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Reading List June 18, 2021

Archival Essays for Juneteenth

“It is a commonplace to say that slavery ‘dehumanized’ enslaved people, but to do so is misleading, harmful, and worth resisting.”

Yesterday Biden made history as he signed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday. But with renewed media attention on both the holiday and slavery more generally, we would do well to heed historian Walter Johnson’s words of caution: “It is a commonplace to say that slavery ‘dehumanized’ enslaved people, but to do so is misleading and worth resisting.”

In the lead forum essay from our first relaunched issue four years ago, Johnson notes that while there are plenty of right-minded reasons for adopting the notion of “dehumanization,” it is ultimately harmful as it “suggests that the humanity of enslaved people needs to be proven.” Using Cedric Robinson as his guide, Johnson goes on to argue that we should use the history of slavery as the source rather than the subject of knowledge, and asks how this approach might shape our notion of justice today. With responses from Donna Murch, Peter Linebaugh, Peter James Hudson, Manisha Sinha, N. D. B. Connolly, and more, it remains Boston Review’s most popular forum.

The remaining essays in today’s Juneteenth special form a rich and varied list. From the history of a popular folk song, to the history of the Fourteenth Amendment, to the history of modern business management, the pieces below investigate how slavery’s cultural, political, and economic legacies still impact us today.

1619 debate
David Waldstreicher

Critics of the New York Times’s 1619 Project insist the facts don’t support its proslavery reading of the American Revolution. But they obscure a longstanding debate within the field of U.S. history over that very issue.

1619 boston review 2
David Walsh

The New York Times’s new 1619 Project argues fiercely for a new understanding of what it means to believe in America—and it is cracking the very foundations of conservatism.

Peter James Hudson

The expansion of banks such as Citigroup into Cuba, Haiti, and beyond reveal a story of capitalism built on blood, labor, and racial lines.

Alexis Boylan Matthew Fox-Amato Exposing Slavery
Alexis L. Boylan

Slavery and the Civil War were central to the development of photography as both a technology and an art.

Tsai birthright citizenship feature
Robert L. Tsai

The Fourteenth Amendment was shaped by freed blacks’ insistence that everyone born in the United States deserved full citizenship.

Rosenthal feature
Caitlin C. Rosenthal

By “dangling the carrot” to improve worker productivity, businesses are taking a page from slavery’s playbook.

Khalil Gibran Muhammad

While the United States has expanded its borders of inclusion over time, the borders of whiteness have never fallen. Only a robust black public sphere can change that.

Walter Johnson

What if we use the history of slavery as a standpoint from which to rethink our notion of justice today?

Peter James Hudson

Recent histories of slavery and capitalism ignore radical black scholarship.

Dave Byrne

The Making of an American Folk Song

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