Tocqueville, Beaumont and the silences in histories of the United States: an interdisciplinary endeavour across literature and sociology

Victoria Margree, Gurminder K. Bhambra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

While Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America (1835) has become a classic of the sociological tradition, little discussed is the work of his travelling companion, Gustave de Beaumont. This article argues that Beaumont's exploration of American slavery in his novel Marie (1835) must be considered a companion piece to Tocqueville's, and one that reveals the profound concern of both men with American racism. Tocqueville's work has been appropriated as a celebratory account of American democracy by a tradition of exceptionalism, but only at the cost of eliding the sections of the book which deal with the enslavement of Africans and the genocide of the indigenous population. Beaumont turns to literary fiction in an attempt to communicate the evils of American racism. The article uses recent work by philosopher Martha Nussbaum to consider both why Beaumont turned to fiction in this endeavour, and why he appeared to deem it insufficient, supplementing his novel with copious appendices which amount to sociological essays in themselves. As such the article constitutes an exploration of the potential for interdisciplinary work between literature and historical sociology in the attempt to gain access to hidden stories about the past.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-131
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Historical Sociology
Volume24
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2011

Keywords

  • slavery
  • racism
  • America
  • Tocqueville
  • Beaumont
  • Nussbaum
  • democracy
  • literature
  • sociology

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