Final Thoughts on the State of the Field of Lynching Scholarship

M. J. Pfeifer
2014 Journal of American History  
All of the responses to my thoughts on the state of the field of lynching history raise important issues for scholars to consider as they shape the direction of their research on lynching. I second William D. Carrigan's call for scholars to do more to examine the globalization of the language of lynching, and Terrence Finnegan's advocacy of an expanded lynching database that might, for example, incorporate more information about lynching victims. Along these lines, Amy Kate Bailey and Stewart
more » ... ailey and Stewart E. Tolnay will soon publish what promises to be an important book using an enhanced database built from manuscript census data to reconstruct the lives of African American lynching victims and their susceptibility to white violence in the postbellum South. Margaret Vandiver's emphasis on what can be learned by studying lynchings that were prevented is well taken; happily E. M. Beck (and, I hope, others) are already pursuing research along these lines. 1 I agree with Michael Ayers Trotti that lynching scholars should continue to promote regional and local studies and that the West (and I would add, the Midwest and the Northeast) was significantly different than the South, as I have described at considerable length elsewhere. The key and the challenge are to identify regional particularity as well as the larger significance of local tendencies within a broader context. I also concur with Trotti that scholars should incorporate a wide scope in studying modes of racial terror, with the inclusion not only of lynching but also of violence that was sometimes legally implemented and sometimes performed by individuals rather than groups. I am confused, though, by Trotti's discussion of lynching and the death penalty; he seems to be arguing first that historians should not study lynching in relation to law and the death penalty and later that they should do exactly this. I heartily agree with the latter view. Lynching and the death penalty had (and have) a significant, albeit complex, relationship, as I have discussed briefly in my state-of-the-field essay and at length elsewhere. Of course, capital punishment was already racialized and prominent in the nineteenth century, but lynching and the death penalty nonetheless developed in a profoundly interwoven discourse beginning with capital punishment reform and the emergence of the 1 William D. Carrigan, "No Ordinary Crime: Reflections on the
doi:10.1093/jahist/jau641 fatcat:oamsiqsm75f5rpbnusp6k54am4