Scott, Rebecca J. 1950- (Rebecca Jarvis Scott)
Scott, Rebecca J. 1950- (Rebecca Jarvis Scott)
Born July 18, 1950, in Athens, GA; daughter of Andrew M. (a political scientist) and Anne (a historian) Scott; married Peter A. Railton (a philosopher), March 21, 1978. Education: Harvard University, B.A., 1971; London School of Economics and Political Science, M.Phil., 1973; Princeton University, Ph.D., 1982.
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, assistant professor, 1980-86, associate professor of history, beginning 1986, junior fellow of Michigan Society of Fellows, beginning 1980, became Charles Gibson Distinguished University Professor of History and professor of law.
American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Historical Association, Latin American Studies Association.
Slave Emancipation in Cuba: The Transition to Free Labor, 1860-1899, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1985, revised edition with new afterword by the author, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 2000.
(With others) The Abolition of Slavery and the Aftermath of Emancipation in Brazil, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1988.
(With Frederick Cooper and Thomas C. Holt) Beyond Slavery: Explorations of Race, Labor, and Citizenship in Postemancipation Societies, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 2000.
(Editor, with Fernando Martínez Heredia and Orlando F. García Martínez) Espacios, Silencios y los Sentidos de la Libertad: Cuba entre 1878 y 1912 (title means "Spaces, Silences, and the Senses of Freedom: Cuba between 1878 and 1912"), Ediciones Unión (El Vedado, Havana, Cuba), 2001.
(Editor, with Louis A. Pérez, Jr.) The Archives of Cuba = Los Archivos de Cuba, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 2003.
Contributor to journals, including Comparative Studies in Society and History, Current Anthropology, Michigan Law Review, and New West Indian Guide.
Rebecca J. Scott, a professor of law and history, has written much on slavery and its aftermath in the southern United States and Latin America. She has won praise as a scholar who "places slaves and former slaves at the center of her history, while also attentively pursuing how larger structures abetted or inhibited these actors' pursuit of citizenship," as James E. Sanders wrote in a Journal of Social History review of Degrees of Freedom: Louisiana and Cuba after Slavery.
Degrees of Freedom, Sanders observed, has that feature in common with an earlier Scott work, Slave Emancipation in Cuba: The Transition to Free Labor, 1860-1899. In this book, originally published in 1985, Scott explores the reasons for the end of slavery in Cuba, where sugar plantations had relied on chattel labor. Historians of Cuba once generally held that slavery ended there because it ceased to be economically viable and because new technologies replaced much human labor. Scott, however, uses her research to show that slaves became activists for their freedom, thereby also contributing to the institution's demise.
Scott's book "offered a fairly complex picture of the process of abolition" and "broadened the debate considerably" on this topic, remarked Alejandro de la Fuente in a review of the revised edition for the Journal of Latin American Studies. He explained: "Whereas in previous studies about slavery in Cuba slaves rarely appeared as individuals with their own goals, dreams, and initiatives, in Slave Emancipation they took centre stage as historical actors." The book has continued to be used in history classes and "has become a classic," he added.
In Degrees of Freedom, Scott portrays the postslavery experience in Cuba as being very different from that in the state of Louisiana. After slavery's abolition, Cuba developed a multiracial society in which racism did not receive official sanction. In Louisiana, however, freed slaves saw most of their liberty taken away within a few years by laws that limited the rights of African Americans. Using archives, oral histories, and other sources, Scott finds reasons for the differences in the two areas' cultures, economies, legal systems, and politics.
Some critics described Scott's book as enlightening and well written. It brings her "nuanced interpretative lens to both societies, while also setting a new standard for comparative and connected history," Sanders reported, calling it "magnificent." Peter Kolchin, in a review for the Journal of Southern History, thought too much of the book focused exclusively on either Cuba or Louisiana and wished for more comparison of the two, but added: "The contrast evident in its two skillfully juxtaposed stories is highly illuminating." He also found the work "brimming with interesting detail" and "a compelling account of developments in the two regions."
Michigan Law Review contributor Mark V. Tushnet considered Degrees of Freedom "part comparative history by juxtaposition" and "also comparative history by connection," as Scott deals with some individuals who had experience with both Louisiana and Cuba and "builds on these personal connections." He noted that "she gracefully brings the limitations of historical knowledge to our attention," but that does not mean the knowledge provided is not valuable. Viewing the work mainly for its usefulness to economists, he concluded: "The very elegance of Professor Scott's presentation shows how historians can contribute to our understanding of economic practices. A diagram or chart might help some of us, but the photographs and details Professor Scott provides will help others." Sanders summed up the book's merits by saying that it "will be both an inspiration and touchstone for scholars studying life after slavery."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, February, 1987, Emilia Viotta Da Costa, review of Slave Emancipation in Cuba: The Transition to Free Labor, 1860-1899, p. 245; December, 2001, David Northrup, review of Beyond Slavery: Explorations of Race, Labor, and Citizenship in Postemancipation Societies, p. 1753; October, 2003, Robert Whitney, review of Espacios, Silencios y los Sentidos de la Libertad: Cuba entre 1878 y 1912, p. 1186; February, 2007, Richard Follett, review of Degrees of Freedom: Louisiana and Cuba after Slavery, p. 166.
Business History Review, summer, 2001, Martha Hodes, review of Beyond Slavery, p. 371.
Choice, December, 2000, R.T. Brown, review of Beyond Slavery, p. 757; March, 2006, L.T. Cummins, review of Degrees of Freedom, p. 1281.
Civil War History, March, 2007, brief article on Scott, p. 106.
Hispanic American Historical Review, August, 1987, D.R. Murray, review of Slave Emancipation in Cuba, p. 531; May, 2001, O. Nigel Bolland, review of Beyond Slavery, p. 425; May, 2003, Anne Macpherson, review of Espacios, Silencios y los Sentidos de la Libertad, p. 406.
International Review of Social History, April, 2007, Jorge L. Giovannetti, review of Degrees of Freedom, pp. 150, 171.
Journal of American History, September, 1986, Monica Schuler, review of Slave Emancipation in Cuba, p. 478; March, 2002, Alan L. Karras, review of Beyond Slavery, p. 1540; September, 2006, Gilles Vandal, review of Degrees of Freedom, p. 542.
Journal of Interdisciplinary History, spring, 1987, Anthony P. Maingot, review of Slave Emancipation in Cuba, p. 883.
Journal of Latin American Studies, February, 2003, Alejandro de la Fuente, review of Slave Emancipation in Cuba, p. 166.
Journal of Social History, summer, 2007, James E. Sanders, review of Degrees of Freedom, p. 1041.
Journal of Southern History, November, 2002, Thomas A. Becnel, review of Beyond Slavery, p. 977; February, 2007, Peter Kolchin, review of Degrees of Freedom, p. 203.
Latin American Research Review, spring, 1988, Allen Wells, review of Slave Emancipation in Cuba, p. 189.
Law and History Review, fall, 2007, Julie Saville, review of Degrees of Freedom, pp. 673-675.
Michigan Law Review, April, 2007, Mark V. Tushnet, review of Degrees of Freedom, p. 1223.
University of Michigan Web site,http://www-personal.umich.edu/ (February 21, 2008), brief biography.