Preview of the September 2023 JCWE

Preview of the September 2023 JCWE

In this issue, the burgeoning fields of legal history and memory take center stage in our examination of the history of the Civil War Era.

Sarah Barringer Gordon’s “Staying in Place: Southern Methodists, the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, and Postwar Battles for Control of Church Property” draws on both legal history and church history to examine struggles over property and power in Methodist churches in the post–Civil War south. Gordon traces the history of the founding of the then-named Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (CME) in 1870, finding its legal roots in an 1868 Kentucky Supreme Court case that pitted a Black congregation against the white-controlled southern Methodist church that had previously underwritten and controlled its space. As AME and AME Zion pastors recruited Black Methodists from the southern Methodist church, white trustees—and some Black pastors—struggled for legal control of congregations and properties, eventually creating the CME as a distinct, enduring Black Methodist denomination. Gordon ably intertwines the sacred and the profane as she emphasizes the importance of law for the study of religion.

In “‘She Is a very Smart Woman and a Great Trader’: Enslaved and Free Black Women’s Property Claims and Entrepreneurship in the Antebellum South,” Nicole Viglini turns to the tools of legal history to explore how Black women, both free and enslaved, claimed property in the pre-emancipation south. Viglini creatively reads applications for compensation from the Southern Claims Commission to trace antebellum Black women’s networks of credit, deepening our understanding of Black women’s involvement in the southern economy and the relationship between that economy and personal relationships of trust. Through establishing credit, Viglini shows, antebellum Black women became entrepreneurs and established an enduring role in the southern economy despite limitations imposed by law and culture.

In our second roundtable of the year, Adam Domby and Karen L. Cox moderate a lively discussion about “Monuments and Memory: Civil War Statuary, Public Facing Scholarship, and the Future of Memory Studies.” Over the past decade, and especially since the 2020 murder of George Floyd, scholars have been asked to take public roles in debates over Confederate memory. In this roundtable, eight scholars and history practitioners discuss northern monuments, African American commemorations of the war, the white male commemorative landscape, the impact of protests, contemporary Civil War memories, the role of historians in public debates, the issue of “presentism” in history, and the future of Civil War memory studies.

In this issue’s review essay, Jennifer Oast examines the evolving scholarship on slavery’s impact on universities. In “Forgotten No Longer: Universities and Slavery in Twenty-First Century Scholarship and Memory,” Oast traces the explosion of interest in this topic over the past two decades, as universities have examined their roots in slave trading and profits derived from enslaved people’s work. She highlights scholarly studies of universities’ economic ties to slavery, roles in promoting slavery, and employment of enslaved people without compensation, and she explores contemporary demands for apologies, memorialization, and reparations.

This issue also includes fourteen fine book reviews, covering both broad synthetic volumes and new monographs, on topics ranging from China to Yellowstone. The reviews—and the happily increasing flow of submissions—are tribute to the persistence of scholars and our editorial staff during these trying years. 

Kate Masur and Greg Downs

Kate Masur is an associate professor at Northwestern University, specializing in the history of the nineteenth-century United States, focusing on how Americans grappled with questions of race and equality after the abolition of slavery. Greg Downs, who studies U.S. political and cultural history in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is a professor of history at University of California--Davis. Together they edited an essay collection on the Civil War titled The World the Civil War Made (North Carolina, 2015), and they currently co-edit The Journal of the Civil War Era.

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