"Kin Beyond the Sea": Friday Colloquium Series Kickoff with Postdoctoral Fellow Skye Montgomery


In introducing the topic of her September 2 colloquium talk, Kinder Postdoctoral Fellow in History Skye Montgomery began by noting that the practice of Americans’ identifying an expatriate source of national identity neither originated nor ended in the time period she would be examining. The contemporary, bipartisan ubiquity of promised moves to Canada if ‘x’ happens/because ‘y’ happened, for example, reflects a longstanding tradition of individuals’ articulating their political dissatisfaction, while simultaneously enshrining their patriotism, through this alternate language of national self-expression.

As she would go on to describe, this was particularly true in the nineteenth-century South, where citizens utilized metaphors and narratives of Anglo-American kinship both to vent their political frustration and to reaffirm their ideological agenda. The levels on which confederate southerners established this familial connection, she explained, were many, and they presented contradictions of various magnitude. On one hand, Southerners found points of connection in language and literature, eschewing native literature in favor of claiming Shakespeare, Herbert, and Sir Walter Scott as literary kin and asserting that southern dialect cleaved far more closely to the grammar and diction of the mother tongue than did its peculiar northern counterpart.

Far more significant than how nineteenth-century southerners stocked their libraries, though, were the ways in which they rooted their kinship with England in biogenetic logic as well as in what they saw as shared political and religious institutions. They emphasized the Methodist and Episcopalian churches as being descended from the Church of England; they argued that the South’s commitment to liberality and liberty mirrored British political sentiment and principles in ways that Northern extremism never could; they drew connections between the institution of slavery and Great Britain’s former baronial system in spite of England’s overwhelming anti-slavery attitude; and they traced it all back to sharing a racial stock with the British that northern citizens did not.

The objective of establishing this familial relationship was not simply to forge a means of national self-identification and expression devoid of northern ties. The metaphor of kinship also was crafted in the hopes that it might generate a sense of reciprocal responsibility across the sea and result in Great Britain diplomatically acknowledging and financially assisting the Confederate States during the Civil War. This support never materialized, of course, but the language of kinship persisted in the decades following the war, as Southerners never fully confronted the various fabrications on which their trans-Atlantic family was founded.

The Friday Colloquium Series will re-convene on September 16th, with Postdoctoral Fellow Billy Coleman giving a talk on music, power, and politics in the United States from the post-Revolutionary years through the Civil War.