The Difference Slavery Made: An Experiment in Form and Analysis
William G. Thomas III and Edward L. Ayers
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Our work is aimed at a central issue in American history: how slavery divided American society and culture in the years before the Civil War. Our close study of two communities near the Mason-Dixon Line shows that slavery created critical differences, some obvious and some more subtle, between Northern and Southern communities that otherwise shared many attributes. Both the differences and the similarities are crucial in understanding the political crisis that brought on the American Civil War.

The relationships among social, cultural, economic, and political life turn out to be more intricate, but no less powerful, than we have recognized. The common understanding of the North as a "modernizing" society in contrast to a South resistant to the currents of technology, innovation, markets, and white democracy proves to be overdrawn.

This work is not intended as a narrative of the events leading to the outbreak of war. Instead, we present here a series of comparative narrative sections. To navigate through this scholarly work we have presented several arrangements of evidence and analysis. As a jumping-off point, we offer the following guided links:

  • STATEMENTS:The heart of our work, in which evidence is analyzed and linked into discrete statements on key issues.
  • SUMMARY:A narrative of our key findings integrated into the historiographical issues at stake.
  • EVIDENCE:Maps, letters, diaries, newspaper articles, and tables collected with captions and full citation information.
  • READING RECORD:A tool to see the work as a whole and identify parts you have not yet viewed.

The work is intended to foster discussion about the best forms of digital scholarship for history and to address some of the challenges for scholarship built on "born digital" sources. As historical sources in digital format proliferate, historians will need to develop strategies for presenting scholarship that connects to and integrates these digital objects. Digital libraries are engaged in massive digitization and cataloging efforts, including, for example, American Memory at the Library of Congress, the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative at the University of California at Berkeley, and the initiatives underway at Oxford, the British Library, and throughout the European Union. Historians will soon be working with vast ranges of born digital materials, creating scholarship that not only cites but incorporates these items. Historians will also need forms of scholarship that can integrate into larger digital repositories and that are designed for longevity in the digital medium. We expect that our approach will be one of many, for it certainly does not meet all of the challenges of digital history scholarship.

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