Sylviane Diouf and Chester Higgins on Schomburg Live:
In this new interpretation of antebellum slavery, Anthony Kaye offers a vivid portrait of slaves transforming adjoining plantations into slave neighborhoods. He describes men and women opening paths from their owners’ plantations to adjacent farms to go courting and take spouses, to work, to run away, and to otherwise contend with owners and their agents. In the course of cultivating family ties, forging alliances, working, socializing, and storytelling, slaves fashioned their neighborhoods into the locus of slave society.
Joining Places is the first book about slavery to use the pension files of former soldiers in the Union army, a vast source of rich testimony by ex-slaves. From these detailed accounts, Kaye tells the stories of men and women in love, “sweethearting,” “taking up,” “living together,” and marrying across plantation lines; striving to get right with God; carving out neighborhoods as a terrain of struggle; and working to overthrow the slaveholders’ regime. Kaye’s depiction of slaves’ sense of place in the Natchez District of Mississippi reveals a slave society that comprised not a single, monolithic community but an archipelago of many neighborhoods. Demonstrating that such neighborhoods prevailed across the South, he reformulates ideas about slave marriage, resistance, independent production, paternalism, autonomy, and the slave community that have defined decades of scholarship.
Gloria Garcia Rodriguez. Voices of the Enslaved in Nineteenth-Century Cuba: A Documentary History. Translated by Nancy L. Westrate. Durham: The University of North Carolina Press, 2011.
Putting the voices of the enslaved front and center, Gloria García Rodríguez’s study presents a compelling overview of African slavery in Cuba and its relationship to the plantation system that was the economic center of the New World. A major essay by García, who has done decades of archival research on Cuban slavery, introduces the work, providing a history of the development, maintenance, and economy of the slave system in Cuba, which was abolished in 1886, later than in any country in the Americas except Brazil. The second part of the book features eighty previously unpublished primary documents selected by García that vividly illustrate the experiences of Cuba’s African slaves. This translation offers English-language readers a substantial look into the very rich, and much underutilized, material on slavery in Cuban archives and is especially suitable for teaching about the African diaspora, comparative slavery, and Cuban studies. Highlighting both the repressiveness of slavery and the legal and social spaces opened to slaves to challenge that repression, this collection reveals the rarely documented voices of slaves, as well as the social and cultural milieu in which they lived.
Gretchen Long. Doctoring Freedom: The Politics of African American Medical Care in Slavery and Emancipation. Durham: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012.
For enslaved and newly freed African Americans, attaining freedom and citizenship without health for themselves and their families would have been an empty victory. Even before emancipation, African Americans recognized that control of their bodies was a critical battleground in their struggle for autonomy, and they devised strategies to retain at least some of that control. In Doctoring Freedom, Gretchen Long tells the stories of African Americans who fought for access to both medical care and medical education, showing the important relationship between medical practice and political identity.
Working closely with antebellum medical journals, planters’ diaries, agricultural publications, letters from wounded African American soldiers, WPA narratives, and military and Freedmen’s Bureau reports, Long traces African Americans’ political acts to secure medical care: their organizing mutual-aid societies, their petitions to the federal government, and, as a last resort, their founding of their own medical schools, hospitals, and professional organizations. She also illuminates work of the earliest generation of black physicians, whose adult lives spanned both slavery and freedom. For African Americans, Long argues, claiming rights as both patients and practitioners was a political and highly charged act in both slavery and emancipation.
From the Gilder Lerhman Center:
James Sweet, Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Frederick Douglass Book Prize for his book, Domingos Álvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World (University of North Carolina Press). The Douglass Prize was jointly created by Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. It is awarded annually by Yale’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the best book written in English on slavery or abolition. The $25,000 prize will be presented to Sweet at a reception sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute in New York City in February 2013.
In addition to Sweet, the other finalists for the prize were Robin Blackburn for The American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation and Human Rights (Verso Books); R. Blakeslee Gilpin for John Brown Still Lives!: America’s Long Reckoning with Violence, Equality, and Change (University of North Carolina Press); and Carla L. Peterson for Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City (Yale University Press)….
Read the rest here.
(Belated!) congratulations to Sweet and to all of the finalists.
Andrew S. Curran, The Anatomy of Blackness: Science and Slavery in an Age of Enlightenment. 1st ed. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011.
This volume examines the Enlightenment-era textualization of the Black African in European thought. Andrew S. Curran rewrites the history of blackness by replicating the practices of eighteenth-century readers. Surveying French and European travelogues, natural histories, works of anatomy, pro- and anti-slavery tracts, philosophical treatises, and literary texts, Curran shows how naturalists and philosophes drew from travel literature to discuss the perceived problem of human blackness within the nascent human sciences, describes how a number of now-forgotten anatomists revolutionized the era’s understanding of black Africans, and charts the shift of the slavery debate from the moral, mercantile, and theological realms toward that of the “black body” itself. In tracing this evolution, he shows how blackness changed from a mere descriptor in earlier periods into a thing to be measured, dissected, handled, and often brutalized.
Penetrating and comprehensive, The Anatomy of Blackness shows that, far from being a monolithic idea, eighteenth-century Africanist discourse emerged out of a vigorous, varied dialogue that involved missionaries, slavers, colonists, naturalists, anatomists, philosophers, and Africans themselves.
Dawne Y. Curry,, Eric D. Duke, and Marshanda A. Smith, eds. Extending the Diaspora: New Histories of Black People. 1st ed. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009.
Dylan Penningroth (Northwestern U.) has been awarded a 2012 Macarthur “Genius” grant for his work on kinship and property within slave communities in the United States and along the Gold Coast.
From the Macarthur Foundation website:
Dylan C. Penningroth is a historian who examines shifting concepts of property ownership and kinship in order to shed light on long-obscured aspects of African American life under slavery and in the half-century following slavery’s abolition. In his book The Claims of Kinfolk (2003), he elucidates the informal customs that slaves in the antebellum South used to recognize ownership of property, even while they were themselves considered by law to be property at the time. He also traces the interactions of these extra-legal, vernacular customs with the formal realm of law after emancipation by teasing stories of claims and disputes from such sources as the Freedman’s Bureau and Southern Claims Commission records compiled by the federal government after the Civil War. In addition to demonstrating that ownership of land, livestock, and other material possessions was much more widespread among slave communities than previously believed, Penningroth’s research draws out the underlying social relations and reliance on family members’ labor that made such ownership possible. To broaden the scope of his study, Penningroth extended his investigation across the Atlantic to Africa’s Gold Coast and found informative historical connections among societies that dealt with legacies of slavery and emancipation in the late nineteenth century. His current projects expand upon this transatlantic approach, exploring the importance of lineage and issues of inheritance for slave-descended people in early twentieth-century Ghana and mining Southern court records to uncover the experiences of African Americans who made use of local courts during the decades that followed emancipation. By compiling evidence from vast and widely scattered archives, Penningroth is painting a more vivid picture of relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, and illuminating the ways communities of slaves and their descendents recognized what belonged to whom….
Other recipients included Junot Diaz and Dinaw Mengestu. Read more about the Macarthur Grant and find the bios for the rest of the 2012 class here.
S. Max Edelson, Plantation Enterprise in Colonial South Carolina. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.
European settlers came to South Carolina in 1670 determined to possess an abundant wilderness. Over the course of a century, they settled highly adaptive rice and indigo plantations across a vast coastal plain. Forcing slaves to turn swampy wastelands into productive fields and to channel surging waters into elaborate irrigation systems, planters initiated a stunning economic transformation.
The result, Edelson reveals, was two interdependent plantation worlds. A rough rice frontier became a place of unremitting field labor. With the profits, planters made Charleston and its hinterland into a refined, diversified place to live. From urban townhouses and rural retreats, they ran multiple-plantation enterprises, looking to England for affirmation as agriculturists, gentlemen, and stakeholders in Britain’s American empire. Offering a new vision of the Old South that was far from static, Edelson reveals the plantations of early South Carolina to have been dynamic instruments behind an expansive process of colonization.
With a bold interdisciplinary approach, Plantation Enterprise reconstructs the environmental, economic, and cultural changes that made the Carolina Lowcountry one of the most prosperous and repressive regions in the Atlantic world.