Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Here's a Stumper

Stephen Pinker, writing for the New York Times Opinionator wonders, "Why Are States So Red and Blue?"

Yes, of course, red states and blue states have different ideas about government and vastly different social values, but "why do ideology and geography cluster so predictably?"

Words not appearing in this article: slavery, slaves, nullification, secession, Civil War, Reconstruction, Civil Rights, race, patriarchy.

Yes, the fundamental differences in our conception of government, personal autonomy, and commonweal that erupted into a Civil War along geographical lines a few generations ago linger on. Go figure.

It's somewhat amazing to me that someone can frame a thesis about the South's "culture of honor" without mentioning the white supremacist and patriarchal foundations of that culture, specifically as they align with modern political issues from women's sovereignty over their bodies to the "moochers vs. makers" mindset. I am equally floored by his wilderness/frontier/civilizing framework. I mean, I know historians have had a hard time communicating to the general public, but I thought that we could probably get the Harvard professors of social science to pay some attention to some of the major works written in the past 30-odd years. A short reading list for Professor Pinker might include Stephanie McCurry's Masters of Small Worlds, Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought, and Patricia Limerick's Legacy of Conquest.

I mention this article mostly as a note to myself to bring it up to my advisor next time I see her. At a recent meeting, she told me that it was unsporting to go after Albion's Seed with knives drawn because it is hopelessly dated and has been thoroughly debunked and discarded. True though that may be, this is the second time in a week I've seen it used in a major media outlet, so it clearly needs a bit more hammering.


Keith Stokes said...

Your piece on Zingo/Pompe Stevens of Newport was well researched and interesting, but what is your knowledge of African enslavement in Newport? Well intentioned researchers of African American history should be required to read Ralph Ellison's "Invisable Man."

Keith Stokes, Newport

Caitlin GD Hopkins said...

Hi Keith,

Thanks for reading my work. It's been a while since I wrote about Pompe Stevens, but I actually have a new article about his work that will appear in the online journal Common-place this coming spring.

My major goal in researching New England slavery is to better understand the work of craftsmen like Pompe Stevens and Zingo Stevens, along with how these works have been variously ignored, remembered, and reinterpreted by groups with differing motivations. My earlier work on the Pompe/Zingo conflation is part of this, but I have recently moved in more of a museum studies direction, identifying objects that were signed by (or attributed to) African American craftsmen living in New England and the Mid-Atlantic before 1800 or so. I am particularly interested in the ways in which modern museums and institutions use evidence of African cultural survivals as markers of "authenticity" when it comes to identifying early works by black artists. In my forthcoming article, I argue that objects like Pompe Stevens' gravestones, which are formally indistinguishable from a larger body of Euro-American craft objects, should be reinterpreted in light of the abundant evidence that they were created by enslaved craftsmen.