Monday, February 25, 2008

Strange New Land by Peter H. Wood

Peter Wood is a recently retired professor from Duke University. I met him at the beginning of this year. He was nice and surprisingly easy to talk to. I told him a little bit about 50 Books Project (in blatant disregard for the first rule of 50 Books Project). The next day he gave me a copy of this book as well as a copy of his newest book.

Wood makes some intriguing assertions about colonial America. Here are a few of them:
- Blacks were significantly present in the Americas mere years after Columbus's expedition.
- Originally slavery in America was not based on race.
- Specific state laws were passed in order to make race the controlling factor in slavery.

My favorite chapter was 'Building a Culture', in which Wood shows the ways that blacks, although oppressed, created a unique culture of their own, which had a dramatic impact on overall American society. Some of the vulgate languages that developed in these slave cultures made a lasting mark on American English. Wood also details the effects that blacks had on music and religion (namely Protestant Christianity) during the colonial period of our nation's history. I thought this sentence was amusing, "Europeans, startled by the extent of African drumming and fearful that this skill sometimes provided a secret means of communication, outlawed the use of drums by slaves in various colonies."

It is difficult to write interesting works of history. Often works such as this are informative, but require slogging through less than stellar writing to get the information. Wood's book does not suffer from this all too common problem. Wood has a way of teasing out interesting stories in the history that he writes, and he has a good writing style. For being an academic work of history, this book was fairly easy to read.


Christopher said...

Of course, slaves did use music to encode messages like directions through the Underground Railroad

Carlton said...

They do to this very day. Listen to the beats on Luda's newest album, and you'll see what I mean.