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The racial geopolitics of Harriet Beecher Stowe's geography textbooks.

Harriet Beecher's first book, Primary Geography for Children, published in 1833, is barely known today, and neither is its thoroughly revised version, First Geography for Children, published in 1855. (1) These textbooks elucidate Stowe's stance on the civic futures of African Americans more explicitly than her novels do because they treat slavery and abolition as geopolitical concerns within a global context.' Thus, these neglected texts shed light on Stowe's abolitionist support for African colonization, one of the most vexed questions in Stowe scholarship. First raised in contemporaneous critiques of Uncle Tom's Cabin, this problem has been revisited often. For decades, scholars viewed Stowe's abolitionist support of colonization as paradoxical. Rejecting this interpretation, Michelle Burnham redefines colonization as "central" to the "resolution" of Uncle Tom's Cabin (121), and Amy Kaplan states that "colonization underwrites the racial politics of the domestic imagination" (48). Ezra Tawil similarly reconciles the "racialism" and "antislavery politics" of Uncle Tom's Cabin and explains their interrelation in terms of generic conventions (155). Like the tradition they revise, Burnham, Kaplan, and Tawil treat this issue as a literary question. I extend their readings of the coalescence of Stowe's abolitionist and colonizationist commitments beyond her novels.

The geography textbooks show that this coalescence is integral to Stowe's understanding of the globe. Like Uncle Tom's Cabin and Dred, but far more elaborately, they counter African American claims for US citizenship. The textbooks not only extend this exclusion beyond the United States to cover the Americas but also undermine the possibility of free polities in Africa. Stowe's novels never dramatize Africa: Uncle Tom's Cabin portrays it briefly as a benighted continent in need of Christian and republican redemption, and Dred reduces it to the geographic origin of slaves. In the geography books, by contrast, Stowe depicts Africa as a region marked by harsh environmental and human conditions that must frustrate the promises of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Conversely, these books almost never mention free or fugitive African Americans (who figure prominently in the novels), but portray them implicitly as a pathological population trapped in geopolitical limbo, deprived of spatial belonging and identification. The books highlight this limbo by emphasizing the antithetical role of white US citizens as agents of national evangelical expansion.

Throughout Primary Geography for Children and First Geography for Children, the joint development of Stowe's faith in expansionism and in abolition leads her to embrace what we may call antiracist reform and simultaneously to reject the enfranchisement of African Americans. For Stowe, I argue, antiracism is a moral commitment consistent with the geopolitical necessity of removing African Americans from the United States. Stowe's geopolitical view rests on the ideas that a natural geographic order separates distinct racial groups and that whites are the only appropriate subjects of US space, history, and destiny. In these two books, the white child embodies national geopolitics, and this exclusive embodiment makes African American bodies incompatible with the nation. Extending Karen Sanchez-Eppler's understanding of embodiment as "cultural conceptions of the corporeality of identity" (Touching Liberty 3), I attach it to territoriality to show how the affinity between the white child's body and national space renders the black body nationally unintelligible and prevents its being mapped onto national geography.

Stowe's two geography textbooks illuminate the dependence of antislavery sentiment on racial exclusion because (unlike her novels) they allow us to compare the author's perspectives on geopolitics and race before and after her ideological conversion to Manifest Destiny and immediate abolition. Stowe's political commitments shifted around 1845, when Manifest Destiny became a staple of US policy and she published her first abolitionist work, a sketch titled "Immediate Emancipation." (3) Thus Primary Geography is a pre-abolitionist text uncertain about national expansion, while First Geography endorses abolition and represents expansionism almost as a fait accompli threatened only by slavery. The books exemplify Trish Loughran's argument that immediate abolition "entwined" slavery with the "narrative of US territorial expansion." More than other reformers in the 1830s and 1840s, Loughran writes, abolitionists promoted the idea of national unity in order to represent "slavery as a national problem" (306, 309, 347). Abolitionist supporters of Manifest Destiny often viewed the expanding national space as the birthright of white US citizens. While the pre-abolitionist Primary Geography doubts the viability of successful national expansion, the abolitionist First Geography represents slavery explicitly as a hindrance to national growth and obliterates African Americans' civic aspirations by tacitly positioning them as antithetical to national development.

Like numerous antebellum geography textbooks, Stowe's represent a world divided hierarchically into regions of various scales (continents, countries, nations, and states), depicting each by describing its climate, productions, government, religion, history, and national character and by offering local anecdotes and illustrations. In representing slavery and the nation's relation to the world, however, both books significantly revise contemporaneous geographic pedagogy. Many New England authors of geography textbooks attacked slavery in the 1830s, but Stowe portrayed it in Primary Geography as a benign institution with no adverse impact on domestic or international affairs. By 1855, when other textbook writers had softened their former critique of slavery in order to regain the southern market, Stowe (having lost that market after Uncle TOM'S Cabin) cautioned that the nation's successful expansion was jeopardized by the national sin of slavery. (4) And while other textbooks often used a descending representational scale by starting with the globe and dividing it gradually into continents, regions, and nations, Stowe reverses this order--tentatively in Primary Geography and completely in First Geography--by beginning with the child reader's immediate environment and expanding outward gradually.' In the light of Hsuan L. Hsu's analysis of geographic scales as means for producing divergent forms of "spatial identification" (6), I read Stowe's geographies as texts that promise and record the gradual, intertwined development of abolition and expansionism as embodied in the child reader who is thus encouraged to identify with US space and imperial aspirations.

Examined geopolitically, Stowe's abolitionism emerges as a function of expansionism. This perspective does not trivialize her antislavery commitment but contextualizes it within her view of the differential spatial and political entitlements of what she represents as racially distinct populations. My analysis of Stowe's "geopolitics" may seem anachronistic, as the term was coined in 1899 (Dodds 24), but geopolitical discourse preceded its coinage. Geographers John A. Agnew and Gearoid O Tuathail define geopolitics "as a discursive practice by which intellectuals of statecraft 'spatialize' international politics in such a way as to represent it as a 'world' characterized by particular types of places, peoples and dramas" (O Tuathail 59). Agnew demonstrates that Europe's post-1492 quest for global power was attended by views of the world as a stage whereon incompatible regimes engaged in fateful conflicts (3-5). Stowe participates in this discourse by imagining the global evangelical struggle of free Christian regimes against racially marked pagan despotisms.

Stowe's geography books promoted this struggle and thus contributed to the wider nation-building commitment of antebellum geographic pedagogy. The study of geography was considered more "prestigious" than the study of history, and its instruction was more widespread because it was perceived as the "'eye' of history," an accurate visual manifestation of world affairs (Bruckner and Hsu 13). (6) By introducing school-age children to the "non-European world," this pedagogy created "hierarchical, racial taxonomies of foreign regions" that affirmed the "global ... sociocomparative" value of US culture (Harvey 3-6). Anne Baker suggests that some of the children who had studied race as "a systematized component of world geography" later utilized this knowledge as adult statesmen who "shaped national policy, as well as the nation itself, accordingly" (135). Stowe anticipates and helps to shape the national-imperial aspirations of this discourse by encouraging her readers (in Primary Geography) and then guiding them (in First Geography) to imagine their active participation in the expansion of a white, Christian nation.

I begin with the idea of racial geopolitics by showing how Stowe's texts construct race as the foundation of geopolitical order and power relations. Next, I examine the books' promotion of geopolitical embodiment, a process by which white Christian child readers learn to identify with and contribute to the idea of an expanding white Christian nation. I then analyze slavery and abolition as geopolitical dilemmas, showing why Stowe's vision of expansionism required the removal of African Americans from the United States. Following these representations of domestic space and its relation to the world, I explore the geographic erasure of Haiti and the Caribbean in these books and then analyze their fragmentation of Africa. Both regions could have signaled the possibility of free polities of African descent, yet Stowe's pedagogy subverts this potential. I conclude by discussing her most direct intervention in African American claims for US citizenship, her 1855 introduction to William C. Nell's The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution, emphasizing the limbo to which she consigns such aspirations.


Pedagogical reforms of the 1820s and 1830s turned race into an indispensable category of geographic instruction. While earlier geographers did not rely on race to organize the world, Stowe's contemporaries could hardly imagine the globe without it (Baker 121). Race helped to cement disparate ideas about the globe and humanity into coherent worldviews that justified colonial power relations by differentiating ostensibly savage populations from the civilized readers of geographic textbooks. (7) Antebellum geography textbooks, including Stowe's, conventionally feature sections on the "Races of Men," which are represented as the human effects of a continentally ordered world. Such sections were premised on the idea that the world was naturally divided into distinct continents, each populated by its representative race. The relations among the categories African, American, and European created dilemmas for Stowe's project of portraying the expansion of an exclusively white nation, and her "Races of Men" sections attempt to reconcile the idea of natural divisions with the historical consequences of colonial settlements and forced migrations.

Primary Geography attributes phenotypic differentiations among human populations to "the countr[ies] they inhabit," but its enumeration of peoples and continents undermines this correspondence as four colors ("white, like the people of America"; "yellowish"; "copper"; and "black") that are "divided into five classes" (European, Asiatic, African, American, and Malayan) (39). Instead of explaining the numeric discrepancy of colors and classes, Stowe briefly alludes to the settler-colonial process by which "the white people" have supplanted the "copper colored ... American race" (39-40). Stowe's consistent association of whiteness with expansion begins here: "Europeans" are represented throughout both texts as the only people who can successfully adapt to new regions and expand the geographic reach of their color without compromising their racial intelligibility.

Yet the expansionist "European race" is less coherent than this depiction of national racial formation implies. In Primary Geography Stowe explains that the "European race" includes "[a]ll the people in Europe, excepting in Lapland and Finland"; "[t]he people in the western part of Asia"; "those in the Barbary States, in Egypt, and in Abyssinia"; and "the white people in America." Settler colonialism explains the presence of "white people in America," but Primary Geography fails to account for "Europeans" in Asia and Africa and for the exclusion of the residents of Lapland and Finland from the "European race." When Stowe admits that there is "a difference in the complexions of [the European] race," she further undermines the correlation of complexion and continent. Similarly, those of " [t]he African race ... live principally in the middle parts" of the continent, having failed to expand (39-41). While the physical space of Europe cannot encompass the expansionist Europeans, the African continent is too large for Africans who are marginalized by this comparison, although Europe's surface area is dwarfed by Africa's. Stowe reverses these proportions in Primary Geography by dedicating twelve pages to Europe (76-88) and less than five to Africa (72-76). Moreover, her description of the African race does not mention its geographic distribution beyond Africa.

The implicit disruptions of Stowe's racial categories are silenced almost completely by the section's illustrations. The same reforms that racialized geographic pedagogy also promoted the importance of visual representations (Baker 121-22,127). (8) Once race was included, visual aids helped to fix its theoretical, linguistic, and geographic instabilities. Like many antebellum textbooks, Stowe's are illustrated mostly by anonymous engravers. (9) These images function as a "second language" for "forg[ing] the new nation" rather than as mere "supplements" to Stowe's prose (Bruckner 108). Stowe's constant attention to the illustrations is consistent with her statement regarding the graphic language of Uncle Tom's Cabin: "[T]here is no arguing with pictures" (qtd. in Hedrick 208). (10) Consider the images of race in Primary Geography (figs. 1 and 2). The illustrator's focus on four races amends the textual incongruity of five races and four colors, but this harmony is bought at the expense of national expansionism, as the images do not mention the ascendancy of the European American.

This compromise marks the major difference between the treatments of race in the two geography texts: Whereas Primary Geography represents expansion as a potentially disruptive factor that disorganizes ostensibly natural racial divisions, the illustration of race in First Geography replaces the unbridgeable visual gaps of the former textbook with a fixed, racialized geopolitical hierarchy (fig. 3). The potential racial discord attending European expansion is neutralized by this visual representation of ostensibly natural power relations, which Stowe reinforces by explaining that the European (positioned as the central, superior ruler of this global order) is the "best looking" figure. This comparative geopolitical framing helps to unify the previously fragmented "European race" by representing expansion as unequivocal achievement rather than a source of instability. "As we belong to that race," Stowe writes in First Geography, "I need not describe it" (174); she avoids the inconsistencies inherent in the term "European race" by representing belonging as a self-evident fact and evading its complex and contradictory processes. Such a statement establishes the whiteness of the child reader as another self-evident fact and, as we will see, helps to naturalize the idea that African Americans are detached from national space and aspirations. By the time Stowe details the troubled geographic distribution of each "race," their discrepancies pale, overshadowed by the image of the superior European (176).

Yet the geopolitical racial hierarchy of First Geography is at odds with its abolitionist orientation, which seeks to affirm the idea of universal equality. Stowe qualifies her participation in European supremacist discourse by critiquing this illustration of the Indian and African for depicting "some of the worst looking of their kind," insisting that "there are some of them that look as well as the European race excepting their dark skins" (175). (11) Although she retains phenotypic distinctions and removes the "Indian" from the category "American" (174), Stowe distinguishes racial geopolitics (to which she subscribes) from racist prejudice (which she has been attacking since 1845). Her comment on the illustration of the Indian and the African reads as a direct intervention in the debate between proslavery scientific racism and abolitionist thought.



This visual distinction between the "beauty, dignity, and intellect" of the "European face" and the "distorted" features of the "negro" (20-21) was engaged by Frederick Douglass, who critiqued the scientific and educational works of his era in an 1854 commencement speech. Stowe may have read Douglass's address. According to Robert S. Levine, "More deeply and thoroughly than most other whites of the time Stowe paid regard to what African Americans had to say about slavery. Such attention led her regularly to revise her opinions on slavery and race" (147). By suggesting that "some" Africans "look as well as the European race," Stowe attempts to direct the interpretation of the illustrations. Yet her gesture is still subordinated to the broader geopolitical framework that determines racialized relations. Douglass's concern with aesthetics is secondary to his primary point that the "negro's" "destiny" is "united to America and Americans" (36). Accepting this argument means abandoning the geopolitical foundation and function of race, but Stowe's critique does not endorse the vision of a racially diverse United States. Indeed, as I will demonstrate, Stowe's representation of expansionist national "destiny" as the exclusive property of her white readers consolidates the relation between national terrain and race and renders Douglass's claim geographically unintelligible.


In Stowe's textbooks, the image of the child reader who is taught to assume the pivotal geopolitical position occupied by the European in figure 3 exemplifies an expansionist logic. Located "at the center" of the world, the white child becomes an agent of an evolving geopolitical power (Loughran 385). To adapt Sanchez-Eppler's terms regarding nineteenth-century "moral tracts for children," I suggest that Stowe's geography textbooks "articulate the felt similitudes between the national projects of raising good, white ... American children and ... of raising an ... American empire" ("Raising Empires" 399). Stowe's expansionist instruction--moving out from home and school to increasingly remote regions--has a significant pedagogical impact: Instead of portraying the white child as the furthest point of a vast spatial order, it casts him or her as the source of geographic knowledge, growth, and agency.

Both geography books employ expansionist pedagogy, but Primary Geography is uncertain regarding the attainability of national expansion, representing it as a precarious project whose failure may render the United States an inchoate collection of contending political, religious, and social interests. Stowe attributes the ills of this fragmented society to a lack of access to the Bible, which leads to widespread neglect of moral action. Universal access and obedience to the Bible becomes the condition for national geopolitical success because Christianity functions as the rationale, mechanism, and end of the nation's domestic cohesion and international influence. Every child must practice Christian love to ensure the happiness of his or her school community, a model of global future prosperity that will be achieved "if all men would only obey the Bible" (48). The school's national affiliation makes it a harbinger of global harmony. "[A]ll the other nations in the world are looking at America, to see whether so great a nation will really succeed in governing itself"; "if we succeed, then they will feel encouraged to try to be free too." Later in the book, Stowe affirms the domestic significance of children's behavior: "[I]f every child in this country ... [is] wise and good, America will continue free and happy" (108-10).


While school and nation facilitate benevolent relations between child and world, in Primary Geography Stowe also represents the world as a dangerous place. The conflict between the book's advocacy of expanding national cohesion and its uncertainty regarding its attainment is mirrored by the danger of venturing out into an ostensibly inviting yet threatening pagan world. Representing the "torrid zone" (often associated with "Africa") as a region plagued by severe climate, wild animals, and natural disasters, she writes, "[Y]ou perceive that with all the beautiful things about these countries, you have reason to prefer your own" (36). By contrasting the dangers of aesthetic seduction with the safety of proper belonging, Stowe interpellates the child reader as a future citizen loyal to his or her "own" country and its quasi-official geopolitics. Later sections on pagan tropical despotism use the threat of infanticide to enhance such interpellation. Stowe writes of "an Indian woman" who "murdered her little daughter" to save her from future servitude to a tyrannical husband; of "pagan" mothers who feed their children to "frightful alligators," watching them "torn to pieces, and eaten up"; and of parents who, "tired of their children, strangle or bury them alive, or leave them to die of hunger" (53-54, 55, 56). Hsu traces such anecdotes to missionary literature, emphasizing that they facilitate Stowe's "association of Christian evangelism with feminism" (97, 228118). But these tales also imply that national evangelism is the only safe way of engaging with the world, particularly for children.

Twenty years later, Stowe abandons such threats in First Geography and supports child agency by requiring children more elaborately to embody the nation's geopolitical outlook. Although many of the horrors associated with paganism and the tropics are copied with some pruning from Primary Geography, they are confined to the last sections of First Geography (166-214) and marginalized by its project of endowing the child reader with geopolitical power. In First Geography, Stowe represents national expansion almost as a fait accompli. The book's enhancement of the child's role in practicing and embodying expansion begins with the first chapter (see fig. 4). Stowe's detailed description of this figure encourages her readers to embody the idea of national expansion and geopolitical influence, an embodiment that will guide their pedagogical experience throughout the book. The "three girls standing farther off" estimate "the distance to the[ir] houses" with their eyes as they measure the relations between their bodies and the world. Later, they test their estimations with a "rod measure, to find exactly how far they walk to school, and how long it takes them to walk a mile" (11). Developing geographic instruction in conjunction with and through bodily action and conduct, Stowe tells her readers to repeat these tasks. Thereafter, whenever they see a map, they should "calculate how long it would take [them] to walk" across states, countries, and continents, "at the rate of twenty miles a day" (47). (12) Applying geographic agency to bodily movement empowers the child and concretizes his or her body while simultaneously abstracting the world.


Thus, in First Geography children are invited to imagine their expanding knowledge as a function of their geopolitical agency. The book locates its readers' proper geographic place in the Northeast, particularly in New England, and naturalizes the Monroe Doctrine by representing the Western Hemisphere as an extended domestic region from which evangelical expansion originates. Stowe uses the "map of the New England States" to introduce latitude and scale, and she refers to North and South America as "that part of the world where you live" (27, 105). Then she opens the chapter on Europe by instructing students to find their "own" town on the map of their "own" state, to "draw a line of the journey" to "New York or Boston," to calculate "the distance and time it would take" them to walk there, and then to imagine their trip to England (105). Later chapters take them through Europe (105-30), to Asia (131-48), and finally to Africa (149-56). In this trajectory, the United States becomes an emergent expansionist force whose success will redeem a troubled world in desperate need of Christian republicanism and will, at the same time, have a dramatic effect on the representation of slavery and the relations between people of African descent and the United States.


The white child's embodiment of national territorial expansion tacitly detaches slaves and free blacks from national soil. Stowe's representations of slavery facilitate such detachment by implying that although slavery contradicts Christian liberty, slaves are rightly excluded from US freedom. In the pre-abolitionist Primary Geography, slavery figures primarily as a global consequence of non-Christian governance rather than as a peculiar institution within a larger social structure: "In all these countries where the Bible is unknown, there is no such thing as liberty"; Africa and Asia do not have "a single republican government," and their residents have never known "[s]uch a thing ... as being free" (51). (13) Stowe frames US slavery differently--as a simultaneously tolerated and aberrant phenomenon within the Christian world, yet one that denies the national belonging of slaves. Southern slavery is first mentioned in Primary Geography in the chapter on Europe: In Russia "the poor people belong to the nobleman who owns the land, as the slaves at the [US] south belong to their masters." Slaves' relation to the land constitutes the major difference between Russian and US forms of slavery, a point that Stowe emphasizes by writing that in Russia, "[i]f the land is sold, [the slaves] are sold with it" (78). The italics indicate that Russian feudalism differs from US slavery because it attaches slaves to the soil. In the United States, Stowe's readers may conclude, this had never been the case. The attachment of Russian slaves to national soil may be explained by their representation as a domestic group ("the poor people"). By contrast, US southern slaves are identified later as a racially and thus geopolitically distinct population, a depiction that further naturalizes their detachment from national soil.

This differentiation hides a more complex history. Colonial legislatures had perceived slaves as necessary for the cultivation of American lands and thus had annexed slaves to the land by declaring them "real estate" for inheritance purposes, so that they would descend, as in the Russian case Stowe mentions, with the soi1. (14) Following the American Revolution, when Thomas Jefferson led Virginia's legal reform by replacing the feudal principles of English common law with republican ideals, he redefined slaves as "moveables" (137). Real estate signified attachment to the soil, however degrading; to be classified as moveable meant to be completely detached from any claims, ties, or rights to the land. Jefferson had to detach slaves from the soil in order to redefine attachment to the land as the foundation of white citizens' political entitlement. What Philip Fisher calls the "democratic social space" of US political thought was enabled, in other words, by the earlier removal of people of African descent (and of Native Americans) from that space (64 passim).

The alienation of slaves and free blacks from US lands intensified with the establishment of the American Colonization Society in 1816, unleashing a series of African American protests that highlighted their rights to national soil. In January 1817, leaders of Philadelphia's free black community argued that their "ancestors" had been "the first successful cultivators of the wilds of America" in order to claim their "entitle[ment] to participate in the blessings of her luxuriant soil, which their blood and sweat manured" (qtd. in Garrison 2: 9). Similar arguments were reproduced throughout the antebellum period in numerous texts and speeches. (15) In 1854, Douglass wrote that the "tears and blood" of the "colored citizen" "have been mixed with the soil," rendering "his attachment" to the United States "stronger than iron" (35). William Lloyd Garrison likewise stated in 1831 that free blacks were "entitled ... to every inch of our southern, and much of our western territory, having worn themselves out in its cultivation" (1:12). The doctrine of entitlement by cultivation was solidified by John Locke, who used it as the foundation of his philosophy of property in the Two Treatises of Government. Locke formulated this theory to justify the colonial dispossession of Native Americans (Arneil 2; Tully 139). African American abolitionists, however, refashioned it to undermine white US citizens' exclusive claims to national territories. David Walker could thus argue that "America is more our country, than it is the whites [sic]" (65).

Stowe's geography textbooks neutralize such subversive appropriations of the foundations of US claims to America's land by removing African Americans from the multigenerational project of agrarian territorial expansion and by emphasizing a sharp distinction between the "Southern States" and the "Western States." Stowe implicitly condemns slaveholding southerners for violating the Lockean link between individual labor and private property. In her books, the South (portrayed as the only region where African Americans live, and only as slaves) is seen as antithetical to national expansion and its lands are deemed worthless. Conversely, Stowe praises immigrants to western states for their adherence to Lockean doctrine. She represents the West as the stage of national drama whereon Native Americans are exiting, whites are entering, and no African American is in sight. In Primary Geography, Stowe casts the western states as "the most important parts of our country" because they offer "people an opportunity to grow rich" (101-02). Settlement, the preeminent force of expansion, is a kinship-based, socially reproductive, nation-building project. Although the West is still somewhat "dangerous," according to Primary Geography, Stowe articulates a hope that white settlers will redeem it (w7). The Oregon Territory, for instance, will be "inhabited by white people" who will supplant "wander[ing]" "[t]ribes of ignorant Indians" (92). In both books, only "Europeans" or whites are described as settlers; this noun is never used in reference to other races. The distinction is crucial, as Stowe suggests that settlement is the only means of expanding the scope of civilized, white, republican Christianity.

Although in Primary Geography Stowe tolerates southern slavery, she represents it as incompatible with the reproduction of white settlement. Consequently, the South becomes an aberrant, anti-expansionist region with a separate spatial logic. Whereas New England is characterized by dense communities that enable universal access to schools and churches, and while this is the model for western development, the South is portrayed as a sparsely inhabited region where slaveholders may have no "neighbor within six or seven miles" although some of them "own several hundred" slaves (98). Removed from significant ties to social or historic space, slaves are associated in Stowe's narrative with the cyclical time of agricultural production. "At the proper time of the year," she writes, "the negroes pick off the cotton-pods, and after the cotton has been cleaned and prepared, it is packed up and sent away to Europe, where cotton is manufactured" (98-99). According to Stowe, slaves are aliens trapped in the economy that subordinates them and deprives them of the profits the land symbolizes.

The illustration of slavery (fig. 5) distinguishes between those empowered by attachment to the land and those who are excluded from it. Slaves, barrels, and bales manifest the wealth and power of their masters, whose control of the scene is represented by their surveillance of their property. Whereas the territorial expansion of white US citizens is a kinship-based system, slaves are represented as entities with no kinship or social ties beyond those imposed by slavery. Enslaved "females" and "children" are "employed" in the slaveholders' "houses" while "men take care of the plantation," but there is no indication that they constitute families of their own. Rather, Stowe uses kinship as a metaphor to justify slavery: " [A] s there is such a large family of them, they must of course have a great deal to do" (98). These "females," "children," and "men" are related functionally by a division of labor that alone constitutes them as a figurative "family." This metaphor naturalizes slavery while invoking and revising a major colonial justification for the practice, the idea that slavery was necessitated by the colonies' ostensibly unique labor and environmental conditionsie. (16) In Stowe's version, the presence and proliferation of slaves ("as there is such a large family of them") necessitates enslavement ("they must of course have a great deal to do"). Without slavery, they would have nothing "to do" in the United States.


These forms of exclusion help Stowe to represent slavery as a benign institution in Primary Geography. In the abolitionist First Geography, however, she suggests that slavery endangers national well-being, while using the suffering of slaves to accentuate their exclusion from the nation. Slavery "ruin [s] the soil" and thus threatens agrarian territorial expansion (77). Stowe's depiction of white northern labor draws on the Jeffersonian production of a unified "democratic social space" where equal representation rests on equal opportunities of landownership and cultivation. Agrarian landowners "train their children to work" and to pay "other people" who "work for them" (69). Such wage laborers eventually contribute to national reproduction just as do the "children" of landowners by "buy[ing] land and hav[ing] a farm for themselves" (72). By contrast, southern landowners "force men to work for them whether they wish to or not" (72). The racially neutral term "men" implies that force alone prevents community-nurturing landownership from developing in the South, but the accompanying illustration bridges this textual gap and highlights the determining factor of race: "The man with a whip is a white man; the rest of the people are negroes" (73; see fig. 6). Although the prose emphasizes violence against slaves, in the illustration the hoe-lifting slave behind the white overseer suggests the threat of slave revolt. In the only reference to (potentially) free African Americans in either text, here, in First Geography, Stowe advises "the Southern states" to "turn all their slaves into freemen; thus making them cheerful and willing laborers for wages" (74). This comment briefly suggests that, like northern wage workers, emancipated slaves may also become landowning farmers whose status as such may ensure their enfranchisement, but the rest of the prose and images throughout the book subvert this idea.


Several illustrations that precede figure 6, and especially figure 7, suppress the possibility of free African American labor on national soil. The "western states" section includes images of "emigrants" who "have taken their families" to "find a new home," and of white miners in Wisconsin, followed by an illustration of "laborers gathering in the ripe wheat" (57, 65, 68) (fig. 7). Stowe interprets this illustration as follows: "It is a man and his four sons all working together" (68). This visual order--from emigration through mineral extraction to harvest--asserts the significance of expansionist national wealth and roots it in white individualism, free labor, and family. Stowe uses the harvest illustration to remind her readers that "the great Western States ... have been made the rich granary of our country by freemen, who were, in childhood, trained to be industrious as their fathers were before them" (68). This genealogy highlights the exclusive whiteness of such "freemen" who alone are associated with overlapping forms of social reproduction: kinship, race, farming, and national expansion.


In First Geography Stowe distinguishes slavery (associated with soil depletion) from free farming (rewarded by successful harvests) and supports the assumption that slavery "ruin[s] the soil" (77).(17) Her contemporary, abolitionist Lydia Maria Child, attributes to "the slave and his taskmaster" the power to "change the garden of Eden to a desert" (120), but, unlike Stowe, Child uses this idea to support African American enfranchisement.18 Stowe gestures toward a similar solution in passing by suggesting that the South may profit by turning "negroes" into wage laborers, but her depiction of territorial expansion as exclusively white undermines this option. While Child contextualizes slavery's effect on the soil in terms of African American rights, Stowe focuses on its impact on white southerners, stating that it "has led many of the people to emigrate to other states; while many families which used to be very rich have become poor." Hence the South must get "rid of slavery" to regain its lost "prosperity," but neither geography book envisions a post-slavery future for African Americans (77-78).

Stowe removes African Americans farther from the United States by representing slavery as an African institution. In a rare comparative consideration of slavery in First Geography, while referring to US citizens in Barbary captivity, Stowe writes, "[I]n the north of Africa black men make white men slaves, and in the west of Africa white men make black men slaves" (155). This statement appears in the chapter on Africa after Stowe discusses the "Barbary States," where white US citizens "were made slaves to the black Moors of Africa". and "Senegambia, Soudan, and Guinea," where "white people from Europe and America go to steal colored men and make them slaves" (154-55). Slavery and slaves are portrayed as endemic to Africa within a comparative framework that naturalizes the detachment of African Americans from the United States: As white US captives do not belong to North Africa's soil, so slaves may lay no valid claim to the United States because in both cases slavery negates territorial attachment. Although in First Geography Stowe represents slavery as being a "curse to the whole country," she also alienates slavery from the nation by rendering its origins African (74). As I have been suggesting, Stowe's geography books also imply that Africa fails to provide the geopolitical foundation for post-slavery African American futures. My next two sections focus on such failures, first in the context of Haiti and the Caribbean and then in Africa.


In the early republican and antebellum geopolitical imagination, the Caribbean figured as a target of US expansionist aspirations and as a model for free black polities in the Americas (Brickhouse 224-26). The first decades of Haiti's existence saw its ostracism by Europe, the Vatican, and the United States, who treated Haitian forms of freedom and Christianity as unacceptable violations of the theological and geopolitical order (Trouillot 50-57). Fantasies of correcting such violations led US expansionists to view the conquest of the Caribbean as a strategy for frustrating slaves' or free blacks' aspirations for freedom and for strengthening US interests, including slavery (Brickhouse 5-8, 84-85, 223-27). This context guides my reading of Stowe's almost complete erasure of the Caribbean and Haiti from these textbooks. This omission of region and republic compromises the books' pedagogical commitment to provide a complete geographic coverage of the world and concretizes the US refusal to recognize Haiti, which was withheld until the 1860s.

The geography textbooks offered Stowe many opportunities to mention Haiti or the Caribbean, yet Primary Geography omits the Caribbean from its section on "Islands," which focuses solely on Asia and the Pacific, and from that on "Tropics and Zones," in which she discusses sugar production (30-31, 31-39). At the time Stowe published Primary Geography, the region was the world's major source of sugar (Mintz 68), and although throughout both textbooks she consistently associates world regions with their respective productions, she says nothing about Caribbean sugar. Associating sugar with other crops instead of giving it a regional base, Stowe mentions it after referring to gum Arabic, but while she writes that gum is produced in Africa, she leaves sugar dissociated from any particular place (34). Later, in the section on the fertile "Barbary States," Stowe writes that "the sugar cane flourishes excellently" there (72-73). The Caribbean appears on the map of North America in Primary Geography, which features the "Car. Sea" with "Cuba," "Jamaica," and "Hayti"; the text's map of South America includes the "Car. Sea"; and its world map mentions the "W[est] I [indiel s" and "Car. Sea" (n.p.). Yet these cartographic references are neither echoed nor elaborated on in the text.

In 1833, when Primary Geography was published, legislative efforts to abolish slavery in England's Caribbean colonies were under way, so representing the region might have entailed a discussion of abolition, which the book avoids. But even in First Geography, Stowe does not discuss Caribbean freedom. Here she associates sugar with geographic place, stating that it is cultivated by "negroes" in the US "slave states" and saying nothing about the Caribbean (74); as in Primary Geography, she leaves cartographic mentions of the region mostly unexplained and copies sections from the earlier book that omit it. When Stowe does briefly break her silence on the Caribbean in the abolitionist First Geography, she highlights its despotism and obliterates its potential for African-descended forms of freedom.

The last section of First Geography, on "Government," features a new paragraph on "South America" that briefly refers to "The West India islands" and mentions a single one by name: "St. Domingo is a despotism, with a black emperor" (207-14, 213). Stowe uses the island's colonial name instead of acknowledging Haiti's political independence, and her refusal to do so is amplified by her exclusive association of republicanism with Christian liberty and of both with ascendant civilization. Although she refers to two rulers of American polities by titles she has earlier classified as despotic ("Russian America [present-day Alaska] is governed by the Czar" and "Brazil is governed by an emperor"), "St. Domingo" is the only American country she vilifies explicitly by branding it as "a despotism," with many counterparts in Asia, Africa, and the Pacific. The only free places in these regions, Stowe emphasizes, are those that "belong to European nations," and more precisely (unlike Russian America or Brazil) to Protestant ones (213-14).

Stowe highlights Haitian despotism because the idea of Haitian freedom would negate the books' dominant representation of geopolitical liberty as a gift brought by Protestant European regimes to benighted parts of the world. By partially erasing the island and region, First Geography supports a limited form of abolitionism whereby freedom depends on white Protestant republican benevolence. The text thus avoids the two major contemporaneous potentialities signified by the Caribbean--the threat of "a great and splendid slaveholding empire," as Dred puts it ironically (470), and the promise of autonomous black enfranchisement, developed, for example, in Douglass's The Heroic Slave and later in Martin Delaney's Blake. Uncle Tom's Cabin also gestures toward a similar obliteration of Haiti (234, 374). However, the novel imagines Africa as the site of promised geopolitical redemption for African Americans and Africans. Primary Geography and First Geography frustrate this hope as well.


By associating Africa with savagery, heathenism, ignorance, and an arid environment that challenges expansionist Protestant republicanism, both geography textbooks position Africa as antithetical to the United States. Stowe thus reproduces what Agnew calls "binary geography"--a geopolitical organization that defines regions by contrast to each other (16, 20-30). The gradual cohesion of the United States is contrasted in these textbooks with the symbolic fragmentation of Africa, which I read as a geopolitical challenge to Liberia's civilizing mission. Whereas in the previous section I dealt with Stowe's removal of African American freedom from the Americas, here I focus on her subversion of the future she celebrates at the end of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Both geography books portray Africa as the poorest region on earth by contrast to American territorial wealth. The chapter on Africa in Primary Geography opens by declaring it "the most degraded and uncivilized of any of the four quarters of the globe" and by highlighting its deficiencies: "There are no republican governments here. There are no countries possessed of the Bible." Consequently, "Vice and cruelty, and ignorance and laziness are in all these lands" (72). Earlier chapters on "Rivers" and "Religion" have prepared the ground for this judgment. Rivers facilitate territorial expansion by "keep[ing] the land moist and fresh" and by "serv[ing] as roads" (29); thus, in "America and Asia" the "soil is wonderfully rich" (33), while "in a great part" of Africa the lack of rivers makes the land "all parched up" and "in many places, a dry sandy desert" (29-30). Africa's religious chaos and lack of Christianity augment its position as an aberrant space: "All Africa is Pagan, except the Barbary States, Egypt, and Abyssinia, which are Mahometan, except Abyssinia" (51). Abyssinia's double mention demonstrates the pathology of African places, which defy coherent description. This point is reemphasized at the close of the chapter on Africa, where Stowe writes that the people of Abyssinia "once professed to be Christians, but are as stupid and ignorant as heathens. They are so brutal as to eat raw [meat]. ... [T] he lives of men are no more regarded than if they were brutes" (75-76).

Although in both textbooks Stowe advocates Christianization enthusiastically, only here, in the section on Africa, does she mention its failures. Government and faith are integrated in Stowe's geopolitics as aspects of racial difference that contribute to the divergent historical destinies of distinct continents. Thus, Abyssinia's religious pathology tacitly threatens Liberia's prospects. Liberia's first mention in Primary Geography follows descriptions of the "African race" as "fierce and cruel," ruled by "the most despotic [governments] in the world," and "worship[ping] all sort of things for Gods--worms--sticks--stones--beads--bits of paper--or any thing that they can find." Liberia is represented as an aberration within a pathological place, described as "a little country on the west coast, settled by black people, who have gone out from this country." This lone reference is followed by the statement that "[n]othing is known about that middle part, which you see on your map called Ethiopia" (75). Heathenism, despotism, and ignorance threaten Liberia's civilizing mission. As Liberian colonists are dubbed "black people" rather than settlers, they seem relevant for US readers primarily because they have "gone out from this country." Their absence substitutes for a culturally intelligible African presence.

Primary Geography presents Africa as having more prosperous parts, but these are confined to the "Barbary States" on its northern edge, one of "the richest and most productive portions of the world" (72). Yet the threat that Africa poses to Christianity endangers this partial prosperity. "Many regions that used to be fertile, have been overwhelmed by sand storms" and turned to "waste, and barren deserts" (74). Desertification, the reversibility of Christian efforts, and religious, racial, and productive divisions pathologize the continent and locate it beyond the logic of expansionist republican Protestantism. Stowe's binary geographies support this logic by positioning the affirmative environmental conditions of the United States against Africa's disaster-stricken environment.

In First Geography the achieved expansion of US republican Protestantism contrasts with the further fragmentation of Africa. Stowe claims an ignorance of the continent that parallels her obliteration of Haiti: "Africa lies south of Europe, and less is known of its interior portions than of any other part of the world" (149). Internal divisions not only separate the northern and southern parts of the continent but are also used to fragment the ostensibly better-situated north. Egypt is now associated solely with fertility and magnificent history, while the "Barbary States" are inhabited by "black Moors" notable for their "piracy" and enslavement of a "good many" US "white people" (154). Stowe's description of desertification reiterates Africa's exclusion from reproductive expansionism: "In many cases, large countries, which used to be thickly settled, have been covered with the sand that has been blown over from the deserts near them" (149). In First Geography Stowe represents Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Britain's "Cape Colony" (present-day South Africa) as exceptional success stories. Liberia, for example, is "the most prosperous and flourishing community in Africa" (156). "All the other countries" in Africa's eastern and western regions "are inhabited by savage and degraded tribes of negroes," and "very little is known abour [a]ll the interior portion" (156). (19) Etsuko Taketani writes that First Geography represents Liberia as "inhabiting a progressive space" (54), yet its success (and that of Sierra Leone) is tenuous, as their location threatens to drown them in an expanding savage desert.

Liberia, in this spatial symbolism, is imagined as a tiny experiment expected to redeem a huge interior that is ready to annihilate it. Advocates of Liberia feared that "the interior tribes" might "blot it from the coast" (Knight 185); contemporaneous texts and maps portrayed Liberia as a narrow coastal strip devoid of inland breadth, squeezed between the Atlantic and the huge, dangerous interior (Bridge 114). Violence was an integral part of Liberian politics; The US Navy burned "native African" towns during the early 1840s to assert the colony's power (Bridge 81-84), and similar events continued well after Liberian independence in 1847. In 1856, for instance, "the Americo-Liberian rulers burned the homes of the Grebo people and expelled them from their ancestral land" (Ammons 73-74). Until the late nineteenth century, Liberia deliberately avoided delimiting its territory because its founding myth portrayed it as an expansive agent of redemption that would transform the entire continent and render it available for colonial exploitation, an idea developed further in Sarah losepha Hale's Liberia, a novel she wrote in response to Uncle Tom's Cabin. (20) Although Stowe's geography books do not mention this context explicitly, their representations of Liberia are haunted by implicit dangers.


Liberian violence was an indirect consequence of US debates about African American belonging, and it figured occasionally in statements by free blacks who insisted on their exclusive attachment to US soil. In the wake of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe evaded this challenge by focusing on creating abolitionist consensus instead of planning for slavery's aftermath. Despite her reported opposition to colonization and regret for having "sen[t] George Harris to Liberia" (Gossett 294), and despite her calling upon readers of A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin to "endeavour to secure" the "privileges of American citizens" for African Americans (496), Stowe depicts such citizenship as merely symbolic because her attack on racist prejudice supports her commitment to national whiteness.

This commitment guides Stowe's brief introduction to William C. Nell's pioneering African American history, The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution, in which she engages directly with African American abolitionist claims for US citizenship.2t Nell records African American contributions to the Revolutionary War and reprints numerous political claims made by free black communities and individuals since that war. The result is a representative text that constitutes a collective political voice insisting that slavery's creation of a multiracial society must lead the United States to acknowledge its diversity and to abandon racial civic exclusions. Stowe's four-paragraph introduction to the volume reduces it to a "little collection of interesting incidents" that she hopes will dispel prevalent "misconceptions" regarding African Americans' abilities, history, and destiny. She writes that African Americans' revolutionary services were particularly "magnanimous" because they were offered by men who had fought neither "for their own land" nor for an adoptive one, "but for a land which had enslaved them" (5). True to her antiracist mission, she hopes Nell's book will succeed in "revers[ing]" the "unjust public sentiment" so that "full opportunities" may be "given" to African Americans "to take rank among the nations of the earth," but her appreciation rejects Nell's vision of a racially diverse nation (6).

Racism, Stowe argues avant la lettre, must be eradicated, but the world in which such reform should take place must be ordered into racially distinct nations. Stowe's resistance to the thrust of Colored Patriots recalls Jefferson's fantasy of colonization, which imagines a future US declaration of African Americans as "a free and independent people" away from its borders (138). Like Jefferson, she suggests that foreign rather than domestic policy should purge the nation of slavery and that slavery has been a historical accident whose solution lies in separating America and white US citizens from Africa and African Americans. Within this worldview, free African Americans are an unintelligible population belonging nowhere, and the binary geographies that control the geopolitical relations between Africa and America threaten to frustrate Stowe's hope for a reorganized Africa where the descendants of slaves will be able to rebuild their political lives.


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__ "Recommendations." Beecher and Beecher, Primary Geography n.p.

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Research for this essay was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (grant no. 272/07). I am grateful to Barbara Hochman and to the editors and reviewers of Legacy for their comments on drafts, and to June Can and Jaclyn Penny for assistance with access to Stowe's geography textbooks.

(1.) Although Primary Geography was published under Catharine Beecher's and Harriet Beecher's names, Stowe, who called it "my poor little geography," is its likely author (C. E. Stowe 65). Catharine Beecher apparently confirms this in her statement that Harriet was "writing some books for children" in the winter of 1832-33. Wilson, quoting from this letter, similarly claims that Catharine "did none of the writing" (111-12). Primary Geography underwent five editions in three months (Hedrick 70,82,115; Beecher and Beecher, "Recommendations"). The success of First Geography was aided by that of Uncle Tom's Cabin. First Geography is available electronically from HathiTrust Digital Library. As of this writing, Primary Geography has not been digitized.

(2.) Few critics have written on either Geography, and no one has analyzed them comparatively. Hsu discusses the religious import of Primary Geography in the context of missionary representations of China (96-97); Harvey analyzes the racial discourse of First Geography as part of his study of antebellum representations of the "non-European world" (39-43, 62-63); Loughran considers the contribution of First Geography to the consolidation of national space (384-85); and Taketani refers briefly to the discourse of progressive colonization in First Geography (42-43)

(3.) For a recent discussion of Manifest Destiny's emergence, see Howe 702-05.

(4.) For an analysis of abolition and geography textbooks, see Harvey 41, 43.

(5.) Putnam's Monthly praised First Geography for "begin[ning] with the [learner's] town" and "advancing gradually to ... the world." Whereas former textbooks "descend from generals to particulars," Stowe "ascends from particulars to generals" ("Editorial Notes" 550; see also Harvey 43).

(6.) See also Schulten 93-94 and Mayhew 33.

(7.) It would take more than a century for geography (and other social sciences) to start discarding race in classifications of human populations (Schulten 144-45).

(8.) See also Harvey 34, 58.

(9.) Such anonymity was common because technologies that facilitated cheap image reproduction led publishers and engravers to copy published works (Baker 127). Even where the engraver's name or firm is indicated, it tells us little about the original designer. For this history, see Hamilton.

(10.) Although Stowe wrote both geography textbooks before contacting their respective publishers, she might have been forced to revise her prose to fit the illustrations her publishers chose (Wilson in; Stowe, First Geography 3).

(11.) This qualification does not lead Stowe to abandon racial stereotypes. For examples of such stereotypes in First Geography, see 145-46 and 164.

(12.) See also 3o, 61,88,991 112, 131, and 149.

(13.) See also Hsu 97.

(14.) Barbados was the first colony to define slaves as real estate for inheritance purposes, in 1668. Virginia did so in 1705. Similar laws were enacted elsewhere and survived in some US states into the antebellum period.

(15.) Garrison reprints numerous such statements in his Thoughts on African Colonization.

(16.) Eighteenth-century British abolitionist lawyer Francis Hargrave, for instance, regretted that "[b]y an unhappy occurrence of circumstances the slavery of negroes is thought to have become necessary in America; and therefore in America our Legislature has permitted the slavery of negroes" (67).

(17.) Stowe reiterates this assumption, common to many abolitionists, in Dred and A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin. In Dred she writes, "Virginia has been ruined by" slavery, which threatens to "eat out this country like cancer" (464). In A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin she asserts that slavery "turns fruitful fields to deserts" (500).

(18.) For more examples of this view among free-soil politicians, see Zeitz 475-76.

(19.) As Schulten shows, in the 188os geography textbooks still represented Liberia as an unrealized promise and Africa as an unknown continent (loo).

(20.) For Liberia's boundaries, see Gershoni. For an analysis of Hale's book, see Taketani 150-73.

(21.) For a study of Nell's book, see Ernest 95-153.


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Author:Ben-Zvi, Yael
Publication:Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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