Slavery and Public History

The Tough Stuff of American Memory

Edited by James Oliver Horton, Lois E. Horton

Slavery and Public History

288 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 12 illus. , notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5916-2
    Published: February 2009

Buy this Book

To purchase online via an independent bookstore, visit

Awards & distinctions

2008 Honorable Mention, National Council on Public History Book Award

America's slave past is being analyzed as never before, yet it remains one of the most contentious issues in U.S. memory. In recent years, the culture wars over the way that slavery is remembered and taught have reached a new crescendo. From the argument about the display of the Confederate flag over the state house in Columbia, South Carolina, to the dispute over Thomas Jefferson's relationship with his slave Sally Hemings and the ongoing debates about reparations, the questions grow ever more urgent and more difficult.

Edited by noted historians James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, this collection explores current controversies and offers a bracing analysis of how people remember their past and how the lessons they draw influence American politics and culture today. Bringing together some of the nation's most respected historians, including Ira Berlin, David W. Blight, and Gary B. Nash, this is a major contribution to the unsettling but crucial debate about the significance of slavery and its meaning for racial reconciliation.


Ira Berlin, University of Maryland

David W. Blight, Yale University

James Oliver Horton, George Washington University

Lois E. Horton, George Mason University

Bruce Levine, University of Illinois

Edward T. Linenthal, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

Joanne Melish, University of Kentucky

Gary B. Nash, University of California, Los Angeles

Dwight T. Pitcaithley, New Mexico State University

Marie Tyler-McGraw, Washington, D.C.

John Michael Vlach, George Washington University

About the Authors

James Oliver Horton is the Benjamin Banneker Professor Emeritus of American Studies and History at George Washington University.
For more information about James Oliver Horton, visit the Author Page.

Lois E. Horton is professor of history emerita at George Mason University.
For more information about Lois E. Horton, visit the Author Page.


"A chastening reminder that many are still missing the point [of black history in America], and even that the point may be more elusive than we thought. . . . Scattered throughout the book are many fascinating stories." —Times Literary Supplement

"Americans seem perpetually surprised by slavery—its extent (North as well as South), its span (over half of our four centuries of Anglo settlement), and its continuing influence. Slavery and Public History will help us all to remember and understand, so we can remove the vestiges of slavery that still affect us."—James W. Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong and Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism

"An invigorating book, written by historians who have emerged from the archives to grapple with misleading and hurtful tales that have been part of our national tradition. In these vibrant accounts boring history becomes lively practice, and the American public shows that it can embrace new research, more complex understandings, and more honest interpretation. I'll never take the words on a historic marker for granted again."—Linda K. Kerber, author of No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship

"The history and the continuing resonance of slavery is one of the last great unmentionables in public discourse. This grand and groundbreaking volume does much to illuminate the challenges, ambiguities, and risks faced by those who dare to interpret the 'peculiar institution' outside of the academy. As this work clearly demonstrates, public history is not for the faint of heart."—Lonnie G. Bunch, founding director, National Museum of African American History and Culture