Slavery, Law, and the Production of the Past
Explores the relationship between the production of enslaved property and the production of the past in the antebellum United States.
It is extraordinarily difficult for historians to reconstruct the lives of individual enslaved people. Records—where they exist—are often fragmentary, biased, or untrue. In Enslaved Archives, Maria R. Montalvo investigates the legal records, including contracts and court records, that American antebellum enslavers produced and preserved to illuminate enslavers' capitalistic motivations for shaping the histories of enslaved people. The documentary archive was not simply a by-product of the business of slavery, but also a necessary tool that enslavers used to exploit the people they enslaved.
Building on Montalvo's analysis of more than 18,000 sets of court records, Enslaved Archives is a close study of what we can and cannot learn about enslaved individuals from the written record. By examining five lawsuits in Louisiana, Montalvo deconstructs enslavers' cases—the legal arguments and rhetorical strategies they used to produce information and shape perceptions of enslaved people. Commodifying enslaved people was not simply a matter of effectively exploiting their labor. Enslavers also needed to control information about those people. Enslavers' narratives—carefully manipulated, prone to omissions, and sometimes false—often survive as the only account of an enslaved individual's life.
In working to historicize the people at the center of enslavers' manipulations, Montalvo outlines the possibilities and limits of the archive, providing a glimpse of the historical and contemporary consequences of commodification. Enslaved Archives makes a significant intervention in the history of enslaved people, legal history, and the history of slavery and capitalism by adding a qualitative dimension to the analysis of how enslavers created and maintained power.
About the Author
Maria R. Montalvo (ATLANTA, GA) is an assistant professor of history at Emory University.
"Enslaved Archives offers a profound 'history within a history' of slavery, centering enslaved people as architects of their own pasts. Here, the enslaved hold fast to the parts of their lives that enslavers tried to wrench from them before and after sale. Fashioning a past that retained vital elements of their former lives, enslaved people quietly resisted attempts to commodify their bodies and souls. A welcome, necessary addition to the study of the American slave trade."
"Montalvo's excavation of city court records offers an important contribution to the understanding of slavery in the Crescent City. By examining warranty disputes and freedom suits, Enslaved Archives explores the control of information and the creation of an antebellum legal archive, offering a salient understanding of slavery and power in New Orleans."
|Johns Hopkins University Press
Other Titles in SOCIAL SCIENCE / Slavery
Other Titles in Slavery & abolition of slavery