Review Essay

Due Monday, October 9 (revised) by 5pm (via email)


By Monday, October 9, students will be required to submit a 5- to 7-page review essay concerning a recent addition to the scholarship on American slavery or antislavery.  Students should select their book from this list below (covering major monographs published since the original release of Peter Kolchin’s American Slavery (1993).  The best review essays will deftly summarize the work in question while also explaining how the book attempts to expand knowledge about either the institution of American slavery or the nature of the resistance to it.


  • To demonstrate the key historiographical contributions, students must cite both Kolchin’s book and other reviews of their chosen work, in addition to providing their own original insights.


  • Such review essays are mostly about placing historical interpretation into context. They are not like popular movie reviews, offering simple thumbs up / thumbs down opinions or even rotten tomatoes.  One helpful way to organize such review essays would be to proceed with this framework:
    • Summarize –What is the author attempting?
    • Analyze – How does the author proceed (in a few revealing examples)?
    • Assess –Why is this work significant (or not)?


  • Remember that historiography is the study of how historical interpretation evolves.  Try to demonstrate shrewd historiographical insights in this review essay.  Here are some special tips for approaching historiography, including an overview from History 404 and some basic Dos & Don’ts


  • Students may choose a book on the syllabus, such as Foner’s Gateway to Freedom or Oakes, Freedom National. Students may also choose to review a book not on the list provided by Prof. Pinsker at the course site –but they should obtain his permission over email first.


  • Make sure to read the Afterword essay in Kolchin’s book on second wave revisionism before proceeding with your final book selection.


  • On tenses, remember to write about modern historians and their work in the present tense, but to describe historical figures and events in the past tense


  • On (or by) Thursday, September 28, there will be no class but students should meet with a class peer who can review their draft opening paragraph (or paragraphs). Student reviewers should comment on clarity of presentation and depth of argument in a short email provided to the author.  Reviewers should aim to identify what seems effective and also make at least one suggestion for improvement.  They should also raise questions they would expect to see answered in the rest of the essay. Student authors should then email a copy of their opening along with the reviewer’s comments to Prof. Pinsker, no later than Sunday, October 1.


  • Essays should be formatted in a Word document with a title page, and Chicago-style footnotes.


  • Late essays will be penalized up to 5 points per day.


This is a very selective list of major works related to American slavery and ant-slavery in the years since 1993.   It is not exhaustive at all, but represents a sampling of some important, teachable new work on historical topics that are experiencing important interpretive debates.

  • Edward Ball, Slaves in Family (1998)
  • Edward E. Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (2016)
  • Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A Global History (2014)
  • Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (1998)
  • Vincent Carretta, Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man (2005)
  • Gary Collision, Shadrach Minkins: From Fugitive Slave to Citizen (1998)
  • Catherine Clinton, Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom (2004)
  • David Brion Davis, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (2006)
  • Melvin Patrick Ely, Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War (2004)
  • Eric Foner, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (2010)
  • Eric Foner, Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad (2015)
  • Thavolia Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household (2003)
  • James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, In Hope of Liberty: Culture, Community, and Protest Among Northern Free Blacks, 1790 – 1860 (1997)
  • Walter Johnson, Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market (2001)
  • Kate Clifford Larson, Bound for the Promised Land, Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero (2004)
  • James Oakes, Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865 (2012)
  • Dylan C. Penningroth, The Claims of Kinfolk: African American Property and Community in the Nineteenth-Century South (2003)
  • Marcus Rediker, The Slave Ship: A Human History (2007)
  • Manisha Sinha, The Slave’s Cause:  A History of Abolition (2016)
  • Brenda E. Stevenson, Life in Black and White: Family and Community in the Slave South (1997)
  • George William Van Cleve, A Slaveholder’s Union: Slavery, Politics and the Constitution in the Early American Republic (2010)
  • David Waldstreicher, Slavery’s Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification (2009)