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Response to Review no. 745

I would like to express my appreciation to Dr Karen Jones for her thoughtful and generous review of Hunting and Fishing in the New South and for her insightful analysis of its strengths and shortcomings. I am flattered that she believes the book ‘tenders a valuable addition to scholarship on the racial constitution of the New South and to environmental history’ and am grateful to her for that kind assessment. Her review not only succinctly summarizes the scope and argument of the book but also rightly points out some areas in need of expansion or improvement.

As Dr Jones notes, the primary purpose of the book was to examine race relations through the lens of hunting and fishing, a focus that raises numerous questions about how those activities might reflect conflicts not only in the South but in other parts of late 19th-century America as well. Dr Jones correctly asserts that some of the questions I ask about the South might also be profitably raised for the American West and that the book would be enriched by a better comparison of the two regions. In the West, much like in the South, the competing hunting and fishing traditions of different groups drew Westerners of all stripes into a complex web of conflict and cooperation that I do not intend to address in my study. Certainly a comparative study of the ways that both Southern and Western hunters and fishermen both embraced and rejected, borrowed from and worked to disestablish the sporting and subsistence traditions of others might ultimately better reveal much about the two regions.

Dr Jones also raised a more specific criticism of the work when asserting that the African-American perspective on hunting and fishing is perhaps under-examined, particularly in regard to their attitudes towards animals and, as Dr Jones puts it, ‘the uncultivated land beyond the ordered world of the plantation as both a larder and a locus for liberation.’ Quite reasonably, Dr Jones looks for more commentary from African-American agents on the hunting and fishing traditions discussed in the book. Here I must agree that more direct testimony from black hunters and fishermen about their cherished sporting and subsistence traditions would only enrich the presentation. However, I must respectfully note that source limitations make this difficult. Available sources for this project do not contain any more extensive testimony from African-American agents than I have included in the book. Regrettably, there is no untapped reservoir of African-American sources for this project of which I am aware.

It was ever my intention to focus as much as possible on the African-American perspective on the interplay of hunting and fishing and liberation and I feel I have done a fair job of it. As so many other scholars have learned when investigating slaves and freed people, I found that white sources predominate and that black voices often have to be carefully extracted from them. This is especially true for a topic like 19th-century hunting and fishing for which the overwhelming majority of sources tend to be elite, white accounts. That said, Dr. Jones is certainly correct in asserting that uncovering more black narrative accounts would greatly enrich our understanding of how African Americans interacted with both whites and the natural environment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and I hope other scholars continue to meet the challenge.