Guest Post: Teaching the Caribbean in the Age of Vast Early America

Guest Post: Teaching the Caribbean in the Age of Vast Early America

In today’s guest post, R. Grant Kleiser, a PhD candidate at Columbia University discusses his experience with teaching the Caribbean as a part of Vast Early America. Kleiser studies the early modern Atlantic world and his proposed dissertation examines the establishment of free ports in eighteenth-century British, Spanish, French, Danish, and Dutch Caribbean islands, investigating their promulgation within various political-economic philosophies and measuring their effect on “free trade” economic philosophers such as David Hume and Adam Smith, American Revolutionaries, Spanish Bourbon reformers, and British politicians. He has been a Teaching Assistant for the course, “The Modern Caribbean,” this semester under the direction of Dr. Natasha Lightfoot. 

“Draw the Caribbean.”

That was the first in-class assignment I gave my students as a Teaching Assistant in the course, The Modern Caribbean, taught by Dr. Natasha Lightfoot at Columbia University. I am incredibly indebted to Molly Perry of the University of the Virgin Islands for providing me with the inspiration for this activity. Perry, a Ph.D. graduate of William and Mary and a professor of Caribbean history told me that she always invites her students to “draw the Caribbean” on the first day of class. Some people would detail a couple of the “bigger” islands (the Greater Antilles), others would include the outlines of Central, South and North America along with various “dots” signifying the Lesser Antilles, while some took the assignment as an invitation to produce a picture of people relaxing on a sand beach with palm trees swaying in the wind.

I thought that all these potential drawings could occasion a teaching moment for reflection on geography, various understandings of what the Caribbean is perceived to be, and the need for defining terms (such as the Caribbean) based on legitimate and well-stated criteria. A perfect assignment to start of the semester, I assured myself. What I did not expect was for it to be thrown back in my face. Continue reading

Q&A: Erik R. Seeman, Speaking with the Dead in Early America

picture-155-1357242582Today, the Junto features a Q&A with Erik R. Seeman about his new book, Speaking with the Dead in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press). Seeman is professor and chair of the history department at the University at Buffalo (SUNY) and the author of three other books on religion and deathways in early America and the Atlantic World. He has also published many articles and essays, including in the William and Mary Quarterly, Journal of the Early Republic, Journal of American History, and Church History. Continue reading

Guest Post: In Memoriam: Michal Jan Rozbicki

In today’s guest post, Cho-Chien Feng, a PhD candidate at Saint Louis University, remembers his late advisor, Michal Jan Rozbicki, and his last book, Culture and Liberty in the Age of the American Revolution (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011). Before Rozbicki began his twenty-seven tenure at Saint Louis University in 1992, he served as Director of the American Studies Center at Warsaw University. His first book on early America, The Complete Colonial Gentleman: Cultural Legitimacy in Plantation America, was published in 1998. He passed away on July 31, 2019.

Professor Michal Jan Rozbicki passed away on July 31, 2019 after retiring from teaching this June. As a student of his, I would like to take this opportunity to revisit his contributions to the early American history and hopefully stimulate some further reflections or conversations. In the summer of 2011, when I went to New York to conduct research for my master’s thesis, I found his book, Culture and Liberty in the Age of the American Revolution, in a bookstore. After reading few pages, I was so attracted by his ideas and viewpoints that I knew I wanted to contact this author and see if I could be his student. That was what I did, and that was how I came to Saint Louis. Continue reading

Review: Browne, Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean

Browne, Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean (Philadelphia: University of  Pennsylvania, 2017)

Surviving Slavery (Randy M. Browne

In the early Americanist community’s conception of #VastEarlyAmerica we constantly attempt to push the boundaries of what and where early America is. Randy M. Browne’s Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean will appeal to proponents of a vaster early America in part because it pushes the geographical limits of early America. Browne’s study of slavery in Berbice (present-day Guyana), takes his readers to one of the most understudied slave societies in the Americas, to understand how enslaved Berbicians attempted to survive their bondage from the beginning of the nineteenth century in the Dutch period, to 1834 when British slavery ended. This is an important distinction from other studies of slavery which focused on understanding and fighting against notions of “agency” and “resistance” such as Marisa Fuentes’ prize-winning Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive, and Vincent Brown’s  2009 American Historical Review article “Social Death and Political Life in the Study of Slavery,” among others [1]. By contrast, instead of highlighting the voices of those in open rebellion, Browne focuses on those whom attempted to better their situation despite remaining under the yoke of bondage. Browne does this by accessing one of the most bountiful, yet underutilized, archival records of the voices of enslaved people [2]. Browne mines information about how enslaved Berbicians attempted to survive and carve out lives in one of the most oppressive slave regimes in the Americas. Whether describing the use of obeah as a spiritual defense mechanism to sustain themselves through the institution of slavery, the use of Black slave drivers, or how enslaved women and men attempted to sort out marital and partner discourses, Browne adeptly traces how enslaved Berbicians attempted to live, and most importantly, to survive, slavery. Continue reading

Guest Post: A (Pedagogically, Geographically, Historiographically) Vast Native History Course

 

Screen Shot 2019-10-31 at 7.04.48 PM.pngToday is the first day of Native American Heritage Month, and our guest post comes from Jessica Taylor, Assistant Professor of Oral and Public History, and Edward Polanco, Assistant Professor of Latin American History, both at Virginia Tech. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, Taylor is currently working on her first book manuscript, which examines Native landscape in the colonial Chesapeake. Polanco is a graduate of the University of Arizona, and his current book manuscript examines 16th- and 17th-century Nahua healing ritual specialists in Central Mexico. The following are keys to success identified by Taylor and Polanco in their development of a course on Native History at Virginia Tech.

Screen Shot 2019-10-31 at 7.05.00 PM.pngWorking through the first course proposal at a tenure-track job is intimidating, and more so when the topic is as enormous and fraught as “Native History.” To develop this course with care, we sought input and advice on and off campus as the process unfolded. These thoughts originated in a meeting between Virginia Tech’s Native students’ group, Native@VT, the American Indian and Indigenous Community Center on campus, and the Department of History. We wanted to share some of our ideas and strategies as we continue to develop our Native History class and advocate for a more visible Native presence on campus. This has put our Department’s and University’s commitment to diversity into action.

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