University of Maine at Presque Isle History Professor John Zaborney has signed a book contract with one of the nation’s outstanding scholarly presses for his forthcoming book on slave hiring in 19th century America.
Dr. Zaborney’s book Slaves For Hire: Renting Enslaved Laborers in Antebellum Virginia is scheduled for publication by Louisiana State University Press in Fall 2012. Founded in 1935, LSU Press is one of the oldest and largest university presses in the South and has garnered national and international accolades, including four Pulitzer Prizes. It is a major publisher of scholarly books, especially in the area of Southern history.
“This contract represents the culmination of many years of work, both here and at archives in Virginia and North Carolina,” Dr. Zaborney said. “For university faculty, having one’s book published by a university press represents the pinnacle of research and scholarly achievement, as it has had to pass the evaluation and scrutiny of national experts in the field. I had been working toward this for so long that, when the contract arrived in the mail, it still felt unreal even as I held it in my hands, especially with the knowledge that LSU Press publishes only about 60 of the approximately 1,500 submissions it receives each year.”
In his book, Dr. Zaborney explores some long-held assumptions about slave hiring in Antebellum Virginia and brings to light some important and sometimes unexpected realities of the practice. Major themes include the 19th century origins of slave hiring; the hiring of women (including pregnant women), children, and elderly slaves; hiring’s impact on slave families; and connections between slave hiring and white society and Virginia’s economy on the eve of the Civil War.
Zaborney considers new evidence and questions, and includes a rural context to the subject. In the process, his book overturns the assumptions that slave hiring involved primarily urban male slaves, was advantageous for slaves, and weakened slavery’s institutional integrity, a consensus of some 50 years’ duration. Instead, Zaborney argues in his book, slave hiring involved all types of slaves in all economic and occupational settings, and, often to hired slaves’ detriment, fortified the institution of slavery in Virginia prior to secession and Civil War.
Zaborney came across the idea of slave hiring in graduate school as he was seeking a topic suitable for his Ph.D. dissertation.
“I had noticed scattered references to slave hiring in the books we read, and it seemed very unique and significant,” Zaborney recalled. “It soon became clear to me, however, that very little research had been done on slave hiring, and that what little had been done on it resulted in conclusions about it that did not ring true to me. After some preliminary work in numerous sources, I discovered that there was much more, and much different, material on slave hiring out there, and I was certain of it. I did some research of records on microfilm, but most of it in archives and courthouses throughout Virginia. After finishing my dissertation, I knew I had something which, with more time and work, could be expanded into a book.”
In the years since, Zaborney has returned to the South in search of additional material. He also has had opportunities to present his findings at conferences and publish small pieces, and all the while has incorporated the new material into a growing manuscript and looked into which university press would be appropriate for his topic.
“I submitted an initial proposal to LSU Press,” Zaborney said, “and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Dr. Zaborney has served as a professor at UMPI since 1998. He has written nearly 20 articles and book chapters on topics associated with slavery and slave hiring. Dr. Zaborney earned his Bachelor’s degree in History/Political Science from Bridgewater College in Bridgewater, Va., his Master’s degree in history from SUNY College at Cortland, and his Ph.D. in U.S. History from the University of Maine.