Must Read Book

Isaac, Rhys, Transformation of Virginia (1982).

As a graduate student at the University of Sydney it was incredibly important that the best book about Virginia, a Pulitzer prize winner at that, was written by a South African born Australian living five hundred miles to my south. The book is brilliant, bristling with arresting insights into Virginia society, written wonderfully, and about as far from the dead hand of Harvard dissertation type of history as one could conceivably get. Some with crabbed minds doubted that it was history, but for the rest of us it was a stunning example of what could be recovered from the past through ethnography. Before T of V, the question I always used to get was a bemused “why are you writing about American history?” After it was published, the reaction was more likely to be “Oh you must be a student of Rhys Isaac” or of “that guy from La Trobe.” After a while I began to long for the earlier question.

Recommended by Shane White, Department of History, University of Sydney

Shane White is a member of the History Department at the University of Sydney. He is author of Somewhat More Independent: The End of Slavery in New York City and of the forthcoming Staging Freedom: Black New York in the Era of Emancipation and co-author with Graham White, who is no relation, of Stylin’: African American Expressive Culture From Its Beginnings to the Zoot Suit. And writing this has made him feel ancient.