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“I want to bring back Carolina Gold rice. I want there to be authentic Lowcountry cuisine again. Not the local branch of southern cooking incorporated.” That was Glenn Roberts in 2003 during the waning hours of a conference in Charleston exploring “ The Cuisines of the Lowcountry and the Caribbean.”
When Jeffrey Pilcher, Nathalie Dupree, Marion Sullivan, Robert Lukey, and I brainstormed this meeting into shape over 2002, we paid scant attention to the word cuisine.1 I’m sure we all thought that it meant something like “a repertoire of refined dishes that inspired respect among the broad public interested in food.” We probably chose “cuisines” rather than “foodways” or “cookery” for the title because its associations with artistry would give it more splendor in the eyes of the two institutions—the College of Charleston and Johnson & Wales University—footing the administrative costs of the event. Our foremost concern was to bring three communities of people into conversation: culinary historians, chefs, and provisioners (i.e., farmers and fishermen) who produced the food cooked along the southern Atlantic coast and in the West Indies. Theorizing cuisine operated as a pretext.
Glenn Roberts numbered among the producers. The CEO of Anson Mills, he presided over the American company most deeply involved with growing, processing, and selling landrace grains to chefs. I knew him only by reputation. He grew and milled the most ancient and storied grains on the planet—antique strains of wheat, oats, spelt, rye, barley, faro, and corn—so that culinary professionals could make use of the deepest traditional flavor chords in cookery: porridges, breads, and alcoholic beverages. Given Roberts’s fascination with grains, expanding the scope of cultivars to include Carolina’s famous rice showed intellectual consistency. Yet I had always pegged him as a preservationist rather than a restorationist. He asked me, point-blank, whether I wished to participate in the effort to restore authentic Lowcountry cuisine.
Roberts pronounced cuisine with a peculiar inflection, suggesting that it was something that was and could be but that in 2003 did not exist in this part of the South. I knew in a crude way what he meant. Rice had been the glory of the southern coastal table, yet rice had not been commercially cultivated in the region since a hurricane breached the dykes and salted the soil of Carolina’s last commercial plantation in 1911. (Isolated planters on the Combahee River kept local stocks going until the Great Depression, and several families grew it for personal use until World War II, yet Carolina Gold rice disappeared on local grocers’ shelves in 1912.)
When Louisa Stoney and a network Charleston’s grandes dames gathered theirCarolina Rice Cook Book in 1901, the vast majority of ingredients were locally sourced. When John Martin Taylor compiled his Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking in 1992,4 the local unavailability of traditional ingredients and a forgetfulness about the region’s foodways gave the volume a shock value, recalling the greatness of a tradition while alerting readers to its tenuous hold on the eating habits of the people.
Glenn Roberts had grown up tasting the remnants of the rice kitchen, his mother having mastered in her girlhood the art of Geechee black skillet cooking. In his younger days, Roberts worked on oyster boats, labored in fields, and cooked in Charleston restaurants, so when he turned to growing grain in the 1990s, he had a peculiar perspective on what he wished for: he knew he wanted to taste the terroir of the Lowcountry in the food.5 Because conventional agriculture had saturated the fields of coastal Carolina with pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers, he knew he had to restore the soil as well as restore Carolina Gold, and other crops, into cultivation.
I told Roberts that I would help, blurting the promise before understanding the dimensions of what he proposed. Having witnessed the resurgence in Creole cooking in New Orleans and the efflorescence of Cajun cooking in the 1980s, and having read John Folse’s pioneering histories of Louisiana’s culinary traditions, I entertained romantic visions of lost food-ways being restored and local communities being revitalized. My default opinions resembled those of an increasing body of persons, that fast food was aesthetically impoverished, that grocery preparations (snacks, cereals, and spreads) had sugared and salted themselves to a brutal lowest common denominator of taste, and that industrial agriculture was insuring indifferent produce by masking local qualities of soil with chemical supplementations. When I said “yes,” I didn’t realize that good intentions are a kind of stupidity in the absence of an attuned intuition of the problems at hand. When Roberts asked whether I would like to restore a cuisine, my thoughts gravitated toward the payoffs on the consumption end of things: no insta-grits made of GMO corn in my shrimp and grits; no farm-raised South American tiger shrimp. In short, something we all knew around here would be improved.
It never occurred to me that the losses in Lowcountry food had been so great that we all don’t know jack about the splendor that was, even with the aid of historical savants such as “Hoppin’ John” Taylor. Nor did I realize that traditional cuisines cannot be understood simply by reading old cookbooks; you can’t simply re-create recipes and—voilà! Roberts, being a grower and miller, had fronted the problem: cuisines had to be understood from the production side, from the farming, not just the cooking or eating. If the ingredients are mediocre, there will be no revelation on the tongue. There is only one pathway to understanding how the old planters created rice that excited the gastronomes of Paris—the path leading into the dustiest, least-used stacks in the archive, those holding century-and-a-half-old agricultural journals, the most neglected body of early American writings.
In retrospect, I understand why Roberts approached me and not some chef with a penchant for antiquarian study or some champion of southern cooking. While interested in culinary history, it was not my interest but my method that drew Roberts. He must’ve known at the time that I create histories of subjects that have not been explored; that I write “total histories” using only primary sources, finding, reading, and analyzing every extant source of information. He needed someone who could navigate the dusty archive of American farming, a scholar who could reconstruct how cuisine came to be from the ground up. He found me in 2003.
At first, questions tugged in too many directions. When renovating a cuisine, what is it, exactly, that is being restored? An aesthetic of plant breeding? A farming system? A set of kitchen practices? A gastronomic philosophy? We decided not to exclude questions at the outset, but to pursue anything that might serve the goals of bringing back soil, restoring cultivars, and renovating traditional modes of food processing. The understandings being sought had to speak to a practice of growing and kitchen creation. We should not, we all agreed, approach cuisine as an ideal, a theoretical construction, or a utopian possibility.
Our starting point was a working definition of that word I had used so inattentively in the title of the conference: cuisine. What is a cuisine? How does it differ from diet, cookery, or food? Some traditions of reflection on these questions were helpful. Jean-François Revel’s insistence in Culture and Cuisine that cuisines are regional, not national, because of the enduring distinctiveness of local ingredients, meshed with the agricultural preoccupations of our project. Sidney Mintz usefully observed that a population “eats that cuisine with sufficient frequency to consider themselves experts on it. They all believe, and care that they believe, that they know what it consists of, how it is made, and how it should taste. In short, a genuine cuisine has common social roots.” The important point here is consciousness. Cuisine becomes a signature of community and, as such, becomes a source of pride, a focus of debate, and a means of projecting an identity in other places to other people.
There is, of course, a commercial dimension to this. If a locale becomes famous for its butter (as northern New York did in the nineteenth century) or cod (as New England did in the eighteenth century), a premium is paid in the market for those items from those places. The self-consciousness about ingredients gives rise to an artistry in their handling, a sense of tact from long experience of taste, and a desire among both household and professional cooks to satisfy the popular demand for dishes by improving their taste and harmonizing their accompaniments at the table.
One hallmark of the maturity of a locale’s culinary artistry is its discretion when incorporating non-local ingredients with the products of a region’s field, forest, and waters. Towns and cities with their markets and groceries invariably served as places where the melding of the world’s commodities with a region’s produce took place. Cuisines have two faces: a cosmopolitan face, prepared by professional cooks; and a common face, prepared by household cooks. In the modern world, a cuisine is at least bimodal in constitution, with an urbane style and a country vernacular style. At times, these stylistic differences become so pronounced that they described two distinct foodways—the difference between Creole and Cajun food and their disparate histories, for example. More frequently, an urban center creates its style elaborating the bounty of the surrounding countryside—the case of Baltimore and the Tidewater comes to mind.
With a picture of cuisine in hand, Roberts and I debated how to proceed in our understanding. In 2004 the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation was formed with the express purpose of advancing the cultivation of land-race grains and insuring the repatriation of Carolina Gold. Dr. Merle Shepard of Clemson University (head of the Clemson Coastal Experimental Station at Charleston), Dr. Richard Schulze (who planted the first late twentieth-century crops of Carolina Gold on his wetlands near Savannah), Campbell Coxe (the most experienced commercial rice farmer in the Carolinas), Max E. Hill (historian and planter), and Mack Rhodes and Charles Duell (whose Middleton Place showcased the historical importance of rice on the Lowcountry landscape) formed the original nucleus of the enterprise.
It took two and a half years before we knew enough to reformulate our concept of cuisine and historically contextualize the Carolina Rice Kitchen well enough to map our starting point for the work of replenishment—a reboot of Lowcountry cuisine. The key insights were as follows: The enduring distinctiveness of local ingredients arose from very distinct sets of historical circumstances and a confluence of English, French Huguenot, West African, and Native American foodways. What is grown where, when, and for what occurred for very particular reasons. A soil crisis in the early nineteenth century particularly shaped the Lowcountry cuisine that would come, distinguishing it from food produced and prepared elsewhere.
The landraces of rice, wheat, oats, rye, and corn that were brought into agriculture in the coastal Southeast were, during the eighteenth century, planted as cash crops, those same fields being replanted season after season, refreshed only with manuring until the early nineteenth century. Then the boom in long staple Sea Island cotton, a very “exhausting” plant, pushed Lowcountry soil into crisis. (A similar crisis related to tobacco culture and soil erosion because of faulty plowing methods afflicted Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina.) The soil crisis led to the depopulation of agricultural lands as enterprising sons went westward seeking newly cleared land, causing a decline in production, followed by rising farm debt and social distress. The South began to echo with lamentations and warnings proclaimed by a generation of agrarian prophets—John Taylor of Caroline County in Virginia, George W. Jeffreys of North Carolina, Nicholas Herbemont of South Carolina, and Thomas Spalding of Georgia. Their message: Unless the soil is saved; unless crop rotations that build nutrition in soil be instituted; unless agriculture be diversified—then the long-cultivated portions of the South will become a wasteland. In response to the crisis in the 1820s, planters formed associations; they published agricultural journals to exchange information; they read; they planted new crops and employed new techniques of plowing and tilling; they rotated, intercropped, and fallowed fields. The age of experiment began in American agriculture with a vengeance.
The Southern Agriculturist magazine (founded 1828) operated as theengine of changes in the Lowcountry. In its pages, a host of planter-contributors published rotations they had developed for rice, theories of geoponics (soil nourishment), alternatives to monoculture, and descriptions of the world of horticultural options. Just as Judge Jesse Buel in Albany, New York, systematized the northern dairy farm into a self-reliant entity with livestock, pastures, fields, orchard, garden, and dairy interacting for optimum benefit, southern experimentalists conceived of the model plantation. A generation of literate rice planters—Robert F. W. Allston, J. Bryan, Calvin Emmons, James Ferguson, William Hunter, Roswell King, Charles Munnerlyn, Thomas Pinckney, and Hugh Rose— contributed to the conversation, overseen by William Washington, chair of the Committee on Experiments of the South Carolina Agricultural Society. Regularizing the crop rotations, diversifying cultivars, and rationalizing plantation operations gave rise to the distinctive set of ingredients that coalesced into what came to be called the Carolina Rice Kitchen, the cuisine of the Lowcountry.
Now, in order to reconstruct the food production of the Lowcountry, one needs a picture of how the plantations and farms worked internally with respect to local markets, in connection with regional markets, and in terms of commodity trade. One has to know how the field crops, kitchen garden, flower and herb garden, livestock pen, dairy, and kitchen cooperated. Within the matrix of uses, any plant or animal that could be employed in multiple ways would be more widely raised in a locality and more often cycled into cultivation. The sweet potato, for instance, performed many tasks on the plantation: It served as winter feed for livestock, its leaves as fodder; it formed one of the staple foods for slaves; it sold well as a local-market commodity for the home table; and its allelopathic (growth-inhibiting chemistry) made it useful in weed suppression. Our first understandings of locality came by tracing the multiple transits of individual plants through farms, markets, kitchens, and seed brokerages.
After the 1840s, when experiments stabilized into conventions on Low-country plantations, certain items became fixtures in the fields. Besides the sweet potato, one found benne (low-oil West African sesame), corn, colewort/kale/collards, field peas, peanuts, and, late in the 1850s, sorghum. Each one of these plant types would undergo intensive breeding trials, creating new varieties that (a) performed more good for the soil and welfare of the rotation’s other crops; (b) attracted more purchasers at the market; (c) tasted better to the breeder or his livestock; (d) grew more productively than other varieties; and (e) proved more resistant to drought, disease, and infestation than other varieties.
From 1800 to the Civil War, the number of vegetables, the varieties of a given vegetable, the number of fruit trees, the number of ornamental flowers, and the numbers of cattle, pigs, sheep, goat, and fowl breeds all multiplied prodigiously in the United States, in general, and the Low-country, in particular. The seedsman, the orchardist, the livestock breeder, the horticulturist—experimentalists who maintained model farms, nurseries, and breeding herds—became fixtures of the agricultural scene and drove innovation. One such figure was J. V. Jones of Burke County, Georgia, a breeder of field peas in the 1840s and ’50s. In the colonial era, field peas (cowpeas) grew in the garden patches of African slaves, along with okra, benne, watermelon, and guinea squash. Like those other West African plants, their cultivation was taken up by white planters. At first, they grew field peas as fodder for livestock because it inspired great desire among hogs, cattle, and horses. (Hence the popular name cowpea.) Early in the nineteenth century, growers noticed that it improved soils strained by “exhausting plants.” With applications as a green manure, a table pea, and livestock feed, the field pea inspired experiments in breeding with the ends of making it less chalky tasting, more productive, and less prone to mildew when being dried to pea hay. Jones reported on his trials. He grew every sort of pea he could obtain, crossing varieties in the hopes of breeding a pea with superior traits.
Blue Pea, hardy and prolific. A crop of this pea can be matured in less than 60 days from date of planting the seed. Valuable.
Lady, matures with No. 1. Not so prolific and hardy. A delicious table pea.
Rice, most valuable table variety known, and should be grown universally wherever the pea can make a habitation.
Relief, another valuable table kind, with brown pods.
Flint Crowder, very profitable.
Flesh, very profitable.
Sugar, very profitable.
Grey, very profitable. More so than 5, 6, 7. [Tory Pea]
Early Spotted, brown hulls or pods.
Early Locust, brown hulls, valuable.
Late Locust, purple hulls, not profitable.
Black Eyes, valuable for stock.
Early Black Spotted, matures with nos. 1, 2, and 3.
Goat, so called, I presume, from its spots. Very valuable, and a hard kind to shell.
Small Black, very valuable, lies on the field all winter with the power of reproduction.
Large Black Crowder, the largest pea known, and produces great and luxuriant vines. A splendid variety.
Brown Spotted, equal to nos. 6, 7, 8 and 14.
Claret Spotted, equal to nos. 6, 7, 8 and 14.
Large Spotted, equal to nos. 6, 7, 8 and 14.
Jones Little Claret Crowder. It is my opinion a greater quantity in pounds and bushels can be grown per acre of this pea, than any other grain with the knowledge of man. Matures with nos. 1, 2, 3, 9 and 13, and one of the most valuable.
Jones Black Hull, prolific and profitable.
Jones Yellow Hay, valuable for hay only.
Jones no. 1, new and very valuable; originated in the last 2 years.
Chickasaw, its value is as yet unknown. Ignorance has abused it.
Shinney or Java, this is the Prince of Peas.
The list dramatizes the complex of qualities that bear on the judgments of plant breeders—flavor, profitability, feed potential, processability, ability to self-seed, productivity, and utility as hay. And it suggests the genius of agriculture in the age of experiment—the creation of a myriad of tastes and uses.
At this juncture, we confront a problem of culinary history. If one writes the history of taste as it is usually written, using the cookbook authors and chefs as the spokespersons for developments, one will not register the multiple taste options that pea breeders created. Recipes with gnomic reticence call for field peas (or cowpeas). One would not know, for example, that the Shinney pea, the large white lady pea, or the small white rice pea would be most suitable for this or that dish. It is only in the agricultural literature that we learn that the Sea Island red pea was the traditional pea used in rice stews, or that the red Tory pea with molasses and a ham hock made a dish rivaling Boston baked beans.
Growers drove taste innovation in American grains, legumes, and vegetables during the age of experiment. And their views about texture, quality, and application were expressed in seed catalogs, agricultural journals, and horticultural handbooks. If one wishes to understand what was distinctive about regional cookery in the United States, the cookbook supplies but a partial apprehension at best. New England’s plenitude of squashes, to take another example, is best comprehended by reading James J. H. Gregory’s Squashes: How to Grow Them (1867), not Mrs. N. Orr’s De Witt’sConnecticut Cook Book, and Housekeeper’s Assistant (1871). In the pages of the 1869 annual report of the Massachusetts Board of Agriculture, we encounter the expert observation, “As a general rule, the Turban and Hubbard are too grainy in texture to enter the structure of that grand Yankee luxury, a squash pie. For this the Marrow [autumnal marrow squash] excels, and this, I hold, is now the proper sphere of this squash; it is now a pie squash.” No cookbook contains so trenchant an assessment, and when the marrow squash receives mention, it suggests it is a milder-flavored alternative to the pumpkin pie.
Wendell Berry’s maxim that “eating is an agricultural act” finds support in nineteenth-century agricultural letters. The aesthetics of planting, breeding, and eating formed a whole sense of the ends of agriculture. No cookbook would tell you why a farmer chose a clay pea to intercrop with white flint corn, or a lady pea, or a black Crowder, but a reader of the agricultural press would know that the clay pea would be plowed under with the corn to fertilize a field (a practice on some rice fields every fourth year), that the lady pea would be harvested for human consumption, and that the black Crowder would be cut for cattle feed. Only reading a pea savant like J. V. Jones would one know that a black-eyed pea was regarded as “valuable for stock” but too common tasting to recommend it for the supper table.
When the question that guides one’s reading is which pea or peasshould be planted today to build the nitrogen level of the soil and complement the grains and vegetables of Lowcountry cuisines, the multiplicity of varieties suggests an answer. That J. V. Jones grew at least four of his own creations, as well as twenty-one other reputable types, indicates that one should grow several sorts of field peas, with each sort targeted to a desired end. The instincts of southern seed savers such as Dr. David Bradshaw, Bill Best, and John Coykendall were correct—to preserve the richness of southern pea culture, one had to keep multiple strains of cowpea viable. Glenn Roberts and the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation have concentrated on two categories of peas—those favored in rice dishes and those known for soil replenishment. The culinary peas are the Sea Island red pea, known for traditional dishes such as reezy peezy, red pea soup, and red pea gravy; and the rice pea, cooked as an edible pod pea, for most hoppin’ John recipes and for the most refined version of field peas with butter. For soil building, iron and clay peas have been a mainstay of warm-zone agriculture since the second half of the nineteenth century.
It should be clear by this juncture that this inquiry differs from the projects most frequently encountered in food history. Here, the value of a cultivar or dish does not reside in its being a heritage marker, a survival from an originating culture previous to its uses in southern planting and cooking. The Native American origins of a Chickasaw plum, the African origins of okra, the Swedish origins of the rutabaga don’t much matter for our purposes. This is not to discount the worth of the sort of etiological food genealogies that Gary Nabhan performs with the foods of Native peoples, that Karen Hess performed with the cooking of Jewish conversos, or that Jessica Harris and others perform in their explorations of the food of the African diaspora, but the hallmark of the experimental age was change in what was grown—importation, alteration, ramification, improvement, and repurposing. The parched and boiled peanuts/pindars of West Africa were used for oil production and peanut butter. Sorghum, or imphee grass, employed in beer brewing and making flat breads in West Africa and Natal became in the hands of American experimentalists a sugar-producing plant. That said, the expropriations and experimental transformations did not entirely supplant traditional uses. The work of agronomist George Washington Carver at the Tuskegee Agricultural Experiment Station commands particular notice because it combines its novel recommendations for industrial and commercial uses of plants as lubricants, blacking, and toothpaste, with a thoroughgoing recovery of the repertoire of Deep South African American sweet potato, cowpea, and peanut cookery in an effort to present the maximum utility of the ingredients.
While part of this study does depend on the work that Joyce E. Chaplin and Max Edelson have published on the engagement of southern planters with science, it departs from the literature concerned with agricultural reform in the South. Because this exploration proceeds from the factum brutum of an achieved regional cuisine produced as the result of agricultural innovations, market evolutions, and kitchen creativity, it stands somewhat at odds with that literature, arguing the ineffectuality of agricultural reform. Works in this tradition—Charles G. Steffen’s “In Search of the Good Overseer” or William M. Mathew’s Edmund Ruffin and the Crisis of Slavery in the Old South—argue that what passed for innovation in farming was a charade, and that soil restoration and crop diversification were fitful at best. When a forkful of hominy made from the white flint corn perfected in the 1830s on the Sea Islands melts on one’s tongue, there is little doubting that something splendid has been achieved.
The sorts of experiments that produced white flint corn, the rice pea, and the long-grain form of Carolina Gold rice did not cease with the Civil War. Indeed, with the armistice, the scope and intensity of experimentation increased as the economies of the coast rearranged from staple production to truck farming. The reliance on agricultural improvement would culminate in the formation of the network of agricultural experimental stations in the wake of the Hatch Act of 1886. One finding of our research has been that the fullness of Lowcountry agriculture and the efflorescence of Lowcountry cuisine came about during the Reconstruction era, and its heyday continued into the second decade of the twentieth century.
The Lowcountry was in no way exceptional in its embrace of experiments and improvement or insular in its view of what should be grown. In the 1830s, when Carolina horticulturists read about the success that northern growers had with Russian strains of rhubarb, several persons attempted with modest success to grow it in kitchen gardens. Readers of Alexander von Humboldt’s accounts of the commodities of South America experimented with Peruvian quinoa in grain rotations. Because agricultural letters and print mediated the conversations of the experimentalists, and because regional journals reprinted extensively from other journals from other places, a curiosity about the best variety of vegetables, fruits, and berries grown anywhere regularly led many to secure seed from northern brokers (only the Landreth Seed Company of Pennsylvaniamaintained staff in the Lowcountry), or seedsmen in England, France, and Germany. Planters regularly sought new sweet potato varieties from Central and South America, new citrus fruit from Asia, and melons wherever they might be had.
Because of the cosmopolitan sourcing of things grown, the idea of a regional agriculture growing organically out of the indigenous productions of a geographically delimited zone becomes questionable. (The case of the harvest of game animals and fish is different.) There is, of course, a kind of provocative poetry to reminding persons, as Gary Nabhan has done, that portions of the Southeast once regarded the American chestnut as a staple and food mapping an area as “Chestnut Nation,” yet it has little resonance for a population that has never tasted an American chestnut in their lifetime. Rather, region makes sense only as a geography mapped by consciousness—by a community’s attestation in naming, argumentation, and sometimes attempts at legal delimitation of a place.
We can see the inflection of territory with consciousness in the history of the name “Lowcountry.” It emerges as “low country” in the work of early nineteenth-century geographers and geologists who were attempting to characterize the topography of the states and territories of the young nation. In 1812 Jedidiah Morse uses “low country” in the American Universal Gazetteer to designate the coastal mainland of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Originally, the Sea Islands were viewed as a separate topography. “ The sea coast,” he writes, “is bordered with a fine chain of islands, between which and the shore there is a very convenient navigation. The main land is naturally divided into the Lower and Upper country. The low country extends 80 or 100 miles from the coast, and is covered with extensive forests of pitch pine, called pine barrens, interspersed with swamps and marshes of rich soil.” Geologist Elisha Mitchell took up the characterization in his 1828 article, “On the Character and Origin of the Low Country of North Carolina,” defining the region east of the Pee Dee River to the Atlantic coast by a stratigraphy of sand and clay layers as the low country. Within a generation, the designation had entered into the usage of the population as a way of characterizing a distinctive way of growing practiced on coastal lands. Wilmot Gibbs, a wheat farmer in Chester County in the South Carolina midlands, observed in a report to the US Patent Office: “ The sweet potatoes do better, much better on sandy soil, and though not to be compared in quantity and quality with the lowcountry sweet potatoes, yet yield a fair crop.” Two words became one word. And when culture—agriculture—inflected the understanding of region, the boundaries of the map altered. The northern boundary of rice growing and the northern range of the cabbage palmetto were just north of Wilmington, North Carolina. The northern bound of USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 8 in the Cape Fear River drainage became the cultural terminus of the Lowcountry. Agriculturally, the farming on the Sea Islands differed little from that on the mainland, so they became assimilated into the cultural Lowcountry. And since the Sea Islands extended to Amelia Island, Florida, the Lowcountry extended into east Florida. What remained indistinct and subject to debate was the interior bound of the Lowcountry. Was the St. Johns River region in Florida assimilated into it, or not? Did it end where tidal flow became negligible upriver on the major coastal estuaries? Perceptual regions that do not evolve into legislated territories, such as the French wine regions, should be treated with a recognition of their mutable shape.
Cuisines are regional to the extent that the ingredients the region supplies to the kitchen are distinctive, not seen as a signature of another place. Consequently, Lowcountry cuisine must be understood comparatively, contrasting its features with those of other perceived styles, such as “southern cooking” or “tidewater cuisine” or “New Orleans Creole cooking” or “American school cooking” or “cosmopolitan hotel gastronomy.” The comparisons will take place, however, acknowledging that all of these styles share a deep grammar. A common store of ancient landrace grains (wheat, spelt, rye, barley, oats, corn, rice, millet, faro), the oil seeds and fruits (sesame, sunflower, rapeseed, linseed, olive), the livestock, the root vegetables, the fruit trees, the garden vegetables, the nuts, the berries, the game, and the fowls—all these supply a broad canvas against which the novel syncretisms and breeders’ creations emerge. It is easy to overstate the peculiarity of a region’s farming or food.
One of the hallmarks of the age of experiment was openness to new plants from other parts of the world. There was nothing of the culinary purism that drove the expulsion of “ignoble grapes” from France in the 1930s. Nor was there the kind of nationalist food security fixation that drives the current Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ ) protocols of the USDA. In that era, before crop monocultures made vast stretches of American countryside an uninterrupted banquet for viruses, disease organisms, and insect pests, nightmares of continental pestilence did not roil agronomists. The desire to plant a healthier, tastier, more productive sweet potato had planters working their connections in the West Indies and South America for new varieties. Periodically, an imported variety—a cross between old cultivated varieties, a cross between a traditional and an imported variety, or a sport of an old or new variety—proved something so splendid that it became a classic, a brand, a market variety, a seed catalog–illustrated plant. Examples of these include the Carolina African peanut, the Bradford watermelon, the Georgia pumpkin yam, the Hanson lettuce, Sea Island white flint corn, the Virginia peanut, the Carolina Long Gold rice, the Charleston Wakefield cabbage, and the Dancy tangerine. That something from a foreign clime might be acculturated, becoming central to an American regional cuisine, was more usual than not.
With the rise of the commercial seedsmen, naming of vegetable varieties became chaotic. Northern breeders rebranded the popular white-fleshed Hayman sweet potato, first brought from the West Indies into North Carolina in 1854, as the “Southern Queen sweet potato” in the hope of securing the big southern market, or as the “West Indian White.” Whether a seedsman tweaked a strain or not, it appeared in the catalogs as new and improved. Only with the aid of the skeptical field-trial reporters working the experimental stations of the 1890s can one see that the number of horticultural and pomological novelties named as being available for purchase substantially exceeds the number of varieties that actually exist.
Numbers of plant varieties enjoyed sufficient following to resist the yearly tide of “new and improved” alternatives. They survived over decades, supported by devotees or retained by experimental stations and commercial breeders as breeding stock. Of Jones’s list of cowpeas, for instance, the blue, the lady, the rice, the flint Crowder, the claret, the small black, the black-eyed, and Shinney peas still exist in twenty-first-century fields, and two remain in commercial cultivation: the lady and the Crowder.
In order to bring back the surviving old varieties important in traditional Lowcountry cuisine yet no longer commercially farmed, Dr. Merle Shepard, Glenn Roberts, or I sought them in germplasm banks andthrough the networks of growers and seed savers. Some important items seem irrevocably lost: the Neunan’s strawberry and the Hoffman seedling strawberry, both massively cultivated during the truck-farming era in the decades following the Civil War. The Ravenscroft watermelon has perished. Because of the premium placed on taste in nineteenth-century plant and fruit breeding, we believed the repatriation of old strains to be important. Yet we by no means believed that skill at plant breeding suddenly ceased in 1900. Rather, the aesthetics of breeding changed so that cold tolerance, productivity, quick maturity, disease resistance, transportability, and slow decay often trumped taste in the list of desiderata. The recent revelation that the commercial tomato’s roundness and redness was genetically accomplished at the expense of certain of the alleles governing taste quality is only the most conspicuous instance of the subordination of flavor in recent breeding aesthetics.
We have reversed the priority—asserting the primacy of taste over other qualities in a plant. We cherish plants that in the eyes of industrial farmers may seem inefficient, underproductive, or vulnerable to disease and depredation because they offer more to the kitchen, to the tongue, and to the imagination. The simple fact that a plant is heirloom does not make it pertinent for our purposes. It had to have had traction agriculturallyand culinarily. It had to retain its vaunted flavor. Glenn Roberts sought with particular avidity the old landrace grains because their flavors provided the fundamental notes comprising the harmonics of Western food, both bread and alcohol. The more ancient, the better. I sought benne, peanuts, sieva beans, asparagus, peppers, squashes, and root vegetables. Our conviction has been—and is—that the quality of the ingredients will determine the vitality of Lowcountry cuisine.
While the repertoire of dishes created in Lowcountry cuisine interested us greatly, and while we studied the half-dozen nineteenth-century cookbooks, the several dozen manuscript recipe collections, and the newspaper recipe literature with the greatest attention, we realized that our project was not the culinary equivalent of Civil War reenactment, a kind of temporary evacuation of the present for some vision of the past. Rather, we wanted to revive the ingredients that had made that food so memorable and make the tastes available again, so the best cooks of this moment could combine them to invoke or invent a cooking rich with this place. Roberts was too marked by his Californian youth, me by formative years in Japan, Shepard by his long engagement with Asian food culture, Campbell Coxe with his late twentieth-century business mentality, to yearn for some antebellum never-never land of big house banqueting. What did move us, however, was the taste of rice. We all could savor the faint hazelnut delicacy, the luxurious melting wholesomeness of Carolina Gold. And we all wondered at those tales of Charleston hotel chefs of the Reconstruction era who could identify which stretch of which river where a plate of gold rice had been nourished. They could, they claimed, taste the water and the soil in the rice.
The quality of ingredients depends upon the quality of the soil, and this book is not, to my regret, a recovery of the lost art of soil building. Though we have unearthed, with the aid of Dr. Stephen Spratt, a substantial body of information about crop rotations and their effects, and though certain of these traditional rotations have been followed in growing rice, benne, corn, beans, wheat, oats, et cetera, we can’t point to a particular method of treating soil that we could attest as having been sufficient and sustainable in its fertility in all cases. While individual planters hit upon soil-building solutions for their complex of holdings, particularly in the Sea Islands and in the Pee Dee River basin, these were often vast operations employing swamp muck, rather than dung, as a manure. Even planter-savants, such as John Couper and Thomas Spalding, felt they had not optimized the growing potential of their lands. Planters who farmed land that had suffered fertility decline and were bringing it back to viability often felt dissatisfaction because its productivity could not match the newly cleared lands in Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi. Lowcountry planters were undersold by producers to the west. Hence, coastal planters heeded the promises of the great advocates of manure—Edmund Ruffin’s call to crush fossilized limestone and spread calcareous manures on fields, or Alexander von Humboldt’s scientific case for Peruvian guano—as the answer to amplifying yield per acre. Those who could afford it became guano addicts. Slowly, southern planters became habituated to the idea that in order to yield a field needed some sort of chemical supplementation. It was then a short step to industrially produced chemical fertilizers.
What we now know to be irrefutably true, after a decade of Glenn Roberts’s field work, is that grain and vegetables grown in soil that has never been subjected to the chemical supplementations of conventional agriculture, or that has been raised in fields cleansed of the chemicals by repeated organic grow-outs, possess greater depth and distinct local inflections of flavor. Tongues taste terroir. This is a truth confirmed by the work of other cuisine restorationists in other areas—I think particularly of Dan Barber’s work at Stone Barns Center in northern New York and John Coykendall’s work in Tennessee.
Our conviction that enhancing the quality of flavors a region produces as the goal of our agricultural work gives our efforts a clarity of purpose that enables sure decision making at the local level. We realize, of course, the human and animal health benefits from consuming food free of toxins and chemical additives. We know that the preservation of the soil and the treatment of water resources in a non-exploitative way constitute a kind of virtue. But without the aesthetic focus on flavor, the ethical treatment of resources will hardly succeed. When pleasure coincides with virtue, the prospect of an enduring change in the production and treatment of food takes on solidity.
Since its organization a decade ago, the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation has published material on rice culture and the cultivation of landrace grains. By 2010 it became apparent that the information we had gleaned and the practical experience we had gained in plant repatriations had reached a threshold permitting a more public presentation of our historical sense of this regional cuisine, its original conditions of production, and observations on its preparation. After substantial conversation about the shape of this study with Roberts, Shepard, Bernard L. Herman, John T. Edge, Nathalie Dupree, Sean Brock, Linton Hopkins, Jim Kibler, and Marcie Cohen Ferris, I determined that it should not resort to the conventional chronological, academic organization of the subject, nor should it rely on the specialized languages of botany, agronomy, or nutrition. My desire in writing Southern Provisions was to treat the subject so that a reader could trace the connections between plants, plantations, growers, seed brokers, markets, vendors, cooks, and consumers. The focus of attention had to alter, following the transit of food from field to market, from garden to table. The entire landscape of the Lowcountry had to be included, from the Wilmington peanut patches to the truck farms of the Charleston Neck, from the cane fields of the Georgia Sea Islands to the citrus groves of Amelia Island, Florida. For comparison’s sake, there had to be moments when attention turned to food of the South generally, to the West Indies, and to the United States more generally.
In current books charting alternatives to conventional agriculture, there has been a strong and understandable tendency to announce crisis. This was also the common tactic of writers at the beginning of the age of experimentation in the 1810s and ’20s. Yet here, curiosity and pleasure, the quest to understand a rich world of taste, direct our inquiry more than fear and trepidation.
To read more about Southern Provisions, click here.
Activity with students: Students select words and phrases from a primary text and use those words to create their own unique poems.
As “Primary Sources + Found Poetry = Celebrate Poetry Month” suggests, the Library of Congress proposes an innovative way to combine poetry and nonfiction. Teaching With The Library of Congress recently re-posted the Found Poetry Primary Source Set that “supports students in honing their reading and historical comprehension skills by creating poetry based upon informational text and images.” Students will study primary source documents, pull words and phrases that show the central idea, and then use those pieces to create their own poems.
This project not only enables teachers to identify whether a student grasps a central idea of a text, but also encourages students to interact with primary sources in much the same way as Etched In Clay’sAndrea Cheng. When researching Dave’s life and drawing inspiration for her verses, Andrea Cheng integrated the small pieces of evidence of Dave’s life, including poems on his pots and the bills of sale.
Activity with students: Students write haiku using sensory language and drawing inspiration from body movement, music, and art to create their own haiku.
Check out the classroom-tested, standards-aligned lesson plan Experiencing Haiku Through Mindfulness, Movement & Music by Rashna Wadia with Cool Melons— Turn to Frogs! provided by ReadWriteThink.org, a website developed by the International Literacy Association and the National Council of Teachers of English.
Activity with students: Students choose a building to describe in a poem and shape the poem to look like the building.
In Reading is Fundamental’s educator activity guide for, Dreaming Up, encourage students to try the writing activity “Shape It Up:” Let students pick a type of building and write a poem describing that building (how it looks, its purpose, etc). Students should write their poems on white paper in the shape of the building and decorate the background. (RIF)
Activity with students: Students compare narrative and lyric poetry and write their own narrative poem based on real or imagined experiences or events.
Check out the research-based novel study unit for Chess Rumble created by the staff at the award-winning, non-profit ReadWorks.org. Students will compare the story elements of Chess Rumble to Where the Sidewalk Ends and Keeping the Night Watch.
What are your favorite poems to enjoy in the classroom? Share with us!
Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.
CatEyes484 created this ABC quiz for you. Go to the Message Board to leave your answers and see what everyone else wrote. Some of these questions are kind of hard! Favorite yo-yo brand??? My favorite yogurt is blueberry. Does that count?
Favorite gummy candy?
Favorite ice cream?
Favorite nighttime memory?
Favorite Skittles flavor?
Favorite Under Armour item?
Favorite Valentine’s Day memory?
Favorite XOXO note?
Favorite yo-yo brand?
Do you have your own ABC quiz questions? Leave them in the Comments!
In a recent neuroscience study, researchers focused on the visual side of the brain and concluded that volunteers saw words and pictures and not individual letters. This research could prove very helpful in understanding how struggling readers process words, and improve tactics for teaching.
Arbordale truly believes that reading, and being read to, is a very important part of growing up. So, we are closing out the work with a Friday Reads Giveaway! Comment on this post to be entered to win these three Arbordale books!
Learn more about the Journal of Neuroscience article on Science News.
We are so excited to introduce the enchanting new book in TheNew York Times bestselling Whatever After series by Sarah Mlynowski. Are you ready to see the cover of Beauty Queen? Royal drum roll, please . . .
What do you think? Rather beautiful, right?! Tell us in the Comments below, and for more Whatever After fun, help Abby play dress up as she falls into a fairy tale.
Whatever After follows the adventures of siblings Abby and Jonah, whose magic mirror leads them into different fairy tales, where hijinks and hilarity ensue! This time, the magic mirror sucks Abby and Jonah into the story of Beauty and the Beast. When Jonah picks a rose from the Beast’s garden, he messes up the story. Abby and Jonah better get creative and save this fairy tale, before things get pretty ugly.
In the section of his monumental Summa theologiae that is devoted to a discussion of the virtues of justice and prudence, the thirteenth-century Dominican priest Thomas Aquinas (122–74) investigates, in his characteristically methodical and insightful way, the nature of religion. Along with North African Church Father Augustine of Hippo (354–430), Aquinas is probably the most influential Christian writer outside of the biblical authors. From the outset it is clear that for Aquinas religion (religio) is a virtue—not, incidentally, one of the preeminent theological virtues, but nonetheless an important moral virtue related to justice. He explains that in its primary sense religiorefers to interior acts of devotion and prayer, and that this interior dimension is more important than any outward expressions of this virtue. Aquinas acknowledges that a range of outward behaviors are associated with religio—vows, tithes, offerings, and so on—but he regards these as secondary. As I think is immediately obvious, this notion of religion is rather different from the one with which we are now familiar. There is no sense in which religio refers to systems of propositional beliefs, and no sense of different religions (plural). Between Thomas’s time and our own, religion has been transformed from a human virtue into a generic something, typically constituted by sets of beliefs and practices. It has also become the most common way of characterizing attitudes, beliefs, and practices concerned with the sacred or supernatural.
Aquina’s understanding of religio was by no means peculiar to him. Before the seventeenth century, the word “religion” and its cognates were used relatively infrequently. Equivalents of the term are virtually nonexistent in the canonical documents of the Western religions—the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Qur’an. When the term was used in the premodern West, it did not refer to discrete sets of beliefs and practices, but rather to something more like “inner piety,” as we have seen in the case of Aquinas, or “worship.” As a virtue associated with justice, moreover,religio was understood on the Aristotelian model of the virtues as the ideal middle point between two extremes—in this case, irreligion and superstition.
The vocabulary of “true religion” that we encounter in the writings of some of the Church Fathers offers an instructive example. “The true religion” is suggestive of a system of beliefs that is distinguished from other such systems that are false. But careful examination of the content of these expressions reveals that early discussions about true and false religion were typically concerned not with belief, but rather worship and whether or not worship is properly directed. Tertullian (ca. 160–ca. 220) was the first Christian thinker to produce substantial writings in Latin and was also probably the first to use the expression “true religion.” But in describing Christianity as “true religion of the true god,” he is referring to genuine worship directed toward a real (rather than fictitious) God. Another erudite North African Christian writer, Lactantius (ca. 240–ca. 320), gives the first book of his Divine Institutes the title “De Falsa religione.” Again, however, his purpose is not to demonstrate the falsity of pagan beliefs, but to show that “the religionus ceremonies of the [pagan] gods are false,” which is just to say that the objects of pagan worship are false gods. His positive project, an account of true religion, was “to teach in what manner or by what sacrifice God must be worshipped.” Such rightly directed worship was for Lactantius “the duty of man, and in that one object the sum of all things and the whole course of a happy life consists.”
Jerome’s choice of religio for his translation of the relatively uncommon Greekthreskeia in James 1:27 similarly associates the word with cult and worship. In the English of the King James version the verse is rendered: “Pure and undefiled religion [threskeia] before God the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” The import of this passage is that the “religion” of the Christians is a form of worship that consists in charitable acts rather than rituals. Here the contrast is between religion that is “vain” (vana) and that which is “pure and undefiled” (religion munda et inmaculata). In the Middle Ages this came to be regarded as equivalent to a distinction between true and false religion. The twelfth-century Distinctiones Abel of Peter the Chanter (d. 1197), one of the most prominent of the twelfth-century theologians at the University of Paris, makes direct reference to the passage from James, distinguishing religion that is pure and true (munda et vera) from that which is vain and false (vana et falsa). His pupil, the scholastic Radulfus Ardens, also spoke of “true religion” in this context, concluding that it consists in “the fear and love of God, and the keeping of his commandments.” Here again there is no sense of true and false doctrinal content.
Perhaps the most conspicuous use of the expression “true religion” among the Church Fathers came in the title of De vera religion (On True religion), written by the great doctor of the Latin Church, Augustine of Hippo. In this early work Augustine follows Tertullian and Lactantius in describing true religion as rightly directed worship. As he was to relate in the Retractions: “I argued at great length and in many ways that true religion means the worship of the one true God.” It will come as no surprise that Augustine here suggests that “true religion is found only in the Catholic Church.” But intriguingly when writing the Retractions he was to state that while Christian religion is a form of true religion, it is not to be identified as the true religion. This, he reasoned, was because true religion had existed since the beginning of history and hence before the inception of Christianity. Augustine addressed the issue of true and false religion again in a short work, Six Questions in Answer to the Pagans, written between 406 and 412 and appended to a letter sent to Deogratius, a priest at Carthage. Here he rehearses the familiar stance that true and false religion relates to the object of worship: “What the true religion reprehends in the superstitious practices of the pagans is that sacrifice is offered to false gods and wicked demons.” But again he goes on to explain that diverse cultic forms might all be legitimate expressions of true religion, and that the outward forms of true religion might vary in different times and places: “it makes no difference that people worship with different ceremonies in accord with the different requirements of times and places, if what is worshipped is holy.” A variety of different cultural forms of worship might thus be motivated by a common underlying “religion”: “different rites are celebrated in different peoples bound together by one and the same religion.” If true religion could exist outside the established forms of Catholic worship, conversely, some of those who exhibited the outward forms of Catholic religion might lack “the invisible and spiritual virtue of religion.”
This general understanding of religion as an inner disposition persisted into the Renaissance. The humanist philosopher and Platonist Marsilio Ficino (143–99) thus writes of “christian religion,” which is evidenced in lives oriented toward truth and goodness. “All religion,” he wrote, in tones reminiscent of Augustine, “has something good in it; as long as it is directed towards God, the creator of all things, it is true Christian religion.” What Ficino seems to have in mind here is the idea that Christian religion is a Christlike piety, with “Christian” referring to the person of Christ, rather than to a system of religion—“the Christian religion.” Augustine’s suggestion that true and false religion might be displayed by Christians was also reprised by the Protestant Reformer Ulrich Zwingli, who wrote in 1525 of “true and false religion as displayed by Christians.”
It is worth mentioning at this point that, unlike English, Latin has no article—no “a” or “the.” Accordingly, when rendering expressions such as “vera religion” or “christiana religio” into English, translators had to decide on the basis of context whether to add an article or not. As we have seen, such decisions can make a crucial difference, for the connotations of “true religion” and “christian religion” are rather different from those of “the true religion” and “the Christian religion.” The former can mean something like “genuine piety” and “Christlike piety” and are thus consistent with the idea of religion as an interior quality. Addition of the definite article, however, is suggestive of a system of belief. The translation history of Protestant Reformer John Calvin’s classic Institutio Christianae Religionis (1536) gives a good indication both of the importance of the definite article and of changing understandings of religion in the seventeenth century. Calvin’s work was intended as a manual for the inculcation of Christian piety, although this fact is disguised by the modern practice of rendering the title in English as The Institutes of the Christian Religion. The title page of the first English edition by Thomas Norton bears the more faithful “The Institution of Christian religion” (1561). The definite article is placed before “Christian” in the 1762 Glasgow edition: “The Institution of the Christian religion.” And the now familiar “Institutes” appears for the first time in John Allen’s 1813 edition: “The Institutes of the Christian religion.” The modern rendering is suggestive of an entity “the Christian religion” that is constituted by its propositional contents—“the institutes.” These connotations were completely absent from the original title. Calvin himself confirms this by declaring in the preface his intention “to furnish a kind of rudiments, by which those who feel some interest in religion might be trained to true godliness.”
With the increasing frequency of the expressions“religion” and “the religions” from the sixteenth century onward we witness the beginning of the objectification of what was once an interior disposition. Whereas for Aquinas it was the “interior” acts of religion that held primacy, the balance now shifted decisively in favor of the exterior. This was a significant new development, the making of religion into a systematic and generic entity. The appearance of this new conception of religion was a precondition for a relationship between science and religion. While the causes of this objectification are various, the Protestant Reformation and the rise of experimental natural philosophy were key factors, as we shall see in chapter 4.
The History of “Science”
It is instructive at this point to return to Thomas Aquinas, because when we consider what he has to say on the notion of science (scientia) we find an intriguing parallel to his remarks on religion. In an extended treatment of the virtues in the Summa theologiae, Aquinas observes that science (scientia) is a habit of mind or an“intellectual virtue.” The parallel with religio, then, lies in the fact that we are now used to thinking of both religion and science as systems of beliefs and practices, rather than conceiving of them primarily as personal qualities. And for us today the question of their relationship is largely determined by their respective doctrinal content and the methods through which that content is arrived at. For Aquinas, however, both religioand scientia were, in the first place, personal attributes.
We are also accustomed to think of virtues as belonging entirely within the sphere of morality. But again, for Aquinas, a virtue is understood more generally as a“habit” that perfects the powers that individuals possess. This conviction—that human beings have natural powers that move them toward particular ends—was related to a general approach associated with the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC), who had taught that all natural things are moved by intrinsic tendencies toward certain goals (tele). For Aristotle, this teleological movement was directed to the perfection of the entity, or to the perfection of the species to which it belonged. As it turns out, one of the natural tendencies of human beings was a movement toward knowledge. As Aristotle famously wrote in the opening lines of the Metaphysics, “all men by nature desire to know.” In this scheme of things, our intellectual powers are naturally directed toward the end of knowledge, and they are assisted in their movement toward knowledge by acquired intellectual virtues.
One of the great revolutions of Western thought took place in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when much Greek learning, including the work of Aristotle, was rediscovered. Aquinas played a pivotal role in this recovery of ancient wisdom, making Aristotle one of his chief conversation partners. He was by no means a slavish adherent of Aristotelian doctrines, but nonetheless accepted the Greek philosophe’s premise that the intellectual virtues perfect our intellectual powers. Aquinas identified three such virtues—understanding (intellectus), science (scientia), and wisdom (sapientia). Briefly, understanding was to do with grasping first principles, science with the derivation of truths from those first principles, and wisdom with the grasp of the highest causes, including the first cause, God. To make progress in science, then, was not to add to a body of systematic knowledge about the world, but was to become more adept at drawing “scientific” conclusions from general premises. “Science” thus understood was a mental habit that was gradually acquired through the rehearsal of logical demonstrations. In Thomas’s words: “science can increase in itself by addition; thus when anyone learns several conclusions of geometry, the same specific habit of science increases in that man.”
These connotations of scientia were well known in the Renaissance and persisted until at least the end of the seventeenth century. The English physician John Securis wrote in 1566 that“science is a habit” and “a disposition to do any thing confirmed and had by long study, exercise, and use.” Scientia is subsequently defined in Thomas Holyoake’sDictionary (1676) as, properly speaking, the act of the knower, and, secondarily, the thing known. This entry also stresses the classical and scholastic idea of science as “a habit of knowledge got by demonstration.” French philosopher René Descartes (1596–1650) retained some of these generic, cognitive connotations when he defined scientiaas “the skill to solve every problem.”
Yet, according to Aquinas, scientia, like the other intellectual virtues, was not solely concerned with rational and speculative considerations. In a significant departure from Aristotle, who had set out the basic rationale for an ethics based on virtue, Aquinas sought to integrate the intellectual virtues into a framework that included the supernatural virtues (faith, hope, and charity),“the seven gifts of the spirit,” and the nine “fruits of the spirit.” While the various relations are complicated, particularly when beatitudes and vices are added to the equation, the upshot of it all is a considerable overlap of the intellectual and moral spheres. As philosopher Eleonore Stump has written, for Aquinas “all true excellence of intellect—wisdom, understanding andscientia—is possible only in connection with moral excellence as well.” By the same token, on Aquinas’s understanding, moral transgressions will have negative consequences for the capacity of the intellect to render correct judgments: “Carnal vices result in a certain culpable ignorance and mental dullness; and these in turn get in the way of understanding and scientia.” Scientia, then, was not only a personal quality, but also one that had a significant moral component.
The parallels between the virtues of religio and scientia, it must be conceded, are by no means exact. While in the Middle Ages there were no plural religions (or at least no plural religions understood as discrete sets of doctrines), there were undeniably sciences (scientiae), thought of as distinct and systematic bodies of knowledge. The intellectual virtue scientia thus bore a particular relation to formal knowledge. On a strict definition, and following a standard reading of Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics, a body of knowledge was regarded as scientific in the event that it had been arrived at through a process of logical demonstration. But in practice the label “science” was extended to many forms of knowledge. The canonical divisions of knowledge in the Middle Ages—what we now know as the seven “liberal arts” (grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, astronomy, music, geometry)—were then known as the liberal sciences. The other common way of dividing intellectual territory derived from Aristotle’s classification of theoretical or speculative philosophy. In his discussion of the division and methods of the sciences, Aquinas noted that the standard classification of the seven liberal sciences did not include the Aristotelian disciplines of natural philosophy, mathematics, and theology. Accordingly, he argued that the label “science” should be given to these activities, too. Robert Kilwardby (ca. 1215–79), successively regent at the University of Oxford and archbishop of Canterbury, extended the label even further in his work on the origin of the sciences, identifying forty distinct scientiae.
The English word “science” had similar connotations. As was the case with the Latinscientia, the English term commonly referred to the subjects making up the seven liberal arts. In catalogs of English books published between 1475 and 1700 we encounter the natural and moral sciences, the sciences of physick (medicine), of surgery, of logic and mathematics. Broader applications of the term include accounting, architecture, geography, sailing, surveying, defense, music, and pleading in court. Less familiarly, we also encounter works on the science of angels, the science of flattery, and in one notable instance, the science of drinking, drolly designated by the author the “eighth liberal science.” At nineteenth-century Oxford “science” still referred to elements of the philosophy curriculum. The idiosyncrasies of English usage at the University of Oxford notwithstanding, the now familiar meaning of the English expression dates from the nineteenth century, when “science” began to refer almost exclusively to the natural and physical sciences.
Returning to the comparison with medieval religio, what we can say is that in the Middle Ages both notions have a significant interior dimension, and that what happens in the early modern period is that the balance between the interior and exterior begins to tip in favor of the latter. Over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries we will witness the beginning of a process in which the idea of religion and science as virtues or habits of mind begins to be overshadowed by the modern, systematic entities“science” and “religion.” In the case of scientia, then, the interior qualities that characterized the intellectual virtue of scientia are transferred to methods and doctrines. The entry for “science” in the 1771 Encyclopaedia Britannica thus reads, in its entirety: “SCIENCE, in philosophy, denotes any doctrine, deduced from self-evident and certain principles, by a regular demonstration.” The logical rigor that had once been primarily a personal characteristic now resides primarily in the corresponding body of knowledge.
The other significant difference between the virtues of religio and scientia lies in the relation of the interior and exterior elements. In the case of religio, the acts of worship are secondary in the sense that they are motivated by an inner piety. In the case ofscientia, it is the rehearsal of the processes of demonstration that strengthens the relevant mental habit. Crucially, because the primary goal is the augmentation of mental habits, gained through familiarity with systematic bodies of knowledge (“the sciences”), the emphasis was less on the production of scientific knowledge than on the rehearsal of the scientific knowledge that already existed. Again, as noted earlier, this was because the “growth” of science was understood as taking place within the mind of the individual. In the present, of course, whatever vestiges of the scientific habitusremain in the mind of the modern scientist are directed toward the production of new scientific knowledge. In so far as they exist at all—and for the most part they have been projected outward onto experimental protocols—they are a means and not the end. Overstating the matter somewhat, in the Middle Ages scientific knowledge was an instrument for the inculcation of scientific habits of mind; now scientific habits of mind are cultivated primarily as an instrument for the production of scientific knowledge.
The atrophy of the virtues of scientia and religio, and the increasing emphasis on their exterior manifestations in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, will be discussed in more detail in chapter 4. But looking ahead we can say that in the physical realm virtues and powers were removed from natural objects and replaced by a notion of external law. The order of things will now be understood in terms of laws of nature—a conception that makes its first appearance in the seventeenth century—and these laws will take the place of those inherent tendencies within things that strive for their perfection. In the moral sphere, a similar development takes place, and human virtues will be subordinated to an idea of divinely imposed laws—in this instance, moral laws. The virtues—moral and intellectual—will be understood in terms of their capacity to produce the relevant behaviors or bodies of knowledge. What drives both of these shifts is the rejection of an Aristotelian and scholastic teleology, and the subsequent demise of the classical understanding of virtue will underpin the early modern transformation of the ideas of scientia and religio.
Science and Religion?
It should by now be clear that the question of the relationship between science (scientia) and religion (religio) in the Middle Ages was very different from the modern question of the relationship between science and religion. Were the question put to Thomas Aquinas, he may have said something like this: Science is an intellectual habit; religion, like the other virtues, is a moral habit. There would then have been no question of conflict or agreement between science and religion because they were not the kinds of things that admitted those sorts of relations. When the question is posed in our own era, very different answers are forthcoming, for the issue of science and religion is now generally assumed to be about specific knowledge claims or, less often, about the respective processes by which knowledge is generated in these two enterprises. Between Thomas’s time and our own, religio has been transformed from a human virtue into a generic something typically constituted by sets of beliefs and practices. Scientia has followed a similar course, for although it had always referred both to a form of knowledge and a habit of mind, the interior dimension has now almost entirely disappeared. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, both religion and science were literally turned inside out.
Admittedly, there would have been another way of posing this question in the Middle Ages. In focusing on religio and scientia I have considered the two concepts that are the closest linguistically to our modern “religion” and “science.” But there may be other ancient and medieval precedents of our modern notions “religion” and “science,” that have less obvious linguistic connections. It might be argued, for example, that two other systematic activities lie more squarely in the genealogical ancestry of our two objects of interest, and they are theology and natural philosophy. A better way to frame the central question, it could then be suggested, would be to inquire about theology (which looks very much like a body of religionus knowledge expressed propositionally) and natural philosophy (which was the name given to the systematic study of nature up until the modern period), and their relationship.
There is no doubt that these two notions are directly relevant to our discussion, but I have avoided mention of them up until now, first, because I have not wished to pull apart too many concepts at once and, second, because we will be encountering these two ideas and the question of how they fit into the trajectory of our modern notions of science and religion in subsequent chapters. For now, however, it is worth briefly noting that the term “theology” was not much used by Christian thinkers before the thirteenth century. The word theologia appears for the first time in Plato (ca. 428–348 BC), and it is Aristotle who uses it in a formal sense to refer to the most elevated of the speculative sciences. Partly because of this, for the Church Fathers “theology” was often understood as referring to pagan discourse about the gods. Christian writers were more concerned with the interpretation of scripture than with “theology,” and the expression “sacred doctrine” (sacra doctrina) reflects their understanding of the content of scripture. When the term does come into use in the later Middle Ages, there were two different senses of “theology”—one a speculative science as described by Aristotle, the other the teaching of the Christian scriptures.
Famously, the scholastic philosophers inquired as to whether theology (in the sense ofsacra doctrina) was a science. This is not the place for an extended discussion of that commonplace, but the question does suggest one possible relation between science and theology—that theology is a species of the genus “science.” Needless to say, this is almost completely disanalogous to any modern relationship between science and religion as we now understand them. Even so, this question affords us the opportunity to revisit the relationship between virtues and the bodies of knowledge that they were associated with. In so far as theology was regarded as a science, it was understood in light of the virtue of scientia outlined above. In other words, theology was also understood to be, in part, a mental habit. When Aquinas asks whether sacred doctrine is one science, his affirmative answer refers to the fact that there is a single faculty or habit involved. His contemporary, the Franciscan theologian Bonaventure (1221–74), was to say that theological science was a habit that had as its chief end “that we become good.” The “subtle doctor,” John Duns Scotus (ca. 1265–1308), later wrote that the “science” of theology perfects the intellect and promotes the love of God: “The intellect perfected by the habit of theology apprehends God as one who should be loved.” While these three thinkers differed from each other significantly in how they conceptualized the goals of theology, what they shared was a common conviction that theology was, to use a current expression somewhat out of context, habit forming.
As for “natural philosophy” (physica, physiologia), historians of science have argued for some years now that this is the closest ancient and medieval analogue to modern science, although they have become increasingly sensitive to the differences between the two activities. Typically, these differences have been thought to lie in the subject matter of natural philosophy, which traditionally included such topics as God and the soul, but excluded mathematics and natural history. On both counts natural philosophy looks different from modern science. What has been less well understood, however, are the implications of the fact that natural philosophy was an integral part of philosophy. These implications are related to the fact that philosophy, as practiced in the past, was less about affirming certain doctrines or propositions than it was about pursuing a particular kind of life. Thus natural philosophy was thought to serve general philosophical goals that were themselves oriented toward securing the good life. These features of natural philosophy will be discussed in more detail in the chapter that follows. For now, however, my suggestion is that moving our attention to the alternative categories of theology and natural philosophy will not yield a substantially different view of the kinds of historical transitions that I am seeking to elucidate.
To read more about The Territories of Science and Religion, click here.
It’s true. THIS IS NOT A JOKE! After five years Zayn Malik has decided to leave One Direction. Niall, Harry, Liam and Louis will continue as a four-piece group in the forthcoming concerts of their world tour, and will record their fifth album, due to be released later this year, without Zayn.
On the official One Direction Family website, Zayn says:
“My life with One Direction has been more than I could ever have imagined. But, after five years, I feel like it is now the right time for me to leave the band. I’d like to apologise to the fans if I’ve let anyone down, but I have to do what feels right in my heart. I am leaving because I want to be a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight. I know I have four friends for life in Louis, Liam, Harry and Niall. I know they will continue to be the best band in the world.”
One Direction say:
“We’re really sad to see Zayn go, but we totally respect his decision and send him all our love for the future. The past five years have been beyond amazing, we’ve gone through so much together, so we will always be friends. The four of us will now continue. We’re looking forward to recording the new album and seeing all the fans on the next stage of the world tour.”
In this guest post, Taun M. Wright, CEO of Equal Read, lays out some of the arguments for using diverse books in all schools, regardless of student demographics.
DeAvian was a disengaged student, more interested in socializing than academics. Her school had well-known books like Ramona but it wasn’t until her Big Sister gave her a book with an African-American girl on the cover that suddenly, “DeAvian’s eyes opened wide with excitement and a smile filled her face. She held the book tightly, looking up as if to say: ‘Here I am, at last!’” Now, DeAvian continues to read, and her academic performance has improved dramatically. The impact of representative literature can be profound.
In a year with so much important attention to discrimination, the call for diverse children’s books is clear. However, diverse books aren’t just essential to students from minority or marginalized backgrounds. We need diverse books in schools with students representing fewer racial groups just as much as we need them in more diverse schools.
Research shows that the less contact students have with people from other racial groups, the more likely they are to retain higher levels of prejudice. While equity and inclusion are necessary, especially for those of us too long without them, social change is more likely to happen when everyone understands how they will benefit directly from increased diversity and, what’s more, why their ability to embrace the benefits of diversity will be a key determinant of their future success. Here are a few key benefits to adding diverse books to a collection, regardless of the demographics of students:
INCREASED ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE: In their book Identity-Safe Classrooms, Drs. Dorothy Steele and Becki Cohn-Vargas show that “Identity-Safe Classrooms” result in increased achievement for all students, not just those from marginalized groups. Stereotype threat – anticipating being negatively stereotyped based on negative attributes associated with an identity group you represent – has a direct impact on achievement for students from all identity groups. Having many diverse books can offer a “density of cues” to counter stereotypes and reduce stereotype threat, increasing identity-safety for all students.
ENGAGEMENT IN READING: Everyone agrees reading ability is a key predictor of future success. The key route to engaging kids in reading is to offer them books they find interesting and kids want to read about what they don’t know, not merely what they know. As part of its Classrooms program, Equal Read assesses students’ interest in diverse books, as well as their feelings of identity-safety and other measures. Students overwhelmingly answer, “I like reading about people that are different than me” and say that “books about kids that are different than the kids in my class are interesting.”*
BETTER PROSOCIAL DEVELOPMENT: In 2012, Loris Vezalli and his colleagues demonstrated that adolescents who read a book concerning intercultural topics showed not only a reduction in stereotyping and more positive feelings about students representing identities other than their own, but also an increased desire to engage in future contact. Clearly, diverse books are a powerful tool for improved prosocial development.
COLLEGE AND CAREER READINESS: Educators at all levels recognize the need for students to develop key “21st Century Skills.” While their lists may differ around the edges, all include collaboration and communication as essential 21st Century Skills. As the total number of Latino, African-American, and Asian students will be over 50% this fall, all students will need to be able to collaborate and communicate with people from multiple identity groups, if they are to succeed. Businesses are well aware of research that shows diverse teams are more creative, innovative, and productive than homogenous teams. Silicon Valley companies, for instance, are now investing significantly in recruitment efforts geared to diverse employees. A recent study by professors from Cornell, UC Berkeley, Washington and Vanderbilt Universities even demonstrated that “political correctness” has a positive influence on creativity. Students accustomed to respectfully collaborating and communicating with people from many different identity groups will be better prepared for college and career success.
Just because a school’s population is not very diverse, does not mean it should be similarly restricted in the books available to its students. Kids like great stories. All kids deserve to read the most engaging books available, books that expand their imagination of what’s possible by telling a wide variety of stories, featuring characters with differences beyond phenotype (observable differences) to include different ethnicities, nationalities, languages, gender expression, family structures, abilities, sexual orientations, socioeconomic backgrounds, education levels, religions and beliefs, ages, body types, learning styles, and experiences.
Through its Classrooms program, Equal Read creates broadly diverse book collections that are balanced for gender and representative of all of a classroom’s learners, offering teacher professional development and parent education about the role diverse books can play in increasing cultural competency.
Because every child deserves an equal read.
*Note: Equal Read also surveys parents and teachers, and overwhelmingly, both groups say they want to know more about diverse children’s books. Clearly, they already recognize the benefits of diverse books to the students they serve, yet it is difficult for them to find these books – this is no surprise considering how few children’s books feature diverse characters. We’re also working on ways to help parents and teachers more readily find the most outstanding books featuring diverse characters through Equal Read’s Books program.
Taun Wright founded Equal Read in 2013 as a nonprofit organization to increase diversity in children’s literature, so all kids can “see themselves and a world of possibility in the books they read.” A former teacher, nonprofit consultant and administrator, and a parent and grandparent of a multi-racial family with multiple and varied abilities, nationalities, ethnicities, family structures, socio-economic backgrounds, languages, sexual orientations, ages, body types, education levels, learning styles, and experiences, she has first-hand appreciation for the wonders of different identities and the value of diverse children’s books in sharing them.
This long and dreadful winter is finally, finally coming to a close. At least we had PLENTY of time to power through our to-read lists with all of those snow days and freezing weekends. Unless, of course, you’re from some sunny spot that has never felt the icy grip of below-freezing temperatures . . . in which case, I’m super jealous. But anyway, I asked you last month what books you were reading and loving, and the response was crazy amazing! Thank you everyone who shared their gotta-read-it-right-now picks. Here they are:
Percy Jackson is the runaway favorite this round, but Dork Diaries is getting some serious representation. Go, Dork Diaries fans! Way to show your support! Harry Potter and Heroes of Olympus are neck and neck this time. It’s a very close call. Between the two, which is your favorite?
There were a lot of new contenders this time around, too. I see you, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library! I’m definitely reading that next.
Let’s keep this going. What other books are you super-excited about? What book must everyone in the world read at least ONCE? Share your picks in the Comments below!
In his sixth pick for the social network’s online book club (“A Year of Books”), Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently drafted Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, a 52-year-old book still one of the most often cited academic resources of all time, and one of UCP’s crowning gems of twentieth century scholarly publishing. Following in the footsteps of Pixar founder Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc., Zuckerberg’s most recent pick, Structure will be the subject of a Facebook thread with open commenting, for the next two weeks, in line with the methodology of “A Year of Books.” If you’re thinking about reading along, the 50th Anniversary edition includes a compelling Introduction by Ian Hacking that situates the book’s legacy, both in terms of its contribution to a scientific vernacular (“paradigm shifting”) and its value as a scholarly publication of mass appeal (“paradigm shifting”).
Or, in Zuckerberg’s own words:
It’s a history of science book that explores the question of whether science and technology make consistent forward progress or whether progress comes in bursts related to other social forces. I tend to think that science is a consistent force for good in the world. I think we’d all be better off if we invested more in science and acted on the results of research. I’m excited to explore this theme further.
“Before Kuhn, the normal view was that science simply needed men of genius (they were always men) to clear away the clouds of superstition, and the truth of nature would be revealed,” [David Papineau, professor of philosophy at King’s College London] said. “Kuhn showed it is much more interesting than that. Scientific research requires a rich network of prior assumptions (Kuhn reshaped the term ‘paradigm’ to stand for these), and changing such assumptions can be traumatic, and is always resisted by established interests (thus the need for scientific ‘revolutions’).”
Kuhn showed, said Papineau, that “scientists are normal humans, with prejudices and personal agendas in their research, and that the path to scientific advances runs through a complex social terrain”.
“We look at science quite differently post-Kuhn,” he added.
We hear over and over again from teachers across the country how they want to infuse more culturally responsive and relevant texts into their district or school-mandated curriculum.
It’s challenging to do, but what if we had some resources to share to help you out?
First, read: If you haven’t read this article from Reading Teacher, here’s your chance. Authors Fenice Boyd, Lauren Causey, and Lee Glada offer teachers great suggestions for culturally diverse literature that addresses Common Core standards in this Reading Teacher article (PDF).
What is “culturally relevant teaching?” Heather Coffey at LEARN NC, a program of the UNC School of Education, shares the history and theory.
Here are some places teachers are finding culturally relevant / responsive texts and (just as vital) ready-to-go lesson plans. Check out:
Utah public school teachers created these multicultural lesson plans during their Center for Documentary Expression and Art course, “Multiculturalism and Storytelling,” available through the Utah Education Network (UEN) lesson library
The Lewis Library at the Loyola University Chicago Libraries has created this amazing visual resource for teachers at its School of Education to find multicultural books right for their students and instructional strategies
POV at PBS provides lessons exploring multiculturalism to pair with its films for grades 6 and up
TeachPeaceNow has literature-based lesson plans covering social justice topics to include in your curriculum
Where do you recommend teachers find lessons plans that align with their curriculum and incorporate diverse literature? Share with us!
Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her weekly column at The Open Book, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.
Spring is here… or so I’m told! It’s hard to imagine wearing t-shirts and sandals, when only last week, I was digging out the 5 feet of snow surrounding my driveway. But I’m optimistic, so I like to think it will be here sooner rather than later!
You can add articles (little words like “a” and “the”), verbs, or anything that will help it flow, but try to include as many of these 25 words as you can in your poem. Any style of poem works – rhyming, non-rhyming, couplet, haiku, free-form, or even random. It’s up to you!
Leave your poem in the Comments. We can’t wait to be infected . . . with Spring Fever!!
Every day when you wake up there is another frightening story on the news about an atrocious terrorist attack on the lives of many innocent men, women, and children. I think the most important issue in the world is stopping terrorism. I want the world to find a way to beat terrorists, so their threats and actions don’t make us question our freedom, but how?
First of all, the government needs to make stopping terrorism its top priority. It needs to focus less on Common Core, immigration, and school lunches, and more on the real problem of terrorism. We should NOT release convicted terrorists from prison. Letting them go only hurts us. We don’t know what they’ll do next and who they could be working with.
Also, the government needs to give more money to the military instead of constantly taking it away. I feel that our military is the best way to stop terrorists. Everyone can help by supporting the military in their efforts to stop terrorism. We can make a difference. Watch my video about how to support our troops overseas, and send your own care packages to this address:
Operation Gratitude/California Army National Guard 17330 Victory Boulevard Van Nuys, CA 91406 Attn: Angel Cuevas/Receiving
The world would be such a better place without terrorists. We could all go to sleep feeling safer knowing terrorism has ended. It would be so awesome if there were no terrorists. Terrorism is a major world issue that must be stopped. This could be the change that could make the world a better place.
March is Women’s History Month! It’s never a bad time to learn about the contributions that women have made and continue to make. In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ve put together a list that features some of our favorite historical ladies and great fiction for children and older readers!
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone – this award-winning book follows the life of Melba Liston, a trailblazing trombonist, composer and arranger and one of the unsung heroes of the Jazz age.
The Legend of Freedom Hill – Rosabel, who is African American, and Sophie, who is Jewish, become friends. When Rosabel’s mother, a runaway slave gets captured by a slave catcher, Rosabel and Sophie put their heads together to free her.
Cat Girl’s Day Off – Natalie must use her Talent talking to cats to stop a high profile celebrity kidnapping.
Rattlesnake Mesa – After EdNah’s beloved grandmother dies, she is sent to live with her father on a Navajo reservation, and then to an Indian boarding school.
Ink and Ashes – Claire opens the door to her deceased father’s path and finds a family secret that could kill her.
Killer of Enemies – In a future where technology has failed, Lozen has been gifted with a unique set of abilities, magic and survival skills that she uses to hunt monsters for the people who kidnapped her family.
Rose Eagle – In this prequel to Killer of Enemies, we join Rose Eagle as she goes on a quest to find healing for her people.
Tofu Quilt – Yeung Ying, a young girl who grows up in 1960s Hong Kong, aspires to become a writer, against the conventions of society and family members.
James Ashley never forgot the moment. After hours of debate, Schuyler Colfax, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, had finally gaveled the 159 House members to take their seats and get ready to vote.
Most of the members were waving a fan of some sort, but none of the fans did much good. Heat and humidity had turned the nation’s capitol into a sauna. Equally bad was the stench that emanated from Washington’s back alleys, nearby swamps, and the twenty-one hospitals in and about the city, which now housed over twenty thousand wounded and dying soldiers. Worse yet was the news from the front lines. According to some reports, the Union army had lost seven thousand men in less than thirty minutes at Cold Harbor. The commanding general, Ulysses S. Grant, had been deemed a “fumbling butcher.”
Nearly everyone around Ashley was impatient, cranky, and miserable. But Ashley was especially downcast. It was his job to get Senate Joint Resolution Number 16, a constitutional amendment to outlaw slavery in the United States, through the House of Representatives, and he didn’t have the votes.
The need for the amendment was obvious. Of the nation’s four million slaves at the outset of the war, no more than five hundred thousand were now free, and, to his disgust, many white Americans intended to have them reenslaved once the war was over. The Supreme Court, moreover, was still in the hands of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney and other staunch proponents of property rights in slaves and state’s rights. If they ever got the chance, they seemed certain not only to strike down much of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation but also to hold that under the Constitution only the states where slavery existed had the legal power to outlaw it.
Six months earlier, in December 1863, when Ashley and his fellow Republicans had proposed the amendment, he had been more upbeat. He knew that getting the House to abolish slavery, which in his mind was the root cause of the war, was not going to be easy. It required a two-thirds vote. But he had thought that Republicans in both the Senate and the House might somehow muster the necessary two-thirds majority. No longer did they have to worry about the united opposition of fifteen slave states. Eleven of the fifteen were out of the Union, including South Carolina and Mississippi, the two with the highest percentage of slaves, and Virginia, the one with the largest House delegation. In addition, the war was in its thirty-third month. Hundreds of thousands of Northern men had been killed on the battlefield. The one-day bloodbath at Antietam was now etched into the memory of every one of his Toledo constituents as well as every member of Congress. So, too, was the three-day battle at Gettysburg.
If Republicans held firm, all they needed to push the amendment through the House was a handful of votes from their opponents, either from the border slave state representatives who had remained in the Union or from free state Democrats. It was his job to get those votes. He was the bill’s floor manager.
Back in December, Ashley had been the first House member to propose such an amendment. Although few of his colleagues realized it, he had been toying with the idea for nearly a decade. He had made a similar proposal in September 1856, when it didn’t have a chance of passing.
He was a political novice at the time, just twenty-nine years old, and known mainly for being big and burly, six feet tall and starting to spread around the middle, with a wild mane of curly hair and a loud, resonating voice. He had just gotten established in Toledo politics. He had moved there three years earlier from the town of Portsmouth, in southern Ohio, largely because he had just gotten married and was in deep trouble for helping slaves flee across the Ohio River. He was not yet a Congressman. Nor was he running for office. He was just campaigning for the Republican Party’s first presidential candidate, John C. Frémont, and Richard Mott, a House member who was up for reelection. In doing so, he gave a stump speech at a grove near Montpelier, Ohio.
James M. Ashley, congressman from Ohio. Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, Library of Congress (lC-Bh824-5303).
The speech lasted two hours. In most respects, it was a typical Republican stump speech. It was mainly a collection of stories, many from his youth, living and working along the Ohio River. Running through it were several themes that tied the stories together and foreshadowed the rest of his career. In touting the two candidates, he blamed the nation’s troubles on a conspiracy of slaveholders and Northern men with Southern principles, or as he called them “slave barons” and “doughfaces.” These men, he claimed, had deliberately misconstrued the Bible, misinterpreted the Constitution, and gained complete control of the federal government. “For nearly half a century,” he told his listeners, some two hundred thousand slave barons had “ruled the nation, morally and politically, including a majority of the Northern States, with a rod of iron.” And before “the advancing march of these slave barons,” the “great body of Northern public men” had “bowed down . . . with their hands on their mouths and mouths in the dust, with an abasement as servile as that of a vanquished, spiritless people, before their conquerors.”
Across the North, many Republican spokesmen were saying much the same thing. What made Ashley’s speech unusual was that he made no attempt to hide his radicalism. He made it clear to the crowd at Montpelier that he would do almost anything to destroy slavery and the men who profited from it. He had learned to hate slavery and the slave barons during his boyhood, traveling with his father, a Campbellite preacher, through Kentucky and western Virginia, and later working as a cabin boy on the Ohio River. Never would he forget how traumatized he had been as a nine-year-old seeing for the first time slaves in chains being driven down a road to the Deep South, whipping posts on which black men had been beaten, and boys his own age being sold away from their mothers. Nor would he ever forget the white man who wouldn’t let his cattle drink from a stream in which his father was baptizing slaves. How, he had wondered, could his father still justify slavery? Certainly, it didn’t square with the teachings of Christ or what his mother was teaching him back home.
Ashley also made it clear to the crowd at Montpelier that he had violated the Fugitive Slave Law more times than he could count. He had actually begun helping slaves flee bondage in 1839, when he was just fifteen years old, and he had continued doing so after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made the penalties much stiffer. To avoid prosecution, he and his wife had fled southern Ohio in 1851. Would he now mend his ways? “Never!” he told his audience. The law was a gross violation of the teachings of Christ, and for that reason he had never obeyed it and with “God’s help . . . never shall.”
What, then, should his listeners do? The first step was to join him in supporting John C. Frémont for president and Richard Mott for another term in Congress. Another was to join him in never obeying the “infamous fugitive-slave law”—the most “unholy” of the laws that these slave barons and their Northern sycophants had passed. And perhaps still another, he suggested, was to join him in pushing for a constitutional amendment outlawing “the crime of American slavery” if that should become “necessary.”
The last suggestion, in 1856, was clearly fanciful. Nearly half the states were slave states. Thus getting two-thirds of the House, much less two-thirds of the Senate, to support an amendment outlawing slavery was next to impossible. Ashley knew that. Perhaps some in his audience, especially those who cheered the loudest, thought otherwise. But not Ashley. Although still a political neophyte, he knew the rules of the game. He was also good with numbers, always had been, and always would be. Nonetheless, he told his audience to put it on their “to do” list.
Five years later, in December 1861, Ashley added to the list. By then he was no longer a political neophyte. He had been twice elected to Congress. Eleven states had seceded from the Union, and the Civil War was in its eighth month. As chairman of the House Committee on Territories, he proposed that the eleven states no longer be treated as states. Instead they should be treated as “territories” under the control of Congress, and Congress should impose on them certain conditions before they were allowed to regain statehood. More specifically, Congress should abolish slavery in these territories, confiscate all rebel lands, distribute the confiscated lands in plots of 160 acres or fewer to loyal citizens of any color, disfranchise the rebel leaders, and establish new governments with universal adult male suffrage. Did that mean, asked one skeptic, that black men were to receive land? And the right to vote? Yes, it did. And if such measures were enacted, said Ashley, he felt certain that the slave barons would be forever stripped of their power.
Ashley’s goal was clear. The 1850 census, from which Ashley and most Republicans drew their numbers, had indicated that just a few Southern families had the lion’s share of the South’s wealth. Especially potent were the truly big slaveholders—families with over one hundred slaves. There were 105 such family heads in Virginia, 181 in Georgia, 279 in Mississippi, 312 in Alabama, 363 in South Carolina, and 460 in Louisiana. With respect to landholdings, there were 371 family heads in Louisiana with more than one thousand acres, 481 in Mississippi, 482 in South Carolina, 641 in Virginia, 696 in Alabama, and 902 in Georgia.
In Ashley’s view, virtually all these wealth holders were rebels, and the Congress should go after all their assets. Strip them of their slaves. Strip them of their land. Strip them of their right to hold office. Halfhearted measures, he contended, would lead only to half-hearted results. Taking away a slave baron’s slaves undoubtedly would hobble him, but it wouldn’t destroy him. With his vast landholdings, he would soon be back in power. And with the right to hold office, he would not only have economic power but also political power. And with the end of the three-fifths clause, the clause in the Constitution that counted slaves as only three-fifths of a free person when it came to tabulating seats in Congress and electoral votes, the South would have more power than ever before.
When Ashley made this proposal in December 1861, everyone on his committee told him it was much too radical ever to get through Congress. He knew that. But he also knew that there were men in Congress who agreed with him, including four of the seven men on his committee, several dozen in the House, maybe a half-dozen in the Senate, and even some notables such as Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania and Senator Ben Wade of Ohio.
The trouble was the opposition. It was formidable. Not only did it include the “Peace” Democrats, men who seemingly wanted peace at any price, men whom Ashley regarded as traitors, but also “War” Democrats, men such as General George McClellan, General Don Carlos Buell, and General Henry Halleck, men who were leading the nation’s troops. Also certain to oppose him were the border state Unionists, especially the Kentuckians, and most important of all, Abraham Lincoln. Against such opposition, all Ashley and the other radicals could do was push, prod, and hope to get maybe a piece or two of the total package enacted.
Two years later, in December 1863, Ashley thought it was indeed “necessary” to strike a deathblow against slavery. He also thought it was possible to get a few pieces of his 1861 package into law. So, just after the House opened for its winter session, he introduced two measures. One was a reconstruction bill that followed, at least at first glance, what Lincoln had called for in his annual message. Like Lincoln, Ashley proposed that a seceded state be let back into the Union when only 10 percent of its 1860 voters took an oath of loyalty.
Had he suddenly become a moderate? A conservative? Not quite. To Lincoln’s famous 10 percent plan, Ashley added two provisions. One would take away the right to vote and to hold office from all those who had fought against the Union or held an office in a rebel state. That was a significant chunk of the population. The other would give the right to vote to all adult black males. That was even a bigger chunk of the population, especially in South Carolina and Mississippi.
The other measure that Ashley proposed that December was the constitutional amendment that outlawed slavery. A few days later, Representative James F. Wilson of Iowa made a similar proposal. The wording differed, but the intent was the same. The Constitution had to be amended, contended Wilson, not only to eradicate slavery but also to stop slaveholders and their supporters from launching a program of reenslavement once the war was over. Then, several weeks later, Senator John Henderson of Missouri and Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts introduced similar amendments. Sumner’s was the more radical. The Massachusetts senator not only wanted to end slavery. He also wanted to end racial inequality.
The Senate Judiciary Committee then took charge. They ignored Sumner’s cry for racial justice and worked out the bill’s final language. The wording was clear and simple: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
On April 8, 1864, the committee’s wording came before the Senate for a final vote. Although a few empty seats could be found in the men’s gallery, the women’s gallery was packed, mainly by church women who had organized a massive petition drive calling on Congress to abolish slavery. Congress for the most part had ignored their hard work. But to the women’s delight, thirty-eight senators now voted for the amendment, six against, giving the proposed amendment eight votes more than what was needed to meet the two-thirds requirement.
All thirty Republicans in attendance voted aye. The no votes came from two free state Democrats, Thomas A. Hendricks of Indiana and James McDougall of California, and four slave state senators: Garrett Davis and Lazarus W. Powell of Kentucky and George R. Riddle and Willard Saulsbury of Delaware. Especially irate was Saulsbury. A strong proponent of reenslavement, he made sure that the women knew that he regarded them with contempt. In a booming voice, he told them on leaving the Senate floor that all was lost and that there was no longer any chance of ever restoring the eleven Confederate states to the Union.
Now, nine weeks later, the measure was before the House. And its floor manager, James Ashley, expected the worst. He kept a close count. And, as the members voted, he realized that he was well short of the required two-thirds. Of the eighty Republicans who were in attendance, seventy-nine eventually cast aye votes and one abstained. Of the seventeen slave state representatives in attendance, eleven voted aye and six nay. But of the sixty-two free state Democrats, only four voted for the amendment while fifty-eight voted nay. As a result, the final vote was going to be ninety-four to sixty-four. That was eleven shy of the necessary two-thirds majority.
The outcome was even worse than Ashley had anticipated. “Educated in the political school of Jefferson,” he later recalled, “I was absolutely amazed at the solid Democratic vote against the amendment on the 15th of June. To me it looked as if the golden hour had come, when the Democratic party could, without apology, and without regret, emancipate itself from the fatal dogmas of Calhoun, and reaffirm the doctrines of Jefferson. It had always seemed to me that the great men in the Democratic party had shown a broader spirit in favor of human liberty than their political opponents, and until the domination of Mr. Calhoun and his States-rights disciples, this was undoubtedly true.”
Despite the solid Democratic vote against the resolution, there was still one way that Ashley could save the amendment from certain congressional death. And that was to take advantage of a House rule that allowed a member to bring a defeated measure up for reconsideration if he intended to change his vote. To make use of this rule, however, Ashley had to change his vote before the clerk announced the final tally. He had voted aye along with his fellow Republicans. He now had to get into the “no” column. That he did. The final vote thus became ninety-three to sixty-five.
Two weeks later, Representative William Steele Holman, Democrat of Indiana, asked Ashley when he planned to call for reconsideration. Ashley told him not now but maybe after the next election. The trick, he said, was to find enough men in Holman’s party who were “naturally inclined to favor the amendment, and strong enough to meet and repel the fierce partisan attack which were certain to be made upon them.”
Holman, Ashley knew, would not be one of them. Although the Indiana Democrat had once been a staunch supporter of the war effort, he opposed the destruction of slavery. Not only had he just voted against the amendment—he had vehemently denounced it. Holman, as Ashley viewed him, was thus one of the “devil’s disciples.” He was beyond redemption. And with this in mind, Ashley set about to find at least eleven additional House members who would stand their ground against men like Holman.
To read more about Who Freed the Slaves?, click here.
The book is a nonfiction picture book about Dr. Gordon Sato, whose mangrove tree-planting project transformed an impoverished village in Eritrea into a self-sufficient community. Dr. Sato named his project the Manzanar Project, partly inspired by the time he spent as a child in Manzanar, a Japanese Internment Camp in California.
A few weeks ago, Susan Roth, co-author and illustrator of the book, received this message from someone who had known Dr. Sato a very long time ago (reposted with permission):
A few years ago, Dr. Gordon Sato sent me a copy of your book, “Mangrove Tree” and I would like to share with you the Gordon Sato that I know. I too was imprisoned at Manzanar because I looked like the enemy. I took 24 units of UC educational courses to qualify as Provisional High School teacher at Manzanar. I was selected to teach high school Physics. Gordon Sato was a student in my Physics class. It was some forty years after Manzanar closed that Gordon Sato phoned me and said he wanted to come and see me. He told me that he had received as BS degree from USC 1951 and his Doctorate degree from Caltech in 1955. He said he was ready to go to Eritrea, Africa on scientific project to help Eritrea out of poverty. He said he called The Manzanar Project and handed me a copy of that project. I did not know of all of the scientific research he had done nor the scientific accomplishment he had achieved. While this Nisei who has dedicated his life for humanity, I want you to know the other Gordon Sato.
For a student to seek his former teacher is in itself a wonderful tribute to me. But then, at our meeting, Gordon Sato said he wanted to thank me for inspiring him to get a college education. Two little words, “Thank You” showed me a man who stands tall among all of us with courage and humility. I too had hoped that something good would come out of that place of injustice. Little did I know that I had planted a seed that would blossom into something beautiful for the world to see. That is the Gordon Sato that I know.
We love this reminder that behind every leader, innovator, scientist, and world changer, there’s a great teacher! Thank you, Gordon Sato, and thank you Tadashi Kishi!