Wednesday, April 3, 2013
52: Herbert Gutman's The Black Family
Like many other scholars around this time, Gutman was very interested in E.P. Thompson's new social history, which shifted the focus of historical inquiry from relations between groups to relations within them. To access this information, he uses a wide variety of sources, including plantation records, county census schedules, Freedman's Bureau Records, family letters, court testimony, literature, anthropological studies, and oral histories. He also structures the book to follow his own research process, so that the reader follows him back in time from the 20th century to the 1740s, when the plantation system first developed.
In addition to establishing the resiliency of black families, he also established the agentive force within black communities that developed in a space separate from black-white relations. While the possibility that any community can develop autonomously outside the reach of unequal power relations was questioned even as Gutman was writing, as was the separation of politics and culture, Gutman's book still goes a long way toward recovering slave families and bringing them into the historical record.