cover image Slavery and Silence: Latin America and the U.S. Slave Debate

Slavery and Silence: Latin America and the U.S. Slave Debate

Paul D. Naish. Univ. of Pennsylvania, $55 (336p) ISBN 978-0-8122-4945-3

In this innovative study of antebellum America, Naish (1960–2016), a historian at CUNY’s Guttman Community College, adopts a transnational approach by focusing on the ways in which people engaged in a “national conversation about slavery by talking about nations other than the United States.” Aside from those who were unreservedly committed to anti- or proslavery causes, Americans were reluctant to engage in unequivocal statements on the subject, finding “ways to talk about U.S. slavery without seeming to do so” through comments on its presence in Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, and Jamaica. Few Americans had firsthand experience of Latin America, but many ordinary people drew on what they understood of these societies’ histories and cultures in order to make coded arguments in support of or in opposition to U.S. slavery. Adroitly analyzing obscure 19th-century novels and interpreting the varied and often contradictory ideas that Americans of the era held about their southern neighbors, Naish makes two important contributions: he locates U.S. slavery in a hemispheric context and he illuminates the oft-overlooked fact that the practice was a taboo subject to all but its most fervent advocates and opponents. Naish died before completing the manuscript (brought to publication by his friend Evan Friss), but this thought-provoking work is testimony to his scholarly gifts. [em](Sept.) [/em]