Fri 16 Nov, 2007
Tags: Historians, Slavery, The North
Traces of the Trade carries the message that the North was far more implicated in slavery, even in southern slavery, than we are commonly led to understand.
In this vein, Professor Steven Hahn, of the University of Pennsylvania, argues that for fugitive slaves in the 19th century, there was little distinction between the slave-owning South and the more progressive North, to the point where “the border itself was illusory.”
Hahn explains that the thousands of former slaves who escaped to the northern states lived in constant fear of being re-captured and returned to their former masters. As a result, they tended to live separately from the northern white population, in what he calls “maroon communities,” and were perpetually on guard against recapture.
Elsewhere, Hahn has also written well about the value of history, and the perspective of historians:
Historians can be as arrogant and tone-deaf as any people who claim intellectual authority, but the nature of their work disposes them to be otherwise. Although historians pose large questions, they are skeptical of easy answers. Although they like to bring order out of apparent chaos, they quickly recognize the complexity of human undertakings. … They come to learn that historical writing and historical experience involve conflicting perspectives and that they need to confront viewpoints different than their own.