Posted by olvlzl.
How should a single, short passage of compelling significance be used by history? The column by Christopher Shea in today’s Globe about historian Wendy Anne Warren’s fleshing out of a rare mention of the actual experience of a slave held in New England is certainly compelling and important. A short, obscure passage dealing with the rape of an unnamed slave by another slave on orders of their owner “desirous to have a breed of Negroes,” is certainly significant, having an account of the woman’s enraged protest is even rarer. Warren says that “Her individual resistance touches me”. Warren’s determination to look farther into what is laudable. She apparently was careful to make clear what she was reporting from the historical record and what was the product of her speculation, would that all historians did. Any criticism of her methods should address how these windows into an important past should be used in stead of ignored.
Howard Zinn has pointed out that Samuel Eliot Morison knew and gave short mention to the undeniable fact that Columbus was a mass murderer, even using the phrase “complete genocide” to describe what he set into motion. Then Morison ignored what has to be seen as one of the most significant themes of the life of Columbus. Zinn’s says:
- he mentions the truth quickly and goes on to other things more important to him. Outright lying or omission takes the risk of discovery which, when made, might arouse the reader to rebel against the writer. To state the facts, however, and then to bury them in a mass of other information is to say to the reader with a certain infectious calm, yes, mass murder took place but it’s not that important it should weigh very little in our judgement, it should affect very little what we do in the world [ A People’s History of the United States].
You have to wonder how many male historians and scholars might have read that tiny description of the distress of the woman raped on the orders of her master who wanted to breed a family of slaves from her and skipped it to go on to other things more important to him. The book was published in 1674 and would be an important resource for the scholars of the massively researched history of Massachusetts. Massachusetts being the home of one of the largest concentrations of professional and avocational historians in the world it almost certainly had to have been read before. Since so much of the history of women and especially of women held as slaves is contained in the small passages so easily skipped, it’s essential to find ways to deal with the record, to tell those truths. They have to weigh in our judgment and should affect what we do in the world.