Whenever I teach my course in colonial American history (which, if all goes as planned, I will be teaching in Spring 2013), I assign Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom. I know that scholars have challenged Morgan’s thesis about the origins of race and slavery in colonial Virginia, but the book still works with undergraduates as an entry point into this discussion. When my students read American Slavery-American Freedom they see the way an author builds toward proving a thesis about the past. It is also incredibly well-written and accessible.
Some students complain that American Slavery-American Freedom is too long, but by the end of the semester most of them come to the realization that digesting the book in all its fullness and complexity reaps intellectual rewards.
At the heart of Morgan’s book is the notion that white “freedom” in colonial Virginia, and in America as a whole, would not have been possible without the Old Dominion becoming a slave society in the wake of Bacon’s Rebellion (1676).
Over at The Atlantic”, Ta-Nehisi Coates reflects on how Morgan’s book has influenced his own thinking about race and freedom in America. Here is a taste: