Monday, February 25, 2013

January Issue of Historically Speaking

Randall Stephens

The January issue of Historically Speaking will soon be on Project Muse and in mailboxes of subscribers.  In it readers will find essays on place in history, identity politics and memory, dreaming, death and war, Catholic Latin America, and poetry and history.  

In "Reflections on the History behind the Poetry of Natasha Trethewey" Daniel C. Littlefield discusses the life and work of the nation’s newest Poet Laureate. Considering the historical themes in Trethewey's work, Littlefield writes:

There is the theme of miscegenation (and a poem with that title). Trethewey’s own parents, she says in interviews, broke two local laws: leaving Mississippi to marry interracially and returning after they had done so. But marriage and miscegenation are not coterminous, and we might explore the meaning of the law and of the practice.

The third theme is the history of slavery and of black soldiers who fought to end it while enduring discrimination from white soldiers for whom that was not a necessary goal. People in the Midwest chanted a ditty that ended “and we’re not for the nigger and we are for the war.” These people identified strongly with Lincoln’s promise that if he could save the Union without freeing any slave he would do so. Many, therefore, in the North as well as the South, objected to the social revolution to which the war might seem to be pointing, especially as foretold by the sight of black men with guns who knew how to use them. More than once white Union soldiers preferred to assault black comrades-in-arms rather than support their claims to manhood. If black soldiers sought to prove their mettle, white solders tried mightily to deny it. This attitude helps to explain why, in what George Frederickson styled a herrenvolk democracy where most white people did not believe in racial equality, the project of Reconstruction, particularly what W.E.B. Dubois called “Black Reconstruction,” never really had a chance.

There is the theme of love of country, in this case of the South, or of a particular location in the South, and of the desire to cling to it despite all the pain and suffering and all the attempts at dispossession. This is the sentiment behind the first lines in Trethewey’s poem “Native Guard,” which gives title to her prizewinning collection: “Truth be told, I do not want to forget / anything of my former life: the landscape’s song of bondage–dirge in the river’s throat / where it churns into the Gulf, wind in trees / choked with vines.” It is a sentiment expressed more clearly in the words of an ex-slave in lowcountry South Carolina. “I was bo’n on dis place fo freedom. My mammy and daddy wuked the rice fields. De’se buried here. The first thing I ’member are those rice bank. I grow’d up in dem from dat high. The strength of dese arms and dese legs and of dis ol back is in your rice bank. And the rest of dis bodywants to be wit’ the strength of de arms and de legs and de back dat is already buried in your rice bank.” The various themes intertwine, are often mutually reinforcing, and are not easy to separate. . . .

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Table of Contents, Historically Speaking (January 2013)

"The Extraordinary Ordinary and the Changing Face of Place"
Joseph Amato

"From Slave Ship to Harvard: An Interview with James H. Johnston"

Conducted by Donald A. Yerxa

"Identity Politics and the Civil War: The Transformation of South Carolina’s Public History, 1862-2012"
David Moltke-Hansen

"Reflections on the History behind the Poetry of Natasha Trethewey"
Daniel C. Littlefield

"The Idea Factory: An Interview with Jon Gertner"
Conducted by Donald A. Yerxa

"Catholicism and the History of 22 Latin America: A Review Essay"
William B. Taylor

"Dying in Battle: A Review Essay"

Eric Bergerud

"Dreaming and Historical Consciousness"
Charles Stewart

"Bertram Wyatt-Brown, 1932-2012" 

Randall Stephens

1 comment:

Randall said...

The January issue in full: