Speaking of Books Series Presents Professor of History, Richard Bell
A Conversation with Richard Bell
Wednesday, November 14, 4:30 -
McKeldin Library, Special
Events Room (Room 6137)
Join us for a discussion
with Richard Bell, Associate Professor of History, and author of We Shall Be
No More: Suicide and Self-Government in the Newly United States.
Suicide is a quintessentially individual act, yet one with unexpectedly
broad social implications. Though seen today as a private phenomenon, in the
uncertain aftermath of the American Revolution this personal act seemed to many
to be a public threat that held no less than the fate of the fledgling Republic
in its grip.
Salacious novelists and eager newspapermen broadcast images
of a young nation rapidly destroying itself. Parents, physicians, ministers, and
magistrates debated the meaning of self-destruction and whether it could (or
should) be prevented. Jailers and justice officials rushed to thwart condemned
prisoners who made halters from bedsheets, while abolitionists used slave
suicides as testimony to both the ravages of the peculiar institution and the
humanity of its victims. Struggling to create a viable political community out
of extraordinary national turmoil, these interest groups invoked self-murder as
a means to confront the most consequential questions facing the newly united
states: What is the appropriate balance between individual liberty and social
order? Who owns the self? And how far should the control of the state (or the
church, or a husband, or a master) extend over the individual?
visceral prose and an abundance of evocative primary sources, Richard Bell lays
bare the ways in which self-destruction in early America was perceived as a
transgressive challenge to embodied authority, a portent of both danger and
possibility. His unique study of suicide between the Revolution and
Reconstruction uncovers what was at stake—personally and politically—in the
nation’s fraught first decades.
The University Libraries have hosted
Speaking of Books since 2005, giving dozens of campus authors a forum to engage
the campus community.