Surprise! Surprise!

In 1988, I wrote in a review in these pages, “If there is any young historian out there who wants to know where the cutting edge is in American historical understanding, it is . . . the new and coming field of Northern history.”  Complicity is one of a half-dozen or more books published in the past few years that have fulfilled my prophecy about the direction of new research.  (Others that might be mentioned are Susan-Mary Grant’s North Over South and Joan Pope Melish’s Disowning Slavery.)

Actually, I did not prophesy at all, but merely said what was obvious to anyone who was thinking about American history, rather than, in the normal professorial way, thinking about how to hitch a ride on the prevailing fashions in historiography.

The authors of Complicity are three Hart-ford, Connecticut, newspersons who, in the course of delving into their state’s history, discovered all sorts of (to them) shocking things.  There were slaves in Connecticut!  There were even (gasp!) plantations in Connecticut as terrible as those in the South (shudder!).  New Englanders participated in the slave trade and the profits of slavery.  Northerners of the 18th and 19th centuries were white supremacists.  Northerners continued, even after slavery, to exploit black people from afar—for instance, Connecticut’s famous piano manufacturing...

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