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 with Katharine Gerbner, author of Christian Slavery: Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World

Today the Junto features a Q&A with Assistant Professor of History at the University of Minnesota, Katherine Gerbner conducted by Kristen Beales. Gerbner teaches courses on Atlantic History, History of Religions, Magic & Medicine, and The Early Modern Archive. Her work has been featured in Atlantic Studies, New England Studies, and Early American Studies. She received her PhD from Harvard University in 2013 and received fellowships and awards from the University of Minnesota, the American Philosophical Society, the Library Company of Philadelphia, Haverford College, and the John Carter Brown Library.

Kristen Beales is a PhD Candidate at the College of William and Mary finishing a dissertation titled “Thy Will Be Done: Merchants and Religion in Early America, 1720-1815,” which explores how merchants from different Protestant backgrounds in Boston, Philadelphia, and Charleston navigated economic debates between 1720 and 1815. Her project is structured around four case studies: reactions to the South Sea Bubble in 1720, discussions about the relationship between religion and business practice prompted by the revivals of the so-called “Great Awakening” between 1739 and 1746, debates over nonimportation and nonconsumption between 1765 and 1776, and the controversy surrounding the Embargo Act of 1807. Kristen’s research has been supported by a number of institutions, including grants and fellowships from the American Antiquarian Society, the American Philosophical Society, the Clements Library, the David Library of the American Revolution, Haverford College Quaker and Special Collections, the Huntington Library, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and the Library Company of Philadelphia. Continue reading

Review: Katharine Gerbner, Christian Slavery: Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World

On the heels of its recent release in paperback, today The Junto features a review of Christian Slavery: Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018). Stay tuned tomorrow for an interview with the author, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Minnesota, Katharine Gerbner.

Scholarship on the Anglo-Caribbean has tended to minimize the role of the Anglican Church in Caribbean society through an emphasis on the greed and irreligiosity of the English colonists who profited from the exploitation of enslaved labor. This tendency is especially striking when compared to the historical work on Catholic institutions in neighboring French and Spanish territories. In the Anglo-Atlantic, missionary work among free and enslaved Africans and Afro-Caribbean people tends to be equated with antislavery thought and activism. Katharine Gerbner’s new book, Christian Slavery: Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World, challenges these historiographic tendencies and presents a welcome reinterpretation of the relationship between race, religion, and slavery in the Protestant Atlantic. Continue reading

Guest Post: Caylin Carbonell, Does Size Really Matter? Searching for Early American Women in the Archives

Today’s guest post comes from Caylin Carbonell, PhD Candidate at the College of William and Mary. Her research interests include gender, family, and legal history in the colonial British Atlantic. Her dissertation looks at women’s everyday household authority in colonial New England. Prior to her doctoral work, Caylin graduated summa cum laude from Bates College in 2012. Caylin received her Master of Arts degree from the College of William and Mary in 2015. Her master’s thesis, titled “In noe wise cruelly whipped: Indentured Servitude, Household Violence, and the Law in Seventeenth-Century Virginia,” explores how early Virginians narrated their experiences with violence and authority. In a close examination of court records from Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Caylin argued that servant bodies and the sites where servants faced violence served as crucial evidence in determining the legitimacy of violence, as correction or abuse. Follow her on Twitter @caycarbs.

Most historians enter the archive with something they’re hoping to find. For me, that has always been women’s voices. Even as my dissertation project has evolved into a broader study of family, labor, and authority in early New England households, I remain firmly committed to bringing women’s stories front and center. Whenever I enter the archive, I am hopeful, if realistic, about what I might find in my efforts to bring women more squarely into the stories we tell about Vast Early America. Continue reading

Review: Edward Rugemer, Slave Law and the Politics of Resistance in the Early Atlantic World

Today The Junto reviews Slave Law and the Politics of Resistance in the Early Atlantic World by Yale Associate Professor of African American Studies and History, Edward Rugemer. Stay tuned for a Q&A with the author tomorrow!

Historians have long argued that enslaved people’s resistance to bondage shaped the political economies, legal structures, and societies of the early Atlantic World. As a comparative history of slavery in Barbados, Jamaica, and South Carolina, Slave Law and the Politics of Resistance coheres around “the existential struggle between the master and the slave” that forms the core dialectic between control and resistance at the heart of slavery (1). Edward Rugemer places these slave societies in comparison because, as he argues, they developed out of the same legal genealogy rooted in seventeenth-century English imperial expansion but experienced the end of slavery in dramatically different ways. In just over three hundred pages, the book traces the dialectic between control and resistance in these societies “after an epic struggle of eight generations” (2). Rugemer’s approach combines a synthesis of a rich body of scholarship on the development of legal systems of bondage with strategic archival research. And, as the book demonstrates, the “combination of similarities and differences” between Jamaica and South Carolina yields “a novel approach to understanding the political dynamics of slave resistance and their relation to the law” (3).

Continue reading

Q&A with L.H. Roper

Today at The Junto, L.H. Roper, professor of history at the State University of New York at New Paltz and coeditor in chief of the Journal of Early American History, joins us to discuss his new book, Advancing Empire: English Interest in Overseas Expansion, 1613-1688. In the book, Roper explores the role of private interest in the establishment of a global English empire during the seventeenth century. With chapters that span America, Africa, and Asia, Roper’s work challenges us to think more critically about state versus individual initiative and emphasizes continuity across a wide geographic scope. The book came out last year and has received attention and praise in several notable reviews, which can be found here, here, and here. Continue reading

Puerto Rico and the Regional Caribbean

For early Americanists, the past two decades have seen an increase in scholarship connecting the early modern Caribbean to colonial North America. The Caribbean adds significant depth and dimension to discussions of race, slavery, diplomacy, capitalism, gender, and imperial competition by expanding the historiographies and archival resources common to early American scholarship. Yet, when a colleague stopped by my office asking for readings on seventeenth-century Puerto Rico to assign for a class, I drew a blank. Despite the excellent scholarship on colonial Puerto Rico written in Spanish, English-language scholarship focuses primarily on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.[1]

What made this worse was that last Thursday was the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria’s landfall in Puerto Rico. And, while the devastation and continued struggles on the island garner on-going media attention, the anniversary set me thinking about the place of the Caribbean in our scholarship and our teaching. It seems that, despite increased attention to the Caribbean within the field of vast early America, not all Caribbeans are created equal. And that unevenness demands our attention. Continue reading

“Trans-American Crossings” Conference Recap

Over the weekend, an international group of scholars met on the campus of Brown University to participate in a conference focused on various forms of enslaved migrations throughout the Americas from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. Sponsored by the Omohundro Institute and the John Carter Brown Library, the meeting represented the fifth in a series of conferences about the transatlantic slave trade that have been organized by the OI.

For anyone who couldn’t make it to Providence[1], the panels were live-tweeted and can be found #TransAmCrossings. While the tweets of my colleagues give a great sense of the flow of the conversations over the weekend, what follows here are some of my reflections on the broader questions and themes that drove intellectual exchanges during and after the panels. Continue reading

A Survey of Assumptions

Screen Shot 2018-05-19 at 5.36.17 PMWith spring well underway, many of us are experiencing the satisfaction of marking the last grade on the final blue book of the semester, with an eye toward the approaching summer months and the freedom to work on our own research projects.[1] This makes it a foolhardy moment to entice Junto readers into thinking about teaching the survey, but it also presents an opportunity to reflect on our students and how their backgrounds should shape our approach in the classroom. Continue reading

Review: Atlantic Families, Race, and Empire

Daniel Livesay, Children of Uncertain Fortune: Mixed-Race Jamaicans in Britain and the Atlantic Family, 1733-1833 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 2018).

A central thread running through Daniel Livesay’s Children of Uncertain Fortune is deceptively simple: Atlantic families structured the development of ideologies surrounding race in the British empire during the long eighteenth century.[1] Woven through the book, however, is a richly nuanced exploration of what terms like Atlantic, family, race, and empire meant and how understandings of those terms changed over a pivotal hundred-year period starting in the 1730s. Through institutional records and family papers produced on both sides of the Atlantic, Livesay identifies 360 mixed-race people from Jamaica and traces the lived experiences of a handful of them as they navigated their social and economic position within transatlantic kin networks. Those individual narratives reveal how Britons experienced empire through family ties in ways that shaped their perceptions of race, colonialism, and belonging. Continue reading