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American Rambler with Colin Woodward


May 20, 2021

Josh Rothman has gone native. Originally from New York, he has lived in Alabama for a while, where he is the head of the history department at the University of Alabama. He has a new book, The Ledger and the Chain: How Domestic Slave Traders Shaped America.

Josh began his career as a historian at Cornell University, where he completed a B.A. under the guidance of political historian Joel Silbey. He then went on to the University of Virginia, where he studied under (previous podcast guest) Ed Ayers. The Ledger and the Chain builds upon a career dedicated to southern racial and social history.

The Ledger and the Chain focuses on three figures in the slave trade: Issac Franklin, John Armfield, and Rice Ballard, who became wealthy dealing in human beings in the slave pens of Virginia, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The book uses extensive archival research to tell a rich, detailed, and altogether disturbing story of human exploitation. As Josh shows, the slave trade was capitalism at its most extreme. And despite the cruelty, callousness, and sexual exploitation embedded in the system, slave traders were respected members of their communities. They might have seem ruthless, "no nonsense" individuals, but they were providing a service that was both legal and lucrative. 

Before delving into such dark subjects, Josh and Colin talk about the joys of being ABD in grad school and, of course, Bama and SEC football. They also discuss the unfortunate loss a few years ago of historian and journalist Tony Horwtiz.

Is it better to "Geaux Tigers!" or "Roll Tide!?" Only Ole Miss fans can now for sure.