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Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South

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Recent scholarship on slavery has explored the lives of enslaved people beyond the watchful eye of their masters. Building on this work and the study of space, social relations, gender, and power in the Old South, Stephanie Camp examines the everyday containment and movement of enslaved men and, especially, enslaved women. In her investigation of the movement of bodies, ob Recent scholarship on slavery has explored the lives of enslaved people beyond the watchful eye of their masters. Building on this work and the study of space, social relations, gender, and power in the Old South, Stephanie Camp examines the everyday containment and movement of enslaved men and, especially, enslaved women. In her investigation of the movement of bodies, objects, and information, Camp extends our recognition of slave resistance into new arenas and reveals an important and hidden culture of opposition. Camp discusses the multiple dimensions to acts of resistance that might otherwise appear to be little more than fits of temper. She brings new depth to our understanding of the lives of enslaved women, whose bodies and homes were inevitably political arenas. Through Camp's insight, truancy becomes an act of pursuing personal privacy. Illegal parties (frolics) become an expression of bodily freedom. And bondwomen who acquired printed abolitionist materials and posted them on the walls of their slave cabins (even if they could not read them) become the subtle agitators who inspire more overt acts. The culture of opposition created by enslaved women's acts of everyday resistance helped foment and sustain the more visible resistance of men in their individual acts of running away and in the collective action of slave revolts. Ultimately, Camp argues, the Civil War years saw revolutionary change that had been in the making for decades.


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Recent scholarship on slavery has explored the lives of enslaved people beyond the watchful eye of their masters. Building on this work and the study of space, social relations, gender, and power in the Old South, Stephanie Camp examines the everyday containment and movement of enslaved men and, especially, enslaved women. In her investigation of the movement of bodies, ob Recent scholarship on slavery has explored the lives of enslaved people beyond the watchful eye of their masters. Building on this work and the study of space, social relations, gender, and power in the Old South, Stephanie Camp examines the everyday containment and movement of enslaved men and, especially, enslaved women. In her investigation of the movement of bodies, objects, and information, Camp extends our recognition of slave resistance into new arenas and reveals an important and hidden culture of opposition. Camp discusses the multiple dimensions to acts of resistance that might otherwise appear to be little more than fits of temper. She brings new depth to our understanding of the lives of enslaved women, whose bodies and homes were inevitably political arenas. Through Camp's insight, truancy becomes an act of pursuing personal privacy. Illegal parties (frolics) become an expression of bodily freedom. And bondwomen who acquired printed abolitionist materials and posted them on the walls of their slave cabins (even if they could not read them) become the subtle agitators who inspire more overt acts. The culture of opposition created by enslaved women's acts of everyday resistance helped foment and sustain the more visible resistance of men in their individual acts of running away and in the collective action of slave revolts. Ultimately, Camp argues, the Civil War years saw revolutionary change that had been in the making for decades.

30 review for Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Chute

    Well structured and wonderfully written. Camp's lucid prose effortlessly conveys her intricate thesis, which deconstructs dichotomies to nuance our understanding of the spatial, temporal, racial, and gendered properties of enslavement in the antebellum South. One of the best books on slavery that I have read. I finished this book in three hours and already want to read it again.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jacob

    Really good book about the social history of enslaved women on plantations, focusing on the spatial dynamics of their enslavement. I particularly liked that Camp (who died of cancer not long ago) avoided the "resistance/accommodation" debate that often distracts from the importance of the stories themselves. Her writing is succinct and memorable. Occasionally there may be a bit of over-extrapolation from the relatively few primary sources that exist, but the book is forthright about this shortco Really good book about the social history of enslaved women on plantations, focusing on the spatial dynamics of their enslavement. I particularly liked that Camp (who died of cancer not long ago) avoided the "resistance/accommodation" debate that often distracts from the importance of the stories themselves. Her writing is succinct and memorable. Occasionally there may be a bit of over-extrapolation from the relatively few primary sources that exist, but the book is forthright about this shortcoming. It is a pleasure to read and you will learn a lot.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Joanne Rixon

    Camp's work on the social history of enslaved women in the American South is foundational to a solid understanding of the United States today. Culture developed in a pressure-cooker of bias and abuse forms the underpinnings of our modern world. Not only that, but Camp's exploration of 'everyday resistance' illuminates principles of resistance to oppression that blows up the myth of passivity/helplessness in the face of slavery. Absolute must-read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sowande'

    Contributes to the already existent body of enslaved resistance studies. She offers a rather abstract view of slavery which some can appreciate and also find simplistic in other ways. all in all, provides a nuanced interpretation - although broad with profound generalizations - that can further ones glimpse into the world of American slavery.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Courtney Homer

    Fascinating look at slaves and slave resistance in the immediate pre-Civil War and Civil War period. Focuses on daily, non-traditional resistance - illuminating the variety of methods slaves employed in order to resist the system. Pulls from a lot of recent scholarship. Accessible read.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Richard Pierce

    Besides being a well written book on the subject of slavery, this book better defined for me the difference between patriarchy and paternalism as it related to Southern society and it consequences for those enslaved.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Erika

    There wasn't much that was new here but it did give me a new perspective on a few things.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jason S

    An interesting account of slave resistance by women. Interesting chapter on spread of abolitionist prints in the south.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy Canipe

    When reading any academic book, its important to learn something about the author if you are not already familiar with them. In this instance, I was saddened to learn that Dr. Camp's life had been cut short by cancer in 2014, when she was only 46 years old, leaving behind a husband and young son. That sort of news can cut to the bone and reminds us of our common humanity and casted a somber light over might reading of her ground-breaking work in this book. Here is an instance where, having not re When reading any academic book, its important to learn something about the author if you are not already familiar with them. In this instance, I was saddened to learn that Dr. Camp's life had been cut short by cancer in 2014, when she was only 46 years old, leaving behind a husband and young son. That sort of news can cut to the bone and reminds us of our common humanity and casted a somber light over might reading of her ground-breaking work in this book. Here is an instance where, having not read the book for 16 years after its publication and having read many others on American slavery and enslaved women, many of Professor Camp's core points have been absorbed by me - thought this other secondary literature. That reminds me as well how much historians learn from each other and sheds light on her influence. In explaining her book's goals in the introduction, Professor Camp noted that studies of enslavement had been stuck on two rocks that she hoped to dislodge. First, historians often could to avoid a dichotomy between outright rebellion and running away versus a lack of resistance to slavery. She successfully focused the reader's attention, as the title suggest, on how enslaved women in particular resisted slavery on a day-to-day basis and how their actions can be seen as political acts and social resistance. Second, in a related topic, scholars often had difficulty with balancing out the personal self-assertion versus domination of slaves by the slave owner and the legal system. In this regard, she brought to bear theories from geography (and sociology). In particular, her book discussed how slave owners and the law of slavery tried to keep enslaved people in certain places at certain times, mainly in the fields for work and their cabins otherwise, except for when a few (mainly slave men) had passes to travel for work for a short period. In contrast, she argues persuasively, enslaved people tried to assert their political claims for freedom of movement. This includes, most interestingly, clandestine (secular) parties and church services. While other topics are covered, particularly the spread of abolitionist writings and the movement of enslaved women during the Civil War, this book is most helpful, I think due to these two topics I noted previously. I am familiar with the social science theories she drew from, having looked at them myself during history graduate school. They can be helpful if they allow the historian additional mental space to understand a set of historical facts, and that seems to be the case for Professor Camp. Slavery involved a tug-of-war between enslaved women and those who wanted to keep them in specific places, doing authorized activities, at approved times, while enslaved women wanted to decide what to do and when to do so, with this being a crucial component of freedom.

  10. 5 out of 5

    reneamac

  11. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dominique Moore

  13. 5 out of 5

    Leslea M.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kapri

  15. 4 out of 5

    Shannan Schoemaker

  16. 5 out of 5

    Raina

  17. 4 out of 5

    Elisa

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alicia

  19. 5 out of 5

    Taylor Johnson

  20. 5 out of 5

    margot elm

  21. 4 out of 5

    daniel fink

  22. 5 out of 5

    Joanna

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tyler Wynne

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

  26. 5 out of 5

    Aaronlev

  27. 4 out of 5

    Erin

  28. 5 out of 5

    Laron Miller

  29. 5 out of 5

    Caroline Ray

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jim Drewery

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