BOOK: Willis and Krauthamer on Envisioning Emancipation

Envisioning Emancipation

Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer. Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery. First Edition. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2012.

via Temple University Press:

The Emancipation Proclamation is one of the most important documents in American history. As we commemorate its 150th anniversary, what do we really know about those who experienced slavery?

In their pioneering book, Envisioning Emancipation, renowned photographic historian Deborah Willis and historian of slavery Barbara Krauthamer have amassed 150 photographs—some never before published—from the antebellum days of the 1850s through the New Deal era of the 1930s. The authors vividly display the seismic impact of emancipation on African Americans born before and after the Proclamation, providing a perspective on freedom and slavery and a way to understand the photos as documents of engagement, action, struggle, and aspiration.

Envisioning Emancipation illustrates what freedom looked like for black Americans in the Civil War era. From photos of the enslaved on plantations and African American soldiers and camp workers in the Union Army to Juneteenth celebrations, slave reunions, and portraits of black families and workers in the American South, the images in this book challenge perceptions of slavery. They show not only what the subjects emphasized about themselves but also the ways Americans of all colors and genders opposed slavery and marked its end.

Filled with powerful images of lives too often ignored or erased from historical records, Envisioning Emancipation provides a new perspective on American culture.


TODAY: International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

"Forever Free: Celebrating Emancipation"

March 25th is United Nations International Day of Remembrance of Slavery Victims and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The theme for 2013 is ‘Forever Free: Celebrating Emancipation:’

For over 400 years, more than 15 million men, women and children were the victims of the tragic transatlantic slave trade, one of the darkest chapters in human history.

The annual observance of 25 March as the International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade serves as an opportunity to honour and remember those who suffered and died at the hands of the brutal slavery system, and to raise awareness about the dangers of racism and prejudice today.

Continue reading “TODAY: International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade”

Shepard on Insurance Policy Registers and Post-Civil War Virginia

E. Lee Shepard at the Virginia Historical Society’s Blog on processing the Life Insurance Company of Virginia’s records:

“Processing thirteen volumes that make up records from the formative years of the Life Insurance Company of Virginia was my first task on this project. Exploring these apparently routine books became an extraordinary experience for this veteran archivist. The evidence they disclose about a broad cross-section of Virginians dealing with the aftermath of a huge and devastating conflict is both unexpected and invaluable…..

The majority of the volumes are registers, indicating to whom life insurance policies were sold and for what premium and benefit amounts. The Life Insurance Company of Virginia, founded in Petersburg in 1871 and known familiarly as “Life of Virginia” in the twentieth century, recorded an extraordinary amount of information about its policyholders here besides just names and policy amounts—date and place of birth, race, occupation, age, and beneficiaries, for instance.

I was frankly amazed to see the range of policyholders. I had expected the strong showing of Petersburg and Richmond merchants and professionals; I found, too, a liberal smattering of artisans, laborers, domestics, and householders. Judy Batte of Hicksford, Virginia, a “house servant,” was the first African American to secure a policy, in February 1872, and she was followed by a fairly steady stream of men and women of her race. In fact, as the company grew and its client base became more national in scope, women made up an increasing percentage of policyholders….” (my emphasis)

Read the rest: What Can an Insurance Policy Register Tell Us About Life in Post–Civil War Virginia? | Virginia Historical Society’s Blog

Image Credit: First page of policies in the Register for the Life Insurance Company of Virginia, April 1871-December 1886 (Virginia Historical Society, Mss3 L6263 a 1, detail)

Chinua Achebe: 1930-2013

Chinua Achebe

In Depth Africa reports the death of Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe:

“Foremost novelist, Prof Chinua Achebe, is dead. He was 82.

Reporters  learnt he died last night in a hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, United States.

A source close to the family said the professor had been ill for a while and was hospitalised in an undisclosed hospital in Boston.

The source declined to provide further details, saying the family will issue a statement on the development later today.

Contacted, spokesperson for Brown University, where Mr. Achebe worked until he took ill, Darlene Trewcrist, is yet to respond to our enquiries on the professor’s condition.

Until his death, Prof Achebe was the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana Studies at Brown.

Below is how the university profiled him on its website.

“Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe is known the world over for having played a seminal role in the founding and development of African literature. He continues to be considered among the most significant world writers. He is most well known for the groundbreaking 1958 novel Things Fall Apart, a novel still considered to be required reading the world over. It has sold over twelve million copies and has been translated into more than fifty languages.

“Achebe’s global significance lies not only in his talent and recognition as a writer, but also as a critical thinker and essayist who has written extensively on questions of the role of culture in Africa and the social and political significance of aesthetics and analysis of the postcolonial state in Africa. He is renowned, for example, for “An Image of Africa,” his trenchant and famous critique of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Today, this critique is recognized as one of the most generative interventions on Conrad; and one that opened the social study of literary texts, particularly the impact of power relations on 20th century literary imagination…”

The Guardian reports:

“Chinua Achebe, the Nigerian novelist seen by millions as the father of African literature, has died at the age of 82.

Continue reading “Chinua Achebe: 1930-2013”

BOOK: Girard on the Haitian Revolution

The Slaves Who Defeated Napoleon

Philippe R. Girard, The Slaves Who Defeated Napoleon: Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian War of Independence, 1801-1804. University Alabama Press, 2011.

via University of Alabama Press:

To a contemporary audience, Haiti brings to mind Voodoo spells, Tontons Macoutes, and boat people–nothing worth fighting over. Two centuries ago, however, Haiti, then known as Saint-Domingue, was the “Pearl of the Antilles,” France’s most valuable overseas colony, the largest exporter of tropical products in the world, and the United States’ second most important trading partner after England.
Haiti was also the place where in 1801-1802 Napoléon Bonaparte sent the largest colonial venture of his reign: the Leclerc expedition. His goal was to remove the famous revolutionary Toussaint Louverture from office and, possibly, restore slavery. But within two years, the remnants of Bonaparte’s once-proud army were evacuated in defeated, and Haiti declared its independence. This forgotten yet momentous conflict, in which lives were consumed by the thousands, is this book’s main focus.
In this ambitious monograph, Philippe Girard employs the latest tools of the historian’s craft, multi-archival research in particular, and applies them to the climactic yet poorly understood last years of the Haitian Revolution. Haiti lost most of its archives to neglect and theft, but a substantial number of documents survive in French, U.S., British, and Spanish collections, both public and private. In all, The Slaves Who Defeated Napoleon relies on contemporary military, commercial, and administrative sources drawn from nineteen archives and research libraries on both sides of the Atlantic….”

BOOK: Landers on Atlantic Creoles in the Age of Revolutions

Atlantic Creoles

Jane G. Landers. Atlantic Creoles in the Age of Revolutions. Reprint. Harvard University Press, 2011.

via HUP:

Sailing the tide of a tumultuous era of Atlantic revolutions, a remarkable group of African-born and African-descended individuals transformed themselves from slaves into active agents of their lives and times. Big Prince Whitten, the black Seminole Abraham, and General Georges Biassou were “Atlantic creoles,” Africans who found their way to freedom by actively engaging in the most important political events of their day. These men and women of diverse ethnic backgrounds, who were fluent in multiple languages and familiar with African, American, and European cultures, migrated across the new world’s imperial boundaries in search of freedom and a safe haven. Yet, until now, their extraordinary lives and exploits have been hidden from posterity.

Through prodigious archival research, Jane Landers radically alters our vision of the breadth and extent of the Age of Revolution, and our understanding of its actors. Whereas Africans in the Atlantic world are traditionally seen as destined for the slave market and plantation labor, Landers reconstructs the lives of unique individuals who managed to move purposefully through French, Spanish, and English colonies, and through Indian territory, in the unstable century between 1750 and 1850. Mobile and adaptive, they shifted allegiances and identities depending on which political leader or program offered the greatest possibility for freedom. Whether fighting for the King of Kongo, England, France, or Spain, or for the Muskogee and Seminole chiefs, their thirst for freedom helped to shape the course of the Atlantic revolutions and to enrich the history of revolutionary lives in all times.

BOOK: Hartman’s Lose Your Mother

Hartman, Lose Your Mother

Saidiya V. Hartman, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007.

via Farrar, Straus and Giroux:

In Lose Your Mother, Saidiya Hartman traces the history of the Atlantic slave trade by recounting a journey she took along a slave route in Ghana. Following the trail of captives from the hinterland to the Atlantic coast, she reckons with the blank slate of her own genealogy and vividly dramatizes the effects of slavery on three centuries of African and African American history.The slave, Hartman observes, is a stranger—torn from family, home, and country. To lose your mother is to be severed from your kin, to forget your past, and to inhabit the world as an outsider. There are no known survivors of Hartman’s lineage, no relatives in Ghana whom she came hoping to find. She is a stranger in search of strangers, and this fact leads her into intimate engagements with the people she encounters along the way and with figures from the past whose lives were shattered and transformed by the slave trade. Written in prose that is fresh, insightful, and deeply affecting, Lose Your Mother is a “landmark text” (Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams).

Editor’s Note: The first in a series of long overdue additions to #ADPhD. Subscribe to the RSS feed for regular updates.

ARTICLE: Winsboro and Knetsch on the ‘Saltwater Railroad’


Irvin D. S. Winsboro, and Joe Knetsch. “Florida Slaves, the ‘Saltwater Railroad’ to the Bahamas, and Anglo-American Diplomacy.” Journal of Southern History 79, no. 1 (February 2013): 51–78.


A case study is presented on what is referred to as the saltwater railroad, or the escape route used by U.S. fugitive slaves from St. Augustine, Florida to Nassau in the British Bahamas during the late 1830s and early 1840s. An overview of the diplomacy between the U.S. and Great Britain over fugitive slaves in the Bahamas, including the U.S. marshal for the Southern District of Florida Joseph B. Browne’s diplomatic efforts, is provided.

Image Credit: Colored painting; African town in foreground. Fort was founded by the Dutch in 1612; renamed Fort Nassau in 1637. See A. W. Lawrence, Trade Castles and Forts of West Africa (1964), pp. 242-44. (Slide, courtesy Merrick Posnansky, from the original in the British Library.) [D001] as shown on, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library. (Click image for details)

BOOK: Schloss on Slavery and Liberty in Martinique

Sweet Liberty

Rebecca Hartkopf Schloss, Sweet Liberty: the Final Days of Slavery in Martinique (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009).

via University of Pennsylvania Press:

From its founding, Martinique played an integral role in France’s Atlantic empire. Established in the mid-seventeenth century as a colonial outpost against Spanish and English dominance in the Caribbean, the island was transformed by the increase in European demand for sugar, coffee, and indigo. Like other colonial subjects, Martinicans met the labor needs of cash-crop cultivation by establishing plantations worked by enslaved Africans and by adopting the rigidly hierarchical social structure that accompanied chattel slavery. After Haiti gained its independence in 1804, Martinique’s economic importance to the French empire increased. At the same time, questions arose, both in France and on the island, about the long-term viability of the plantation system, including debates about the ways colonists—especially enslaved Africans and free mixed-race individuals—fit into the French nation.

Sweet Liberty chronicles the history of Martinique from France’s reacquisition of the island from the British in 1802 to the abolition of slavery in 1848. Focusing on the relationship between the island’s widely diverse society and the various waves of French and British colonial administrations, Rebecca Hartkopf Schloss provides a compelling account of Martinique’s social, political, and cultural dynamics during the final years of slavery in the French empire. Schloss explores how various groups—Creole and metropolitan elites, petits blancs, gens de couleur, and enslaved Africans—interacted with one another in a constantly shifting political environment and traces how these interactions influenced the colony’s debates around identity, citizenship, and the boundaries of the French nation.

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