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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Food and Friendship in Early Virginia

The final post in the Roundtable on Food and Hunger in Vast Early America is by Rachel Winchcombe, a cultural historian of early modern England and America. She joined the University of Manchester in September 2017 as a Lecturer in Early Modern History. Alongside her teaching, Rachel is currently developing a new research project, provisionally titled ‘Emotional Eating in the Early American Colonies’. This project explores the interplay between diet and emotion in English accounts documenting dietary change in the early American colonies. Our food roundtable began on Monday. You can read Carla Cevasco’s introduction here, Zachary Bennett’s post here, and Bertie Mandelblatt’s here.

A few weeks ago, my ten-year-old nephew earnestly declared, “Rachel, sometimes meat makes me really happy!” Whilst this made me laugh, I could not deny the sincerity of the kid, or the veracity of his statement. After all, we all recognise the power of food to improve our mood and to provide comfort in times of sadness and heartache. For our early modern forebears, I would argue that this emotional aspect of food was no less powerful. In this post I will explore one facet of the emotional power of food, illustrating how it had the potential to irrevocably alter Anglo-Indigenous relations in early Virginia.[1] March 1622 marked a watershed moment in the history of the early Anglo-American settlements. On March 22, the indigenous population launched a devastating attack on the English settlements. In its aftermath, hundreds of English colonists were left dead, and a number of settlements razed to the ground. The attack also, unsurprisingly, resulted in the breakdown of positive emotional relationships between the English and the indigenous population, relationships that I will argue had been constructed around food exchange and commensality in the wake of the First Anglo-Powahatan War of 1609-1614.[2] Continue reading

Bleds de froment or cassave? Bread in the French Tropics during the Seventeenth Century

Today’s post in the Roundtable on Food and Hunger is from Bertie Mandelblatt, who is the George S. Parker II ’51 Curator of Maps and Prints at the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, Rhode Island. She is a historical geographer whose research and publications address a number of intersecting questions related to the early Americas, and, in particular, both the early modern Caribbean and French overseas expansion: the geographies of subsistence, plantation slavery, and colonial trade and commodities; and cartography as an imperial practice. Our food roundtable began on Monday. You can read Carla Cevasco’s introduction here, and yesterday’s post, by Zachary Bennett, here.

The economic potential of the trade in foodstuffs destined for France’s colonies in the Lesser Antilles in the eighteenth century—the period of the colonies’ economic pre-eminence—was common knowledge on both sides of the Atlantic. Metropolitan and colonial administrators, merchants and their lobby groups, all understood the profits to be made from the subsistence crises endemic to plantation slavery. This knowledge decisively shaped France’s restrictive trade policies in the decades before and after their formal articulation in law in 1717 and 1727.[1]

But what of earlier periods? How was colonial subsistence both imagined and daily enacted when colonial populations themselves were much less dense and characterized by a kind of demographic diversity and parity in which indigenous Kalinago outnumbered the newcomers (French, other Europeans, and Africans), a diversity which simply didn’t exist in the eighteenth century? Continue reading

Damming Fish and Indians: Starvation and Dispossession in Colonial Massachusetts

Today’s post in the Roundtable on Food and Hunger in Vast Early America is by Zachary M. Bennett, who is Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Connecticut College this autumn. He is a Ph.D. candidate at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. His dissertation, “Flowing Power: Rivers, Energy, and the Making of New England,” examines the political ecology of waterpower before the industrial revolution.

Compared to other Native Americans in southern New England, the Ninnimissinuok community of Natick, Massachusetts seemed to have secure footing going into the eighteenth century. Located only fifteen miles outside of Boston on the Charles River, Natick was the largest community of Native American converts to Christianity—or “Praying Indians”—in mainland New England with a population exceeding two hundred persons. These Praying Indians owned their land in corporation to safeguard their enclave against land hungry colonists. To passersby, Natick residents farmed like their English neighbors, dressed like them, and even worshipped like them too. Yet, in contrast to their English neighbors, this community steadily declined over the course of the eighteenth century. Continue reading

Roundtable: Food and Hunger in Vast Early America

Dams that powered grain mills but choked off fish migrations. Cassava bread that replaced wheat. A breakfast that turned into an ambush. The lenses of food and scarcity can transform our views of familiar places in early American history—Massachusetts, Virginia, the Caribbean. Continue reading

My Experience at OxEARS 2019

2019 began with a bang when I traveled across the pond to become the first graduate student studying in the U.S. to present at the University of Oxford’s Early American Republic Seminar (OxEARS). Without the work of my new intellectual family members and OxEARS co-conveners, Grace Mallon and Stephen Symchych, along with the love, support, and prayers of my family and friends stateside, my overall experience at Oxford would not have been as amazing as it was. Continue reading

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