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Sun, 11.04.1877

Ulrich Phillips, Historian born

Ulrich Phillips

*On this date in 1877, Ulrich Phillips was born.  He was a white-American historian who outlined the field of the social and economic history of the Antebellum South and American slavery.  

From Atlanta, Georgia, Ulrich Bonnell Phillips concentrated on the large plantations that dominated the Southern economy, and he did not investigate the numerous small farmers who held slaves. He concluded that plantation slavery produced great wealth, but was a dead-end, economically, that left the South bypassed by the industrial revolution underway in the North.  Phillips concluded that plantation slavery was not very profitable, had about reached its geographical limits in 1860, and would probably have faded away without the American Civil War, which he considered a needless conflict.

He praised the entrepreneurship of plantation owners and denied they were brutal. Phillips argued that they provided adequate food, clothing, housing, medical care and training in modern technology that they formed a "school" which helped "civilize" the slaves. He admitted the failure was that no one graduated from this school.  Phillips systematically hunted down and revealed plantation records and unused manuscript sources. An example of pioneering comparative work was "A Jamaica Slave Plantation" (1914). His methods and use of sources shaped the research agenda of most succeeding scholars, even those who disagreed with his favorable treatment of the masters. 

After the 20th century American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s historians turned their focus away from his emphasis on the material well-being of the slaves to the slaves' own cultural constructs and efforts to achieve freedom. By turning away from the political debates about slavery that divided North and South, Phillips made the economics and social structure of slavery a main theme in 20th century scholarship. Together with his writing style, his approach made him an influential historian of the antebellum south. Ulrich Phillips died on January 21, 1934.  

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