BOOK: Sharpe on the Monstrous Intimacies of Slavery

Christina Sharpe, Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects. Duke University Press Books, 2010.

Description from Duke University Press:

“Arguing that the fundamental, familiar, sexual violence of slavery and racialized subjugation have continued to shape black and white subjectivities into the present, Christina Sharpe interprets African diasporic and Black Atlantic visual and literary texts that address those “monstrous intimacies” and their repetition as constitutive of post-slavery subjectivity. Her illuminating readings juxtapose Frederick Douglass’s narrative of witnessing the brutal beating of his Aunt Hester with Essie Mae Washington-Williams’s declaration of freedom in Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond, as well as the “generational genital fantasies” depicted in Gayl Jones’s novel Corregidora with a firsthand account of such “monstrous intimacies” in the journals of an antebellum South Carolina senator, slaveholder, and vocal critic of miscegenation. Sharpe explores the South African–born writer Bessie Head’s novel Maru—about race, power, and liberation in Botswana—in light of the history of the KhoiSan woman Saartje Baartman, who was displayed in Europe as the “Hottentot Venus” in the nineteenth century. Reading Isaac Julien’s film The Attendant, Sharpe takes up issues of representation, slavery, and the sadomasochism of everyday black life. Her powerful meditation on intimacy, subjection, and subjectivity culminates in an analysis of Kara Walker’s black silhouettes, and the critiques leveled against both the silhouettes and the artist.”



ARTICLE: Coghe on Liberated Africans in Mid-Nineteenth Century Luanda

“Liberated Africans, Gambia,” Excursions in Western Africa, and Narrative of A Campaign in Kaffir-Land, on the Staff of the Commander-in-Chief, 1840. Source: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture / Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division
Samuël Coghe, “The Problem of Freedom in a Mid Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Slave Society: The Liberated Africans of the Anglo-Portuguese Mixed Commission in Luanda (1844–1870).” Slavery & Abolition 33, no. 3 (2012): 479–500.

“In the mid nineteenth century, the Anglo-Portuguese Mixed Commission in Luanda liberated 137 Africans from the slave trade. The liberated Africans then became apprentices for several years before they were granted complete freedom. This article argues that the in-between status of the liberated Africans was ambivalent and their very presence in a society where slavery continued to exist highly problematic. This was reflected not only in the way their bodies were shaped, but also in the fact that both colonial officials and liberated Africans sought ways to end the experiment. The article also argues that the conception and the vicissitudes of this civilising project were intimately linked to experiences with freed slaves elsewhere in the Atlantic world.”

Read the rest at Taylor and Francis ($$)

EDITED: Fisher and O’Hara Volume on Race in Colonial Latin America

Andrew B. Fisher and Matthew D. O’Hara, eds. Imperial Subjects: Race and Identity in Colonial Latin America. Durham NC: Duke University Press Books, 2009.

“In colonial Latin America, social identity did not correlate neatly with fixed categories of race and ethnicity. As Imperial Subjects demonstrates, from the early years of Spanish and Portuguese rule, understandings of race and ethnicity were fluid. In this collection, historians offer nuanced interpretations of identity as they investigate how Iberian settlers, African slaves, Native Americans, and their multi-ethnic progeny understood who they were as individuals, as members of various communities, and as imperial subjects. The contributors’ explorations of the relationship between colonial ideologies of difference and the identities historical actors presented span the entire colonial period and beyond: from early contact to the legacy of colonial identities in the new republics of the nineteenth century. The volume includes essays on the major colonial centers of Mexico, Peru, and Brazil, as well as the Caribbean basin and the imperial borderlands…”

Read the rest at Duke University Press.

ARTICLE: Davidson on Ex-Slave Reparations in the Early 20th Century United States

James M. Davidson, “Encountering the Ex-Slave Reparations Movement from the Grave:  The National Industrial Council and National Liberty Party, 1901-1907.” Journal of African American History 97, no. 1–2 (Winter-Spring 2012): 13–38.
First Paragraph:
“The call for reparations for those who suffered under the blight of slavery and its aftermath is one increasingly heard today, but this call is hardly a new one.  Rather, the notion of reparations, or in earlier terms, ex-slave pensions, was something argued for and against throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  While the discipline of history traditionally records this story, archaeology can help fill in the gaps and illuminate this past in a unique way.  One vital link to this past is contained in historic cemeteries, where the mortal remains of those who lived and died under slavery and the first decades after emancipation now lie.”
This special issue of the Journal of African-American History, “African-Americans and Movements for Reparations: Past, Present, and Future (Dedicated to the Scholarly Legacy of Dr. Ronald W. Walters),” includes an introduction by V. P. Franklin, articles by Elaine Allen Lechtreck, Keith A. Dye, Emma T. Lucas-Darby, Ronald W. Walters, and review essays by Pero Gaglo Dagbovie, Clyde C. Robertson.

NEWS: Karen Cook Bell on History, Race, and Slavery at AHA Today

Karen Cook Bell / Source: AHA Today

The AHA Today Blog recently turned its “Member Spotlight” on Karen Cook Bell, assistant professor of African American and U.S. history history at Bowie State University:

“When did you first develop an interest in history?  

As a historian of slavery, the slave trade, and the U.S. South, my research interrogates the ways in which African identities are reconstructed through a dialogue with the diaspora. My interest in history emanated from reading the scholarship of W.E.B. Du Bois while in high school in Savannah, Georgia. Du Bois’s early scholarship on race at the dawn of the 20th century provided important insights into the objective reality of African Americans in the South. Du Bois problematized the whole question of identity by uncovering the relationship and interpenetration of race and class as explanatory variables in the African American condition. As a resident of Georgia during the first decade of the 20th century and editor of Atlanta University Studies Publications, Du Bois traveled extensively throughout the state of Georgia to assess the historical and contemporary problems of African Americans. More than any other scholar and activist, Du Bois has had a lasting impact on the thought of African Americans. Indeed, 30 years ago, sociologist William Julius Wilson published The Declining Significance of Race: Blacks and Changing American Institutions (1980) in which he argued that race had become less important than class as a determinant of life chances for African Americans. Wilson’s thesis received much criticism and evaluation from historians and sociologists alike who cited key social indicators (income, education, health, and housing) to demonstrate an overall lack of improvement in the conditions African Americans faced during the decade of the 1980s, showing that “race matters.” Thirty years later, the election of the first African American president provides an opportunity to interrogate how the election of President Obama informs teaching issues related to race, slavery, and the slave trade in U.S. history and African American history courses, particularly in light of recent claims regarding President Obama’s maternal connection to slavery.”

Read the entire interview here:  AHA Today: AHA Member Spotlight: Karen Cook Bell.

INTERVIEW: Rice x Caryl Phillips on African Atlantic Memory

Caryl Phillips / Source: Center for Creative Arts
Alan Rice. “A Home for Ourselves in the World: Caryl Phillips on Slave Forts and Manillas as African Atlantic Sites of Memory.” Atlantic Studies 9, no. 3 (2012): 363–372.

“This interview with the black Atlantic writer Caryl Phillips focuses on his non-fiction works and interrogates his ideas on the African diaspora and memorialisation, paying particular attention to such locales as African slave forts and European museums. It also discusses his latest work – a play about the 1940s friendship between Richard Wright and C.L.R. James. The interview discusses the long view of memorialisation on the transatlantic slave trade and interrogates the importance of the bicentenary celebrations of the abolition of the trade in Britain in 2007 to new structures of feeling and curriculum developments that have made the issues raised by the slave trade and its aftermath more central to British historiography. A final section discusses African diaspora communities and their challenge to find a home space amidst the detritus of slavery. Phillips discusses the importance of a slave manilla in his quest for an anchor for memory.”

This special issue of Atlantic Studies, “The Slave Trade’s Dissonant Heritage: Memorial Sites, Museum Practices, and Dark Tourism,” included articles by Alan Rice, Johanna C. Kardux, Lubaina Hamid, Charles Forsdick, Marian Gwyn, Anne Eichmann, and Senam Okudzeto.

Full text via Taylor and Francis ($$).

NEWS: Heywood and Thornton Dispute Obama’s Slave-Ancestors Report

“As stated in the Times piece, genealogists from said they have evidence that “strongly suggests” that through his white mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, President Obama had an enslaved ancestor in the 17th century named John Punch: “In 1640, Mr. Punch, then an indentured servant, escaped from Virginia and went to Maryland. He was captured there and, along with two white servants who had also escaped, was put on trial. His punishment — servitude for life — was harsher than what the white servants received, and it has led some historians to regard him as the first African to be legally sanctioned as a slave, years before Virginia adopted laws allowing slavery.

We should immediately note, though, that the word “slave” was rarely used in documents generated in Virginia in 1640 — at least, not in the legal sense of a condition of constant and inheritable servitude. Africans were, however, usually identified in documents as “negroes.” In fact, this was by far the most common term for people of African descent in Virginia records…..

…When John Punch was captured as a runaway with two white servants, the court extended his term of service to lifelong. In this case, the court made a definitive decision only about his length of service, but the other Africans may well have had to serve for life before him, lacking the contract needed to be guaranteed freedom. In their cases, the terms were irregular and determined by their masters….”

(Read the rest at The Root: Obama: Slave-Ancestors Report Misses the Mark)

BOOK: Chakkalakal on Slave Marriage in the 19th Century

Negro Life in the South, Eastman Johnson, 1859, oil on canvas. Source: New York Historical Society
Tess Chakkalakal. Novel Bondage: Slavery, Marriage, and Freedom in Nineteenth-Century America. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011.
From the publisher’s website:

Filling a long-standing gap in our knowledge about slave-marriage, Novel Bondage unravels the interconnections between marriage, slavery, and freedom through renewed readings of canonical nineteenth-century novels and short stories by black and white authors. Tess Chakkalakal expertly mines antislavery and post–Civil War fiction to extract literary representations of slave-marriage, revealing how these texts and their public responses took aim not only at the horrors of slavery but also at the legal conventions of marriage.

Situating close readings of fiction alongside archival material concerning the actual marriages of authors such as Lydia Maria Child, Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Wells Brown, and Frank J. Webb, Chakkalakal examines how these early novels established literary conventions for describing the domestic lives of American slaves in describing their aspirations for personal and civic freedom. Exploring this theme in post–Civil War works by Frances E. W. Harper and Charles Chesnutt, she further reveals how the slave-marriage plot served as a fictional model for reforming marriage laws.

As nonlegal unions, slave-marriages departed in crucial ways from the prevailing definition of marriage, and Chakkalakal reveals how these highly unconventional unions constituted an aesthetic and affective bond that challenged the legal definition of marriage in nineteenth-century America. Novel Bondage invites readers to rethink the “marital work” of nineteenth-century fiction and the historical role it played in shaping our understanding of the literary and political meaning of marriage, then and now.

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