Warring for America: Cultural Contests in the Era of 1812.
Warring for America: Cultural Contests in the Era of 1812. Edited by Nicole Eustace and Frederika J. Teute. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2017. Pp. viii, 502. $59.95.)
This volume contains fourteen essays on a series of cultural conflicts that played out in and around North America between the 1780s and the 1830s. The authors highlight issues of race, slavery, gender, and identity, often to the exclusion of other matters that might have received more attention, such as class, religion, and patriotism. Only four essays focus exclusively on events between 1812 and 1815. Consequently, the subtitle of the volume--Cultural Contests in the Era of 1812 -- is perhaps questionable. As the editors note, many of these conflicts have already been discussed as outcomes of the American Revolution that persisted into the era of the early republic. Certainly, the second war with Great Britain provided renewed definitions for these contests without necessarily settling them. From that perspective, the War of 1812 becomes an even more inconclusive conflict than many historians have believed, so much so that it hardly seems right to suggest that it was an "era" in its own right. Nevertheless, the essays collectively make an important statement: that as individuals and groups ceased to fight for or against America, they continued to contest what America might or should mean.
Of greatest interest is David Waldstreicher's essay on the origins of blackface minstrelsy, which he locates in the 1814 song "Backside Albany" rather than in the performances of Thomas D. Rice in the 1830s. The historical memory of this song underlines how white Americans diminished the contribution of the struggles of "black Jack Tars" for freedom to the American war effort. Another valuable offering is Jonathan Todd Hancock's demonstration of how the course of the war in the Old Northwest was shaped as much by the internal politics of Native American groups as it was by the conflict between these peoples and white settlers. Rather more problematic is Christen Mucher's essay on the Atlantic slave trade. There is no need to doubt her arguments that neutral trade concealed more illicit slave trading than has been realized and that this greatly displeased the British pamphleteer James Stephen, whose antislavery credentials are undeniable. But whether Stephen "framed" the 1807 Orders in Council that "caused" the War of 1812 for antislavery purposes is a suggestion that other studies of Stephens's career have not been able to nail down conclusively.
Students of both the early republic and the War of 1812 will find many insights in this volume worth pondering. They might wish for a better integration of the variety of materials that scholars of these subjects consult. Historians of the War of 1812 still rely heavily on sources of a diplomatic, military, and political provenance; the sources cited in these essays are predominantly literary in their nature. As a result, a truly satisfying synthesis between the events of the second war for independence and the larger developments in the early republican era remains elusive. But progress is being made.
University of Virginia
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|Title Annotation:||THE AMERICAS|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2018|
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