Manufacturing Bodies: A Review of Slavery at Sea

slavery-at-seaWriting a book review a day after Karin Wulf’s entertaining analysis of what makes for a good review might be hubris at its worst, or simply bad timing. And, while I will never have the expertise, style, and prose that made Annette Gordon-Reed’s review of Robert Parkinson’s The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution so good, I do hope this review will explore the central ideas of Slavery at Sea in anticipation of a Q&A between the author and The Junto’s own Rachel Hermann tomorrow. Stay tuned for that!

In the introduction of her new book, Assistant Professor of History and African and African American Studies, Sowande’ Mustakeem, writes that, “not all slaves endured the transatlantic passage in the same way.” That statement serves as the driving force behind an unflinching exploration of the “multiplicity of sufferings” endured by aged, infirm, and infant Africans carried across the Atlantic and into slavery. Despite the simplicity of that premise, Mustakeem’s concise monograph exposes how the focus on young and able-bodied African men as the predominant population of captives held in slave ships overshadows the experiences of the “forgotten” of the transatlantic slave trade. As a result Mustakeem’s narrative lingers on the painful details of what she describes as “a massively global human manufacturing process” that commodified the bodies of young and old, healthy and infirm, female and male (9). Continue reading

Lies and Half Truths in the Archives

calico-jack-rackhams-pirate-flagAs a historian of piracy, I suppose it was inevitable that my research summaries would end up reading like bad monologues for a late night comedy act. Like this tidbit from the Archivo General de Indias in Sevilla: “1618 four Frenchmen appeared before the governor of Santo Domingo accused of piracy by the Spanish patrolmen who caught them on the island’s coast. The governor interrogates the four men through a translator. One of the men admits that, to survive, they occasionally went pirating on the high seas, but that they never stole anything from the Spanish. The governor then asks him where they got their ship, to which the men admit that they may have stolen one thing from the Spanish.” Ba dum tsshhh, cue the rimshot and laughter from my friends as I relate the story over beers later that evening. Continue reading

The Global and the Hemispheric

Slavery's CapitalismIn their introduction to Slavery’s Capitalism, Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman write that the accumulation of scholarship about early American economic development necessitates “a fundamental rethinking of American history itself” (2). And, for someone who works on the seventeenth-century Caribbean, those words nonetheless resonated with debates very current in my own field of research. In 2011 – the same year that the conference that resulted in Slavery’s Capitalism was held – Latin Americanist John Tutino declared that, “We face a fundamental rethinking of the rise of capitalism” in response to the work of individuals like Dennis Flynn, Arturo Giráldez, and Kenneth Pomeranz. For Tutino, a global perspective on the development of capitalism amends the “enduring presumptions … that capitalism was Europe’s gift to the world,” and “historically antithetical” to places like Spanish America and the Caribbean.[1] Beckert and Rockman recognize in their description of Dale Tomich’s “Second Slavery” the importance of new scholarship in “weaving together transnational and imperial frameworks, the history of capitalism, and the study of slavery as a profit-seeking enterprise” (11).  Continue reading

The Continental Toehold Dilemma

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“The heart of the English Empire in the seventeenth-century Americas was Barbados,” according to Justin Roberts in his recent William and Mary Quarterly article.[1] That claim is perhaps not surprising—Richard Dunn established the social and economic importance of the island over thirty years ago in his seminal work, Sugar and Slaves. However, Roberts takes that point further by exploring the political ramifications of all of that Barbadian wealth in the West Indies. His article also speaks to a larger sea change in the historiography of the seventeenth-century Caribbean. Continue reading

Love Letters and the Digital Turn

IMG_3738There should be no need to mention in a blog about early American history that the digital turn is, perhaps, a fait accompli. However, over the past couple of years more and more articles have called into question the ways in which access to digital archives and digitized sources has changed both the questions historians ask and the kinds of research we do. Of this surge in publications, Lara Putnam’s recent AHR article stands out as a kind of canary-in-the-coal-mine warning to both graduate students and established professionals. Putnam, professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, calls on all of us to have an “extensive discussion of digitization,” thereby pulling our research approaches out of, “the realm of invisible methods, the black box where by consensus we leave so much of our discipline’s heavy lifting.”[1] For Putnam and others, the digital turn remains full of pitfalls that deserve our serious consideration. Continue reading

Guest Post: More Atlantic Archives

Today, The Junto concludes its series on “Archives around the Atlantic” with a guest post from Patrick Johnson about working in the General Archive of Mexico. Patrick Johnson is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at William and Mary, you can read about research and fieldwork from him and other anthropologists at their new blog.

IMG_0485Great posts at The Junto about archival work in Spain, France, England, Jamaica, and the United States got me thinking about my own archival work in 2010 in Mexico City. And, while the Archive of the Indies receives well-deserved attention from historians, Spanish archives in Mexico and collections in the US remain underutilized for understanding not only territories occupied by the Spanish but also colonialism in the present-day United States.  Continue reading

Early America in Español

This week, The Junto will explore, “Archives around the Atlantic.” As research projects frequently plunge early Americanists into far-flung archival settings, over the course of the next five days we will draw from the wide experience of our contributing editors to offer advice for approaching research abroad. It is our hope that this forum and the comments sections below might also tap into the collective expertise of The Junto readership with the common goal of making foreign archives accessible and productive.

Cathedral_and_Archivo_de_Indias_-_SevilleWhile the Archivo General de Indias in Sevilla remains the primary destination for scholars working on projects relating the Spain’s colonial empire, the collections infrequently receive the attention they deserve from historians north of the Río Grande. This, despite Kristen Block and Jenny Shaw’s proclamation that, “colonial records in the Spanish archives reveal a wealth of reportage” about moments in early American history for which few extant documents remain elsewhere.[1] In fact, Block and Shaw’s 2011 article, “Subjects without an Empire: The Irish in the Early Modern Caribbean,” forces a reconsideration of the contours of Anglo-Irish relations in the early Caribbean by reading Spanish and English language documents side-by-side. Uncovering the lived experience of Don Juan Morfa—an Irish translator for the governor of Santo Domingo and linchpin in the defense of the island against Cromwell’s Western Design—depended on reading documents housed in the AGI. Continue reading