Matthew Spooner joined the History Department after completing visiting fellowships at the Smithsonian Institute and Harvard University. He received his doctorate from Columbia University in 2015.
How does it feel to be back at Michigan?
I actually lived here for two years, from 2012 to 2014, and it feels wonderful to be back, not only in Ann Arbor, but in the same lovely home in Kerrytown where I lived before. Having lived in east coast cities and in small rural southern towns, whenever I return to Ann Arbor it feels like the best of both worlds. And, now that I’m here, I look forward to continuing to explore the small farming towns, antique shops, and hoppy beers that made me love this part of the world in the first place.
What are you working on?
I continue to work on my book project, Origins of the Old South, which tries to reorient our understanding of slavery and the American Revolution by asking how waging a disordered war for liberty among half a million enslaved men and women shaped the society that emerged from the conflict. I am trying to recover the experience of enslaved people, who more often than not experienced the Revolution as a period of dislocation and tremendous hardship, and of a group of ambitious planters who used the same period to gain incredible wealth and political power. Ultimately I suppose I am trying to show how the same American Revolution we today herald as a triumph of liberty gave rise to, and was indeed dependent on, the expansion and strengthening of slavery.
What are you reading these days?
I am only recently managing to wean myself off the news, which can be both overwhelming and a strong distraction from writing. I finally read Colson Whitehead’s amazing The Underground Railroad, which imagines the Underground Railroad as an actual railroad, with rails, cars, and operators. Mostly, though, I find myself letting my brain unwind these days with pulp detective fiction–Raymond Chandler, James Cain, Jim Thompson, and the like. Their writing and dialogue remains wonderful and the work of a detective is not all that dissimilar from the work of a historian.