Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Fleszar reviews Abruzzo, "Polemical Pain"

Via H-Law, we have a review of Polemical Pain: Slavery, Cruelty, and the Rise of Humanitarianism (Johns Hopkins University Press), by Margaret Abruzzo (University of Alabama). According to reviewer Mark J. Fleszar (Georgia State University), the book "recasts the otherwise familiar antebellum debates over slavery as part of a dialectic struggle to define the very meaning of humaneness itself in an era searching for 'moral clarity.'" Unlike the "many recent studies that focus on either proslavery or antislavery in isolation," Fleszar notes, "the present work focuses on national rhetoric and demonstrates the ways in which 'new ideas about humaneness and cruelty pressed Americans to rethink the institution of slavery.'"

After providing useful chapter summaries, Fleszar concludes that "[r]eaders will find much to ponder, and perhaps much to quarrel with, throughout Abruzzo's text." Possible points of controversy include Abruzzo's "conception of the sectional controversy" and her "surprising lack of discussion about the law regarding humaneness." Overall, however, the book is "well researched and impressively argued." In Fleszar's view, it "greatly advances our knowledge about the national quarrel about slavery through the language of humanitarianism."

The full review is here.