Historical Research: Investigating the “Peculiar Institution”
The exhibit section on slavery is subtitled “The Peculiar Institution.” This euphemism for slavery was used in the 1800s. In 1956, historian Kenneth Stampp adopted the phrase as the title of his book challenging the previously prevailing view of slavery. Use online and library resources to learn more about how the phrase was used in the 1800s and by Stampp.
- What did you learn about what supporters of slavery meant to imply by using this phrase?
- Why do you think Stampp gave his book this title?
- Did he accept the implications of the term as it was used in the 1800s?
Look in the exhibit section on abolition for another phrase used to describe slavery. What are the implications of this phrase? What would be the effect if Stampp had titled his book with this phrase?