The abolition of Russian serfdom in 1861 and American slavery in 1865 transformed both nations as Russian peasants and African Americans gained new rights as subjects and citizens. During the second half of the long nineteenth century, Americans and Russians responded to these societal transformations through a fascinating array of new cultural productions. Analyzing portrayals of African Americans and Russian serfs in oil paintings, advertisements, fiction, poetry, and ephemera housed in American and Russian archives, Amanda Brickell Bellows argues that these widely circulated depictions shaped collective memory of slavery and serfdom, affected the development of national consciousness, and influenced public opinion as peasants and freed people strove to exercise their newfound rights.
While acknowledging the core differences between chattel slavery and serfdom, as well as the distinctions between each nation’s post-emancipation era, Bellows highlights striking similarities between representations of slaves and serfs that were produced by elites in both nations as they sought to uphold a patriarchal vision of society. Russian peasants and African American freed people countered simplistic, paternalistic, and racist depictions by producing dignified self-representations of their traditions, communities, and accomplishments. This book provides an important reconsideration of post-emancipation assimilation, race, class, and political power.
Amanda Bellows is a historian of the United States in comparative and transnational perspective. She received her Ph.D. in History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a Lecturer at The New School and Hunter College in New York City. Her first book, American Slavery and Russian Serfdom in the Post-Emancipation Imagination, was published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2020. Her writing has appeared in the Journal of Global Slavery, Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Talking Points Memo, and Public Seminar.
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