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The Slumbering Volcano American Slave Ship Revolts and the Production of Rebellious Masculinity by Maggie Montesinos Sale

The Slumbering Volcano American Slave Ship Revolts and the Production of Rebellious Masculinity

Part of the New Americanists Series


The Slumbering Volcano American Slave Ship Revolts and the Production of Rebellious Masculinity by Maggie Montesinos Sale

In The Slumbering Volcano, Maggie Montesinos Sale investigates depictions of nineteenth-century slave ship revolts to explore the notion of rebellion in formulations of United States national identity. Analyzing how such revolts inspired citizens to debate whether political theory directed at free men could be extended toward blacks, Sale compares the reception of fictionalized versions of ship revolts published in the 1850s-Benito Cereno by Herman Melville and The Heroic Slave by Frederick Douglass-with the previous decade's public accounts of actual rebellions by enslaved people on the ships Amistad and Creole. This comparison of narrative response with written public reaction to the actual revolts allows Sale to investigate the precise manner in which public opinion regarding definitions of liberty evolved over this crucial period of time between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Mapping the ways in which unequally empowered groups claimed and transformed statements associated with the discourse of national identity, Sale succeeds in recovering a historically informed sense of the discursive and activist options available to people of another era.In its demonstration of how the United States has been uniquely shaped by its dual status as both an imperial and a postcolonial power, this study on the discourse of natural rights and national identity in the pre-Civil War United States will interest students and scholars of American studies, African American studies, gender studies, and American history and literature.


Sale combines an impressive array of historical material with keen analytic skills, an attention to the larger picture with a sensitivity to the nuances of language and rhetoric. The result is an original reading of how and why enslaved people were unable to tell their own stories. -Priscilla Wald, University of Washington The Slumbering Volcano theorizes the discourse of nationalism, natural rights, and race in a refreshingly undogmatic manner, making a splendid contribution to the growing body of theory on race, masculinity, and national identity formation. -Carolyn Karcher, author of The First Woman in the Republic: A Cultural Biography of Lydia Maria Child, published by Duke University Press

About the Author

Maggie Montesinos Sale is Assistant Professor of Women's and Gender Studies and Assistant Director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Columbia University.

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Book Info

Publication date

22nd September 1997


Maggie Montesinos Sale

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Duke University Press


280 pages


Literary studies: c 1800 to c 1900
Slavery & abolition of slavery
Human rights



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