Institute of Historical Studies
Institute of Historical Studies

IHS Promotes Publication of New Scholarship on History of Minorities in the United States

Tue, April 29, 2014
IHS Promotes Publication of New Scholarship on History of Minorities in the United States

The fellowship program at the Institute for Historical Studies in the Department of History facilitated the publication of groundbreaking scholarship on the history of minority groups and rights in the United States. Through highly original research and methodological approaches, IHS fellows have produced illuminating studies of the histories of African Americans, Asian Americans, Muslims, Latinos, and Native Americans in the United States.

 Denise A. Spellberg, an institute fellow in 2012-13, published Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders (Knopf, 2013), which explores how Thomas Jefferson’s purchase of a Qur’an in 1765 reflected his complex, often contradictory, relationship with the faith and its adherents. Jefferson retained many of the prejudices of his Protestant contemprories about Islam, but unlike this majority, he imagined Muslims as future citizens of  the United States. Nor was he alone in his endorsement of religious pluralism.  As the book demonstrates, Jefferson and a pivotal minority, inspired by European precedents for the promotion of toleration, endorsed equal rights and religious freedoms for the despised, resident Catholic and Jewish minorities during the founding era, as well as for prospective Muslim citizens. In fact, as Spellberg notes, Muslims were already present, albeit unrecognized, in the United States among the tens of thousands of enslaved West Africans; George Washington owned Muslim slaves and Jefferson may have as well. The book’s epilogue examines how the rights of citizenship for Muslims, once debated only in principle for a population that the Founders wrongly deemed non-existent, are now tested daily for an American Muslim population of millions. (Read more here and here, and watch an interview with Spellberg on CSPAN3, on 4/25/2014)

In Backroads Pragmatists: Mexico’s Melting Pot and Civil Rights in the United States (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), former IHS fellow Ruben Flores (2008-09) offers a new explanation for the origins of the school integration campaigns in the American West.  Rather than a strictly domestic process, Flores undertsands school integration in the region as a policy offshoot of  post-revolutionary Mexican nationalism.  During the 1920s and 1930s, under the presidency of Álvaro Obregón and the Secretariat of Public Education, the Mexican state aimed to integrate its multi-ethnic citizenry into a united national community through educational policies. Flores reveals that the anthropologists, psychologists, and educational philosophers who reconstructed the public schools of the American West had all studied institutional reform in Mexico, thereby correcting a significant oversight in the existing scholarship on civil rights and U.S.-Mexico cultural relations. Upending the paradigm of U.S. hemispheric hegemony, Flores highlights the ways in which Mexican public policy impacted the civil rights movement in the American West. (Read an editorial by Ruben Flores about his book, at History News Network.)

In The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority (Princeton University Press, 2014), Ellen D. Wu, who spent academic year 2010-2011 at the IHS, offers an in-depth excavation of the historical origins of the “model minority” stereotype of Asian Americans. Between the mid-nineteenth century—when Asian immigrants first arrived in the United States en masse—and the 1940s, white Americans generally vilified “Orientals” as “yellow perils” whose menacing presence and deviant behavior threatened to undermine the nation.  Yet as Wu shows, midcentury liberals argued for the acceptance of ethnic Japanese and Chinese into the national fold, while Asian Americans themselves were also deeply invested in recasting their public image in order to increase their life chances.  Weaving together myriad perspectives, Wu provides an unprecedented view of racial reform and the contradictions of national belonging in the Civil Rights and Cold War eras and their aftermath.

Slavery and Freedom in Savannah (University of Georgia Press, 2014) co-edited by IHS fellows Daina Ramey Berry (2012-13) and Leslie M. Harris (2013-14), moves beyond the picturesque and the touristy to explore the social history of  slavery, emancipation, and its aftermath in one of the most important port cities of the South. Highlighting the stories of native Americans, enslaved workers, slave rebels, religious leaders, entrepreneurs, educators, and political leaders, the volume reveals the diverse actors and struggles that shaped the city’s history from its founding through the early twentieth century.

Barbara Krauthamer, an IHS fellow during the 2011-2012 academic year, published Black Slaves, Indian Masters: Slavery, Emancipation and Citizenship in the Native American South (University of North Carolina Press, 2013), the first full-length study of African American slavery and emancipation among the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indian nations. Spanning the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth cenutry, the book examines the dynamics of slavery within these Indian nations--such as relationships among black slaves, Indian masters, and white missionaries--and the ways that the institution shaped U.S. policies towards Native Americans.  Krauthamer further highlights the distinctive history of emancipation in the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations, which had sided with the Confederacy in 1861 and refused to abolish slavery when the Civil War ended.

Krauthamer also co-authored, with Deborah Willis, Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery. (Temple University Press, 2013), which contains over 150 historical photographs documenting the history of slavery and emancipation in the United States. Envisioning Emancipation received the 2013 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work of non-fiction and was selected by Choice as one of the “Top 25 Books of 2013.” In December 2012 The New York Times ran an interview with the authors and the book was the subject of The New York Times Lens blog. Krauthamer was also interviewed on the CBS Evening News the following month, and aired an interview with Deborah Willis. In January 2013, the authors spoke about their book at the National Archives in Washington D.C., which was recorded by CSPAN and can be viewed here.

The Institute for Historical Studies is pleased to have been able to contribute to the publication of  cutting-edge scholarship that has immensely enriched the field of U.S. history.

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