White, Shane 1957-

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WHITE, Shane 1957-


Born April 3, 1957, in Cuckfield, England; son of Ernest Frank White (a stockbroker) and Mavis White (a homemaker; maiden name, Lynn); married Alexina Macdonald (a planner), October 3, 1993; children: Macdonald White. Education: University of Sydney, B.A. (with honors), 1979, Ph.D., 1989.


Office—University of Sydney, History Department, NSW 2006, Australia. E-mail—[email protected].


University of Sydney, senior lecturer in history and department chair; affiliated since 1982.


Organization of American Historians, American Historical Association, Australia and New Zealand American Studies Association.


Dixon Ryan Fox Prize, New York State Historical Association, 2002, for Stories of Freedom in Black New York.


Somewhat More Independent: The End of Slavery in New York City, 1770-1810, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1991.

(With Graham White) Stylin': African American Expressive Culture from Its Beginnings to the Zoot Suit, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1998.

Stories of Freedom in Black New York, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.

Contributor to journals including American Quarterly, Australasian Journal of American Studies, Journal of American Folklore, Journal of American History, Journal of Southern History, Past and Present, and Slavery and Abolition. Co-author of essay "Reading the Slave Body: Gesture, Demeanor, and African-American Culture," which appears in Varieties of Southern History: New Essays on a Region and Its People, Greenwood Press, 1996.


With Graham White, a book and companion CD titled The Sounds of Slavery.


Historian Shane White has spent his entire academic career at the University of Sydney in Australia. His primary research interests are African American history and the history of New York City. In his books Somewhat More Independent: The End ofSlavery in New York City, 1770-1810, Stylin': African American Expressive Culture from Its Beginnings to the Zoot Suit, and Stories of Freedom in Black New York, he explores the development of African American culture; critics have found that his books raise several previously neglected questions.

In Somewhat More Independent, White shows what life was like for blacks in New York City prior to the Gradual Abolition Act of 1799 and during the slow emancipation process in which the children of slaves were given their freedom after some twenty-five years of service. The study uses primary sources including census records, tax lists, diaries, magazines, and courtroom transcripts to reveal slave demographics, black culture, economic conditions, and the impact of black unrest. The book challenges the idea that slavery in New York gradually ended because of moral and economic pressures. White reveals that at the end of the eighteenth century, New York households were more likely to include slaves than those in other parts of the country. The use of slaves for skilled craftsmanship had dwindled, but their use as domestic servants by wealthy families had increased. Moreover, White shows that slaves in New York City were actively negotiating with their masters for their freedom.

Reviews of Somewhat More Independent marked the book as both an important contribution to the subject and proof that further study was needed. In American Historical Review, Julie Winch called the book "provocative and well argued" and commented, "it challenges us to rethink the whole nature of northern slavery and the emancipation process." William D. Pierson in Journal of American History found the work to be narrower in scope than the author suggested, but concluded that it was nevertheless "a fine first book, suggestive, strong on demographic detail, and imaginative in reconstructing black life from fragments of evidence." In a review for Nation, Eric Foner called it "the most comprehensive account now available of the abolition of slavery in New York City." Foner was most interested by the scale of slaveholding as revealed by the author. He concluded that the book raised provocative questions but was "too brief to delve into most of them extensively." Choice's K. Edgerton considered it to be "the most exhaustive and illuminating local study of slavery and black culture in the North to appear in recent years."

The author wrote Stylin': African American Expressive Culture from Its Beginnings to the Zoot Suit with fellow Australian Graham White, to whom he is not related. They review the development of African American style from 1619 to the 1940s, using a variety of sources, including notices about runaway slaves, twentieth-century interviews with former slaves, diaries, artwork, photographs, and newspapers. White and White assert that dress and hairstyles, as well as gestures, walking, and dance were important means of self expression, including indirect criticism of the dominant white culture.

The book was admired for its wealth of primary sources, interesting subject matter, and engaging tone. Writing for Booklist, Mary Carroll remarked "the focus … may seem a bit narrow," but that Stylin' contained "fascinating glimpses … of black culture." W. K. McNeil commented in Choice that this was "a splendid, albeit admittedly not an encyclopedic, examination of the meaning of black style." A Publishers Weekly critic called the book a "brisk, illuminating study" and judged that this "well-researched and engaging history pulls together a mostly untold story" in a fascinating manner. In a review for PopCultures, critic Michael T. Carroll called Stylin' "an impressive book" that was "just as remarkable for both the detail of its primary research and its analytic reach." The book's success in showing how African American style criticized and at the same time influenced white fashions appealed to Susannah Walker, who reviewed the book for Journal of Social History. Calling it "a remarkable book," she said, "White and White demonstrate that our understanding of race in American history is incomplete without considering how African-Americans have chosen to portray themselves."

White returned to the topic of New York history in Stories of Freedom in Black New York, which chronicles developments in black culture in the early nineteenth-century. The book looks at a range of cultural expression, including balls, music, clothing, and language. The primary focus, however, is on the African Company, a theater group that was founded in 1821. The group performed an adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III and other popular plays, which angered many whites. The actors were threatened by the police and attacked in the theater, curtailing their attempts to perform regularly. A key figure in these productions was James Hewlett, who ultimately was unable to support himself as an actor. White asserts, contrary to other accounts portraying the theater group as an oddity, that it was in fact an important example of how blacks had begun expressing their culture publicly.

Critics welcomed the opportunity to read about this aspect of African American history. In a review for Library Journal, Sherri Barnes called it "thought-provoking analysis" and could only identify one other book on the subject. According to a Publishers Weekly critic, White "makes a persuasive case for the [African Company's] cultural importance." A writer for Kirkus Reviews recommended it as "superb, well-researched history, brilliantly alive" and Booklist's Vanessa Bush said that it "captures the vibrancy and difficulties of the era."



American Historical Review, October, 1992, Julie Winch, review of Somewhat More Independent: The End of Slavery in New York City, 1770-1810, p. 1278.

Booklist, February 15, 1998, Mary Carroll, review of Stylin': African American Expressive Culture from Its Beginnings to the Zoot Suit, p. 956; October 1, 2002, Vanessa Bush, review of Stories of Freedom in Black New York, p. 299.

Choice, September, 1991, K. Edgerton, review of Somewhat More Independent, p. 192; September, 1998, W. K. McNeil, review of Stylin', p. 178.

Journal of American History, March, 1992, William D. Pierson, review of Somewhat More Independent, pp. 1425-1426.

Journal of Social History, winter, 1999, Susannah Walker, review of Stylin', p. 483.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2002, review of Stories of Freedom in Black New York, p. 1294.

Library Journal, May 1, 1998, Michael A. Lutes, review of Stylin', p. 125; January, 2003, Sherri Barnes, review of Stories of Freedom in Black New York, p. 134.

Nation, April 8, 1991, Eric Foner, review of Somewhat More Independent, p. 451.

Publishers Weekly, February 2, 1998, review of Stylin', p. 74; December 2, 2002, review of Stories of Freedom in Black New York, p. 48.


PopCultures,http://www.popcultures.com/ (January 8, 2003), Michael T. Carroll, review of Stylin'.*

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