Chapter

A World Full

in Richard Hofstadter

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print April 2006 | ISBN: 9780226076409
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226076379 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226076379.003.0011
A World Full

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This chapter discusses Hofstadter's book America at 1750. The long prologue to the intended first volume was published in 1971. This coda continued its author's enduring fascination with the steep contradictions that shaped the country's past and gave direction to its future. The most moving chapters of America at 1750 explore the brutal world of forced labor in British North America. A doleful chapter on white indentures exposed the folly of the Horatio Alger myth that prudence, thrift, and effort ensured social mobility, human dignity, and financial security. Most white servants, Hofstadter noted, never lived to reach their terms of freedom. While textbooks typically presumed that the impressive growth of the colonial economy justified a celebratory narrative, Hofstadter argued that labor's failures and humiliations demanded a more sensitive and balanced judgment. Chapters on the slave trade and black servitude comprise an informed sensitivity to the peculiar anguish of the black experience while curiously denying the survival of African cultural folkways in the New World. Hofstadter's belief that the barbarity of chattel servitude destroyed African identities relied on an older interpretation of black history.

Keywords: America at 1750; Horatio Alger myth; financial security; servitude; colonial economy; freedom

Chapter.  6314 words. 

Subjects: Methods and Historiography

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