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Soul by Soul : Life Inside the...
by Walter Johnson

Reviewed by Adam Linker, Reviewer

Harvard University Press

One of Walter Johnson's primary arguments in Soul By Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market is that the slave market was a place where race was given shape on a daily basis. More than on the plantations, the market in human beings provided the context for buyers and sellers to dehumanize, stereotype, and commodify African Americans. He includes a provocative discussion of how people were broken into parts and crammed into categories so that buyers and sellers could compare a forty-year old man to a twelve-year-old girl. Additionally, prices could fluctuate based on certain disabilities or diseases.

Readers will find his discussion of location particularly useful. Black people who had been transported from Virginia to New Orleans for example, had no idea about local conditions or the operations of that particular market. In such a situation, the ad-hoc community African Americans formed was crucial.

Johnson's discussion of white people's fantasies as expressed in the marketplace also contributes to our understanding of the slave market. His distinction between white fantasy and the reality of slavery is provocative. By entitling his subchapters "Making the Old South" and "Unmaking the Old South" he demonstrates the distance between "Gone With the Wind" fantasies and the day-to-day realities of enslaving human beings. Soul By Soul is an important contribution to the historiography of slavery.

Copywright 2001, Inc.

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