Since the middle of the twentieth century, our understanding of the American past has been revolutionized, in no small part because of our different conceptions of race in history. Revolution has taken place largely because of a remarkable generation of historians who, inspired by the changing meanings of freedom and justice in their own time, began to ask new questions about the origins of the racial inequality that continued to fill our segregated world nearly a century after slavery's end. David Davis book range from a socially revealing murder trial in 1843 to debates over capital punishment, movements of counter-subversion, the iconography of race, the cowboy as an American hero, the portrayal of violence in American literature, the historiography of slavery, and the British and American antislavery movements.
In order to create the new history of slavery, scholars ventured into unfamiliar fields of research demography, quantitative analysis, which came to be named the new economic of history, oral history, folklore, music, material culture, archaeology, and comparative history, to name a few. These modes of inquiry have now become staples in historical fields well beyond the study of America's unusual foundation. In developing a new history for slavery over the past half century, scholars have at the same time contributed to basically changing the ways history is done, considerably expanding the kinds of bits and pieces of the past that might be taken as a starting place of historical understanding.
Davis's book and his successive work would become a major influence in the developing of a comparative history of slavery and abolition. It would be among other achievements, powerfully influence customary approaches to scholar history by setting in ideas in social and political action and society. Davis came somewhat indirectly to slavery studies. An undergraduate philosophy major at Dartmouth and then a graduate student in Harvard's program in the History of American Civilization, he was interested in how ideas are shown through real human problems in the everyday world.