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Library Journal Review
Harriet Tubman, philanthropist, abolitionist lecturer, Civil War spy, scout, military commander, and the only African American female known to have repeatedly and successfully piloted others to freedom via the Underground Railroad, has been the subject of scores of 20th-century children's and fictional accounts but has not had a scholarly biography since the 1940s. Now, a trio of new works appears, each drawing upon primary sources not used before, applying modern scholarship drawn from the disciplines of women's and African American history, and offering new interpretations and insights into the life, legend, and legacy of this American hero. Road to Freedom, written by university professor Clinton, a scholar of African American women's history, is a concise and readable biography that vividly updates the story of Tubman's life with context and new interpretations based on the latest historical scholarship. It is the best choice for the casual reader and is recommended for academic or public libraries. Humez's (women's studies, Univ. of Massachusetts, Boston; Gifts of Power) offers the most analytic and interpretive treatment, including a biographical sketch, an examination of Tubman's gifted storytelling, and reprints of her stories, sayings, and documents. This combination makes it ideal for scholarly audiences, though it will please any interested reader. It will serve as an invaluable resource for understanding the real Harriet Tubman and is highly recommended for all collections with interests in Tubman, women's studies, Civil War studies, and African American women. Larson's Bound for the Promised Land is the most detailed study to date of Tubman's life, utilizing a variety of primary sources, including local public records, and providing more information on her liberating forays into the South, her relationships within the black community and with powerful white patrons, and new information about her lifelong epilepsy. Larson is a noted Tubman scholar and consultant for national monuments dedicated to Tubman and the Underground Railroad (UGRR). Recommended for any library with a particular interest in the life of Tubman or the UGRR. [Clinton's book was previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/03; the Underground Railroad Freedom Center will open in Cincinnati in Summer 2004.-Ed.]-Theresa McDevitt, Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania Lib. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, Harriet Tubman famously boasted that she could say what most conductors couldn't: "I never run my train off the track and I never lost a passenger." The quote fits with the popular image of Tubman as the courageous, inspired "Moses of Her People," yet Humez, a professor of women's studies and scholar of African-American spiritual autobiography, argues that the edifice of Tubman iconography has concealed the woman herself. Humez has assembled a trove of primary source documents-letters, diaries, memorials, speeches, articles, meeting minutes and testimonies-that create a more intimate portrait of Tubman. But instead of interpreting the rich materials she has collected, Humez offers a biography of Tubman and then includes a scholarly article asserting that since Tubman was illiterate, and her stories and correspondence have been recorded by others, "such texts cannot be read at face value" and must be understood to have undergone at least minimal changes from the author's original statements. Although Humez's prose lacks narrative flair, she aptly places Tubman in a broad historical context, documenting her relations to John Brown, Sojourner Truth, Abraham Lincoln, Frederic Douglass, Northern abolitionists and the nascent women's movement. The book is at its best in the last two primary-source sections. Through Tubman's documented words and the observations of others, "Aunt Harriet" emerges as an even more charismatic figure than American history has allowed: profoundly spiritual, irreverent, witty, wise, impoverished and ultimately neglected by the Union she defended. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Not since 1943 (Earl Conrad, Harriet Tubman ) has a full adult biography of Harriet Tubman appeared. Since 2003, three Tubman books have been published. In addition to these works by Humez and Larson, Catherine Clinton published Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom (2004). Humez's work is notable for its use of multiple archival sources to add context and depth to earlier biographies. Humez (women's studies, Univ. of Massachusetts-Boston) seeks to "... contribute to a fresh and more multifaceted understanding of the private woman ...," a Herculean task, as Tubman's illiteracy limits researchers to using a series of mediated texts. Humez divides her manuscript into four parts. The first is a narrative of Tubman's life; the second analyzes Tubman's life stories by examining the role of mediation in the stories. The third section includes Tubman's "core stories" and sayings, and the fourth portion is the extant collection of Tubman documents, including letters "written" to family and friends. As Humez explains, these letters, written for Tubman, are undoubtedly edited by the original writer. The book is most valuable for its documentary materials, especially those related to Tubman's later life, a period rarely investigated by historians, and features 26 illustrations/photos. Larson, one of Humez's former graduate students, believes that with new sources "... a more accurate life story of the real Harriet Tubman is finally possible." Using a wealth of primary materials, Larson provides extensive context for Tubman, slavery, antebellum Maryland's Eastern Shore, and the 50-year period after the Civil War. Her work enables scholars to better understand Tubman's early years in slavery, familial ties, and her motivations for bringing slaves to freedom. Particularly noteworthy is Larson's analysis of Tubman's postwar suffrage efforts. The book includes four maps and 23 illustrations/photos. Summing Up: Recommended, both books. All levels/libraries. J. A. Luckett formerly, United States Military Academy