The Slumbering Volcano: American Slave Ship Revolts and the Production of Rebellious Masculinity / Edition 1

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In The Slumbering Volcano, Maggie Montesinos Sale investigates depictions of nineteenth-century slave ship revolts to explore the notion of rebellion in formulations of United States national identity. Analyzing how such revolts inspired citizens to debate whether political theory directed at free men could be extended toward blacks, Sale compares the reception of fictionalized versions of ship revolts published in the 1850s - Benito Cereno by Herman Melville and The Heroic Slave by Frederick Douglass - with the previous decade's public accounts of actual rebellions by enslaved people on the ships Amistad and Creole. This comparison of narrative response with written public reaction to the actual revolts allows Sale to investigate the precise manner in which public opinion regarding definitions of liberty evolved over this crucial period of time between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Mapping the ways in which unequally empowered groups claimed and transformed statements associated with the discourse of national identity, Sale succeeds in recovering a historically informed sense of the discursive and activist options available to people of another era. In its demonstration of how the United States has been uniquely shaped by its dual status as both an imperial and a postcolonial power, this study on the discourse of natural rights and national identity in the pre-Civil War United States will interest students and scholars of American studies, African American studies, gender studies, and American history and literature.
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Editorial Reviews

American Historical Review
Slave conspiracies and seaboard mutinies have attracted a good deal of historical attention of late, as scholars fight to include those black insurgents traditionally depicted as marginal or deviant in the mainstream of the American saga. But only Sale has thought to investigate the way in which fictional depictions of slave rebelliousness helped to shape the discourse over American national identity....Sale is to be lauded for undertaking the study of a subject previously ignored by writers who chronicle slave rebelliousness.
Journal of American History
Using perceptive studies of the rebellions of slaves aboard the Amistad 1839 and the Creole 1841, this work brings forward the limitations of white, and especially, male perspectives. In doing this the author adds to a field sorely neglected...The volume is challenging and should not be overlooked by those trying to comprehend history.
American Literature
Describing the strategies put into effect by rebellious slaves to deconstruct-violently as well as rhetorically-normalized white masculinity, Sale highlights possibilities of resistance within antebellum culture.
New England Quarterly
The ambition of this illuminating book is matched by its careful research in primary materials as well as its theoretical and conceptual sophistication....Sale has historicized the languages of race and gender in innovative ways, and future critical studies will have to reckon with them.
Labour/Le Travail
[An] important book....Sale skillfully and persuasively reconstructs the public debate about these events and illustrates the ways in which they were utilized to meditate on national identity....The Slumbering Volcano sheds light on our 'national inheritance,' which, as Baldwin reminds us, is a legacy of dispossession.
[The Slumbering Volcano] is marked by intensive and ingenious explication of texts.
Readers will gain much from a new book by Maggie Montesinos Sale entitled The Slumbering Volcano. Sale, a professor of women's and gender studies at Columbia University, includes a detailed 60-page chapter on the Amistad affair as well as a 25-page chapter on the Creole affair (which took place in 1841, two years after the Amistad uprising). She also provides chapters analyzing two fictionalized accounts of ship revolts that appeared during the 1850s: Benito Cereno by Herman Melville and The Heroic Slave by Frederic Douglass.
Northern Mariner
Maggie Montesinos Sale's ambitious book uses these slave ship revolts and stories as departure points to reconsider American nationalism, Lockean natural rights, and race as they were then understood. At her best, Sale presents the ironies underlying Americans' trope of revolutionary struggle in light of popular responses to slave rebellions aboard ship....Provocative, complex, and tantalizing....Sale is at once historian, literary critic, and theorist exploring a variety of discourses....[T]here are many rewards here for students of cultural studies interested in the interrelationship of gender, race, and rhetoric.
Slavery and Abolition
In this well-written and tightly argued study, Maggie Montesinos Sale skillfully unites history, gender studies, literary and political theory to unravel the complex and troubled relationship between race, slavery, rebellion and the formation of national identity in antebellum America.
From the Publisher

The Slumbering Volcano theorizes the discourse of nationalism, natural rights, and race in a refreshingly undogmatic manner, making a splendid contribution to the growing body of theory on race, masculinity, and national identity formation.”—Carolyn Karcher, author of The First Woman in the Republic: A Cultural Biography of Lydia Maria Child, published by Duke University Press

“Sale combines an impressive array of historical material with keen analytic skills, an attention to the larger picture with a sensitivity to the nuances of language and rhetoric. The result is an original reading of how and why enslaved people were unable to tell their own stories.”—Priscilla Wald, University of Washington

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822319924
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 9/28/1997
  • Series: New Americanists Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 5.99 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Maggie Montesinos Sale is Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Assistant Director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Columbia University.

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