Calloway uses the Bering Strait theory which states that the Native Americans migrated to America via the Bering Strait land bridge. Then they began an adaptation to their respective climates that would lead to “a diverse array of lifestyles.” (9) Each group molded it’s lifestyle in accordance to the area in which it resided. When Europeans encountered this land of multiple cultures on a seemingly untouched landscape, they were forced to rethink the world as they knew it. To them the mere existence of this land went against everything they knew about geology. However, some of their old world could not be left behind. Europeans often renamed New World regions with names that they were familiar with in the old world; they often tacked on the world “new” at the beginning of the place name. This method of renaming allowed the Europeans to retain a part of their old world in their new landscape.

Calloway notes that the Europeans took advantage of the depopulation of Indians due to disease. The Europeans would often take over previous Indian villages. They would replant crops or introduce new plants from their native country, build fences to border their land and hold in livestock, and begin other measures to “civilize” the area. The introduction of these new plants and animals changed the land itself by increasing erosion, depleting the soil of important nutrients, and changing the visual aspect of the land. Their hunting of animals to be skinned and the furs sold had a great impact on the ecosystem of the area. Without beavers building dams and wolves controlling the animal population the land itself began to change through erosion and an over abundance of creatures that would consume their crops.

The Native American way of life was centered on a religion that valued nature and respected animals as equals. The Indians hunted only what they needed to survive. When the Europeans arrived they began a commercialized eradication of animals for their skins. Their religion, Christianity, stated that man was superior to the animal kingdom. The Europeans presented this concept to the Indians and pushed them to conform to their lifestyle and religious beliefs. Many Native Americans rebelled against this, but many conformed out of dependence on the Europeans for items such as weapons, textiles, and cooking utensils. Conforming also made it easier to live on a day to day basis in a world that was no longer entirely theirs.

The Europeans and Native Americans borrowed warfare tactics from each other. The Native American warfare was based on weaponry that took advantage of the silent ambush; European weaponry consisted of guns which would make an ambush incapable. Native Americans also used the terrain of the land to their advantage when engaging in warfare. This method came in handy for the Europeans when they battled the British for their independence during the American Revolution. But Calloway does not mention the interactions between the European and African slaves. This missing piece would be of great importance in illustrating how the American identity was formed through cultural exchange between all cultures involved in the early American record and give evidence of the Native Americans racially mixing with the African slaves.

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The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England by Carol F. Karlsen

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
In the book, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman, Carol F. Karlsen discusses the role and position of women in Puritan society during the witchcraft trials of New England. Karlsen pulled together research from several different sources, most notably the Essex court records and various histories of the New England colonies. She uses first hand accounts of witch trials, Cotton Mather’s personal writings, and court records. These sources showed in detail court proceedings, testimonies, and judgments against the accused. This book was well received among historians and stands a close second to the later works on the subject.

Karlsen examines witchcraft on a social, demographic, and anthropological level that brings new insight into the role of the female witch during the persecutions. She narrows down the accused by age, income and marital status. Many of these women were victims of a world in which women were expected to serve men and bear heirs to the family inheritance. These women were vulnerable socially to the male-dominated society in which they lived. The Puritan ideals surrounding women boxed them into the role of the virtuous helper to their male benefactor.

Karlsen paints a richly detailed portrait of the accused and states that most of the witchcraft suspicions in colonial New England originated as a result of conflicts between people who knew one another. Accusers singled out women who they felt were a threat to the social order in Puritan society. Accusations were made against women who, by inheriting property and status, took for the male populous that which he deserved. Wives, mothers, and children were not immune to these communial struggle against the restrains of society.

Karlsen exposes the economic and social undertones beneath the accusations. Karlsen states that the single most salient characteristic of witches was their sex. “At least 344 persons were accused of witchcraft in New England between 1620 and 1725. Of the 342 who can be identified by sex, 267 (78 percent) were female.” (47) Women were expected to be subservient to their husband, yet women who actually succeeded in running their husband’s business were liable to accusations of witchcraft because they stepped beyond their gender role.

Karlsen narrows down the accused by age, income, and marital status. Many of the women accused were married. Often quarrels among the husbands boiled over into accusations of the wives. Katherine Harrison was the wife of John Harrison, who was a wealthy landowner. Karlsen states that it is unclear what event lead to Harrison’s accusation of being a witch. It is believed that she was first accused as a witch in 1668, but the jury was unable to come to a decision on her guilt. Somehow she was released from prison and returned home. Then “several of the town’s most prominent citizens” (85) signed a petition attesting to her guilt. One of the petitioners, John Chester, was “involved in a legal controversy with Harrison concerning a parcel of land.” (85) Her husband had died in 1666 and left Harrison with a considerable amount of wealth. Her neighbors testified that she was a witch and under the pressure of losing her life she dispensed her holdings to others.

Karlsen states that “most witches in New England were middle aged or old women eligible for inheritance because they had no brothers or sons.” (117) In the witch stereotype the presence of the traditional female gender role is evident. Women accused of witchcraft were described as “disagreeable women, at best aggressive and abrasive, at worst ill-tempered, quarrelsome, and spiteful.” (118) These women bucked the norms of society and failed to adhere to the standards of their class. To the Puritans “gender issues were religious issues” (119) and women who deviated from their prescribed role were seen as being opponents of God’s command.

This stereotype of the witch stemmed from the widely distributed Malleus Maleficarum and Tratado de las Supersticiones y Hechicherias. Both works note that “women were by nature more evil than men” (155) and that because they were “subject to deeper affections and passions, harbored more uncontrollable appetites, and were more susceptible to deception” (155) they switched their allegiance from God to Satan to “fulfill their needs and to provide them with the power to avenge themselves.” (155) But why would women need avenging unless they were being encroached upon by unrighteous practices? The answer to this question was unimportant to the patriarchal society of Europe and New England. But there is no doubt that this question resided in the mind of every accused witch.

Karlsen fulfills her purpose in Devil in the Shape of a Woman. By providing accounts of individual women and the extent to which they were accused, Karlsen provides a detail look into the underlying reasons behind the witch accusations. She exhibits to the reader a hidden agenda that reaches far beyond the scope of good versus evil. The agenda she reveals is a campaign against women who were perched precariously on a difficult balance between their idealized social and economic positions.

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