Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories

Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories

by Jean M. Humez
     
 

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Harriet Tubman's name is known world-wide and her exploits as a self-liberated Underground Railroad heroine are celebrated in children's literature, film, and history books, yet no major biography of Tubman has appeared since 1943. Jean M. Humez's comprehensive Harriet Tubman is both an important biographical overview based on extensive new research and a complete… See more details below

Overview

Harriet Tubman's name is known world-wide and her exploits as a self-liberated Underground Railroad heroine are celebrated in children's literature, film, and history books, yet no major biography of Tubman has appeared since 1943. Jean M. Humez's comprehensive Harriet Tubman is both an important biographical overview based on extensive new research and a complete collection of the stories Tubman told about her life—a virtual autobiography culled by Humez from rare early publications and manuscript sources. This book will become a landmark resource for scholars, historians, and general readers interested in slavery, the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, and African American women.

Born in slavery in Maryland in or around 1820, Tubman drew upon deep spiritual resources and covert antislavery networks when she escaped to the north in 1849. Vowing to liberate her entire family, she made repeated trips south during the 1850s and successfully guided dozens of fugitives to freedom. During the Civil War she was recruited to act as spy and scout with the Union army. After the war she settled in Auburn, New York, where she worked to support an extended family and in her later years founded a home for the indigent aged. Celebrated by her primarily white antislavery associates in a variety of private and public documents from the 1850s through the 1870s, she was rediscovered as a race heroine by woman suffragists and the African American womenís club movement in the early twentieth century. Her story was used as a key symbolic resource in education, institutional fundraising, and debates about the meaning of "race" throughout the twentieth century.

Humez includes an extended discussion of Tubman's work as a public performer of her own life history during the nearly sixty years she lived in the North. Drawing upon historiographical and literary discussion of the complex hybrid authorship of slave narrative literature, Humez analyzes the interactive dynamic between Tubman and her interviewers. Humez illustrates how Tubman, though unable to write, made major unrecognized contributions to the shaping of her own heroic myth by early biographers like Sarah Bradford. Selections of key documents illustrate how Tubman appeared to her contemporaries, and a comprehensive list of primary sources represents an important resource for scholars.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Humez has compiled what she calls Tubman's ''core stories,'' accounts of her life Tubman told regularly in her public appearances, and descriptions written by those who interacted with her. Presented as a chronology of her life, these materials paint a far more vivid portrait than any biographer's account. The reader gains not just glimpses of Tubman, but sees how she confounded even those admirers who still could not comprehend a black woman who behaved like the bravest of men. — Drew Gilpin Faust
Library Journal
Harriet Tubman, philanthropist, abolitionist lecturer, Civil War spy, scout, military commander, and the only African American female known to have repeatedly and successfully piloted others to freedom via the Underground Railroad, has been the subject of scores of 20th-century children's and fictional accounts but has not had a scholarly biography since the 1940s. Now, a trio of new works appears, each drawing upon primary sources not used before, applying modern scholarship drawn from the disciplines of women's and African American history, and offering new interpretations and insights into the life, legend, and legacy of this American hero. Road to Freedom, written by university professor Clinton, a scholar of African American women's history, is a concise and readable biography that vividly updates the story of Tubman's life with context and new interpretations based on the latest historical scholarship. It is the best choice for the casual reader and is recommended for academic or public libraries. Humez's (women's studies, Univ. of Massachusetts, Boston; Gifts of Power) offers the most analytic and interpretive treatment, including a biographical sketch, an examination of Tubman's gifted storytelling, and reprints of her stories, sayings, and documents. This combination makes it ideal for scholarly audiences, though it will please any interested reader. It will serve as an invaluable resource for understanding the real Harriet Tubman and is highly recommended for all collections with interests in Tubman, women's studies, Civil War studies, and African American women. Larson's Bound for the Promised Land is the most detailed study to date of Tubman's life, utilizing a variety of primary sources, including local public records, and providing more information on her liberating forays into the South, her relationships within the black community and with powerful white patrons, and new information about her lifelong epilepsy. Larson is a noted Tubman scholar and consultant for national monuments dedicated to Tubman and the Underground Railroad (UGRR). Recommended for any library with a particular interest in the life of Tubman or the UGRR. [Clinton's book was previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/03; the Underground Railroad Freedom Center will open in Cincinnati in Summer 2004.-Ed.]-Theresa McDevitt, Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania Lib. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
 "I see Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories as the most important book on Tubman in the last fifty years."—William L. Andrews

"Imagine Harriet Tubman, whose spirit is so large, without the means to tell her story as autobiography in the usual sense. She sings or prays or speaks in public, but what about the silent articulation of pain and struggle that becomes available through this source. . . . In bringing together the many voices that serve as Tubman's surrogate, Humez does something for Tubman that Tubman was never in a position to do for herself."—Joanne Braxton, College of William and Mary

"Humez has compiled what she calls Tubman's "core stories," accounts of her life Tubman told regularly in her public appearances, and descriptions written by those who interacted with her. Presented as a chronology of her life, these materials paint a far more vivid portrait than any biographer's account. The reader gains not just glimpses of Tubman, but sees how she confounded even those admirers who still could not comprehend a black woman who behaved like the bravest of men. Read with the care Humez's introduction to the documentary section of her book prescribes, the collection of Tubman sources she has assembled provide the basis for a far fuller and more complex portrait than has hitherto been available"—New York Times Book Review

"Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories may be the most comprehensive book on Tubman to date. Humez follows Tubman through slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and her final years, with careful attention to the facts and minimal embellishment. Humez discusses Tubman's role as a storyteller, and in subsequent chapters, pays close attention to Tubman's words as they were presented by her early biographers and in her letters to family and friends. Humez's book is extremely well researched, and her writing is both incisive and accessible, making it an excellent resource for students as well as for the general reader."—Black Issues Book Review

"…the most analytic and interpretive treatment…ideal for scholarly audiences, though it will please any interested reader….an invaluable resource for understanding the real Harriet Tubman."—Library Journal

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780299191245
Publisher:
University of Wisconsin Press
Publication date:
12/23/2005
Series:
Studies in Autobiography Series
Edition description:
1
Pages:
488
Sales rank:
1,357,325
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

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