Claflin News

Dr. Christopher Curtis Releases “Seminal” New Book on the Postcolonial South

May 17, 2012
Chair of the History and Sociology Department Dr. Christopher Curtis has released his new book Jefferson’s Freeholders and the Politics of Ownership in the Old Dominion from the Cambridge University Press, one of the world’s largest publishing houses.


The book discusses how the concept of property ownership and political power were intertwined in postcolonial Virginia through the antebellum period.  In the South leading up to the Civil War, Curtis asserts in the book, power evolved simply beyond just owning land into possessing human capital, i.e. slaves, during this time. 


“The commitment in the South to private ownership was shaped by slavery,” said Curtis.  “You had this sectional divide between the North and South in this regard.  Property ownership meant something fundamentally different.  By the 1850s, the ownership of human property had replaced the ownership of land as the distinguished basis for political power, with tragic consequences for the Old Dominion.”  


A leading scholar in the American South and slavery, Eugene D. Genovese, called Curtis’ book “nothing short of seminal.


“Rarely do we find legal, intellectual, and economic history so well integrated and graced by such penetrating insight,” Genovese wrote of Jefferson’s Freeholders.

In May, he will present his research at a workshop held at Princeton University.


Last spring, he was appointed to serve on the state Archives and History Commission by Gov. Nikki Haley.


The Commission is an oversight board for the Department of Archives and History.  The Department has a three-fold mission: preserve archives for historical data and genealogy; maintain the records of state agencies and historical preservation.


Curtis came to Claflin in 2007.  Prior to that, he was the director of graduate studies at Iowa State University. 


He received his doctorate in Southern and legal history from Emory University.  Curtis also holds a master’s degree in history from Virginia Tech and a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina.  He is also a captain in the United States Marine Corps. 


Curtis is an avid golfer and college football fan.  He is married to his wife, Karen, and they have two children.

The book is available on and for purchase.


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