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Servants, Masters, and the Coercion of Labor

Inventing the Rhetoric of Slavery, the Verbal Sanctuaries Which Sustain It, and How It Was Used to Sanitize American Slavery’s History


David K. O’Rourke

This book by David K. O’Rourke presents a study of language and linguistic forms and the roles they played in the initial imagining, developing, and maintaining of a society based on coerced labor. It focuses especially on the contexts of coercion and on the differences in the roles of masters and servants from society to society. In the interaction between colonial powers and conquered peoples, O’Rourke also describes how the European colonial nations imposed their own languages, social metaphors, and utopian views as a way to disconnect those they conquered from their historic roots and re-imagine, redefine, rename, and map them into new lands and places inhabited by inferior peoples needing control by masters who understand how they should now live.
O’Rourke begins by describing how this rewriting of history is not new. He calls on well-established classical and biblical language studies to describe how older and historic oral histories and texts were rewritten to reshape the past to fit new and more useful views. He explains how rhetoric, metaphor, and pseudo-sciences were used to change Europe’s earlier contracted and coerced labor in colonial America into the chattel slavery that became the hallmark of the new and growing United States. O’Rourke also describes how the dominant culture’s current values, foundational metaphors, and sacred notions were woven together into linguistic shelters that served to enshrine the repressive process from questioning and dissent. These same linguistic elements were then used after emancipation to maintain and sanitize the remains of the slave system by presenting it as a benign institution.
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Chapter 7: The Mapping of Colonial Rhetoric




In a new and quite ambitious project, Henry Gray knew how adventurous compatriots were travelling the globe, mapping it out, and bringing their charts and drawings back to London to advance the world of science and promote the civilizing course of empire. The two of them—Gray and Henry Carter—could combine the physician’s keen eye and the chartist’s skills and turn their gaze and pens on the most interesting geography in the world: the human body. Henry Gray, sadly, did not live long enough to see how far his vision would carry. But Gray’s Anatomy is still a medical classic, still published both in print and in digital format, still a bible for students of medicine.

It is and remains a classic because it embodies one of the most basic of Western metaphors. Set your understanding upon the unknown and, whatever it may be, it becomes yours. Map a land—a land unknown to you and your compatriots—and it becomes yours. That map, which you can unroll and lay out on a library table, is legal title to the land it portrays. For knowledge is more than enlightening. Knowledge is proprietary. Draw the map, mark it with names, divide it into ← 123 | 124 → parts and jurisdictions, categorize its people, chart its rivers and mountains, theorize about its languages and religions, explore its minerals, then print it and it becomes your people’s public title to all...

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