Thursday, March 1, 2012

Just Finished Reading

It happens to me all too often. I see a book title that I think looks super, I buy the book while I am in the middle of reading something else and I put it on the bookshelf and there it sits and sits and sits. I bought this book at the Harper's Ferry NPS bookstore when I visited there to do some research about a year and a half ago.

Well, I finally got to it, and I am pleased to say, it was a good read. The book was much more of a self described "folk history" than your typical scholarly history text; although, I suppose I would consider it a type of social history.

The author made heavy use of the 1930s Federal Writer's Project Slave Narratives to construct the book and its individual chapter focuses. The author made sure to explain that using the Slave Narratives have certain advantages and drawbacks; the biggest drawback being that these interviews occurred sometimes 70 years after slavery ended. And we all know how faulty memories can be. While she did use some limited runaway slave advertisements for clothing descriptions, I thought that particular primary source was seriously underutilized. Another potential primary source that the author rarely mentioned are period photographs.

After what I thought was a too long first chapter (50+ pages) that explored historical accounts of clothing in West Africa to help set up the later American South accounts, the author finally jumped into some intriguing chapters. The second chapter was particularly informative. It covered accounts of how slaves creating cloth and clothing. The third chapter covered accounts of how slaves wore their clothes, which was very often in much different styles than the whites in their immediate environments. Chapter four covered footwear; mainly the heavy slave brogans that slave most often wore. In chapter 5, "Embellishing the Head," I believe the author unnecessarily covered slave hairstyles. I certainly thought it was interesting chapter, but to me hair styles do not equal clothing. Chapter 6, "Crowning the Person," looked at African American head wraps and why this form of clothing was both practical and stylish for slaves. Again, I enjoyed historical accounts (from the Antebellum South as the title of the book suggests), but too much time was spent examining modern head wraps (from WWII to present).

It might sound as if I didn't enjoy the book. Well, I did, but I don't believe that this "folk history" style is personally my cup of tea. However, I do recommend it if this topic peaks your interest.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give New Raiments of Self, a 3.75

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