Holt, Thomas C. “African-American History.” in The New American History: Revised and Expanded Edition ed Eric Foner. Philadelphia, Temple University Press: 1997. 311-332.
In “African-American History” Thomas C. Holt attempts to establish the historiography of African American studies. Holt addresses the history of African Americans chronologically. He argues that there are three major divisions in the history of blacks in America: slavery, sharecropping, and the period after sharecropping defined by massive northern migrations.
Holt also examines how the study of African American history has changed. Holt argues that for most of the early 20th century, U.B. Phillip’s American Negro Slavery (1918) was the seminal work on slavery and African American history. However, Phillip’s work was defined by Phillip’s southern background and racist convictions. Holt argues this perverted his study of slavery and caused him to treat it as a benign institution, an interpretation which lasted until Kenneth Stampp’s The Peculiar Institution (1955). Holt argues Stampp’s work was a complete (and successful) revision of Phillip’s ideas, transforming the image of slavery from a benign institution to a cold, hard, labor-oriented enterprise.
Finally, Holt examines one additional aspect of how the study of African American history has changed. Holt argues that most scholarship on African-American history in the mid-20th century began to act simultaneously as a history and a protest of current conditions affecting African Americans. Holt identifies Gunnar Myrdal’s American Dilemma (1944) as the seminal work in this vein. According to Holt, Myrdal’s work triggered a response from critics who opposed the idea that the history of blacks in America would be defined by white oppression. Critics like Ralph Ellison argued that black history was more vibrant than merely a series of reactions to white oppression. Ellison’s protest, Holt argues, caused a shift in historical scholarship: African American history became a study of all aspects of black life and community rather than just the study of oppression and race relations.