Journal of American History

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George Thompson among the Africans: Empathy, Authority, and Insanity in the Age of Abolition

The abolitionist missionary George Thompson, probably taken soon after his release from prison in Missouri in 1846. Courtesy Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, Ohio.
The abolitionist missionary George Thompson, probably taken soon after his release from prison in Missouri in 1846. Courtesy Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, Ohio.

Radical in their politics, both praised and denounced for their embrace of an imagined “blackness,” and diagnosed as mentally unstable, militant abolitionists occupy a unique place in antebellum American history and in the historiography of antislavery activism. Joseph Yannielli, in the essay that won the 2009 Louis Pelzer Award, examines the worlds and influence of these activists through the life of George Thompson, a white abolitionist missionary and ex-convict who moved to West Africa in the wake of the 1839 Amistad slave revolt. Although largely forgotten today, Thompson’s crusade against oppression in the western United States and in Africa highlights the enduring achievements and dramatic pitfalls of antislavery activism and places the struggle over racial slavery in an international context too often ignored in more specialized studies of the Civil War period. (pp. 979–1000) Read online >

“Intended for the Better Government of Man”: The Political History of African American Freemasonry in the Era of Emancipation

Nineteenth-century black activists who achieved fame as abolitionists, public speakers, itinerants, Civil War recruiters, and Republicans very often shared another identity as well: Freemason. Stephen Kantrowitz argues that this ritual order, whose segregated lodges flourished from the 1840s onward, played an important but poorly understood role in the development of African American political life in the era of slave emancipation. Kantrowitz demonstrates that during the antebellum era Freemasonry allowed people excluded from most forms of partisan political life to vote, hold office, and establish bonds of affiliation across great distances. Both before and after the Civil War, white Freemasonry’s nominal commitment to universalism and cosmopolitanism offered black activists a forum in which to argue that racial exclusion violated basic Masonic principles and goals. (pp. 1001–26) Read online >

The Incorporation of American Feminism: Suffragists and the Postbellum Lyceum

This Matilda Joslyn Gage lecture flyer from 1871 advertises three different lecture topics and provides favorable press blurbs from some of her previous engagements. Matilda Joslyn Gage Scrapbooks, vol. 2. Courtesy Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress.
This Matilda Joslyn Gage lecture flyer from 1871 advertises three different lecture topics and provides favorable press blurbs from some of her previous engagements. Matilda Joslyn Gage Scrapbooks, vol. 2. Courtesy Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress.

Lisa Tetrault examines woman suffragists who earned money on the lecture circuit in the two decades after the American Civil War. Conventionally viewed in the historiography as middle-class, presumed to have led lives of relative economic stability, and thought to be motivated primarily by conviction, suffragists did not, in fact, fit this image. Living lives of economic instability, these suffragists blended reform motives with entrepreneurial ingenuity to create economic opportunity out of a newly commercialized postwar lyceum. The thoroughgoing commercialization of the postwar lyceum and the large influx of women suffragists into it—explicitly in search of economic gain—in turn, reshaped feminism. Tetrault argues for a new view of post–Civil War feminism, illuminates a missing chapter in the history of women and business, and raises questions about how business forces have decisively shaped the content and character of American reform movements. (pp. 1027–56) Read online >

“How Common Culture Shapes the Separate Lives”: Sexuality, Race, and Mid-Twentieth-Century Social Constructionist Thought

In the mid-twentieth century, a network of public intellectuals—known as the “culture-and-personality school”—rejected biological theories of group traits and behavior and popularized a version of social constructionist thought. Historians have studied how this nature-to-nurture shift transformed explanations of racial difference but have not fully accounted for its widespread influence in other domains, including sexuality. Joanne Meyerowitz shows how the culture-and-personality school used a single metanarrative to explain both racial difference and homosexuality. In both areas, they combined and vacillated between cultural relativism, which valued diversity, and psychoanalysis, which pathologized it. Ultimately, these public intellectuals replaced eugenics with a biopolitics of child rearing and came to argue that the way to enhance the quality of a population was not through selective breeding but through selective nurturance of certain cultural traits. (pp. 1057–84) Read online >

Textbooks & Teaching

Listen to an interview with Scott E. Casper about this installment of the “Textbooks & Teaching” section in the JAH Podcast. http://www.journalofamericanhistory.org/podcast/

To see the full text of the article in this “Textbooks & Teaching” section, visit http://www.journalofamericanhistory.org/textbooks/2010/.

Book Reviews

March 2010, Vol. 96 No. 4

Alphabetical by the last name of the book's first author or editor.

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B
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D
E
F
G
H
J
K
L
M
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Contents of Volume 96

Index to Volume 96

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cover image

On the cover:

“The Lyceum Committeeman’s Dream—Some Popular Lecturers in Character,” by C. S. Reinhart, depicts both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony as two of the most widely sought-after speakers in the nation. Harper’s Weekly, Nov 15, 1873. See Lisa Tetrault, “The Incorporation of American Feminism: Suffragists and the Postbellum Lyceum” p. 1027.

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