Q&A with James Alexander Dun

dangerous-neighborsJames Alexander (Alec) Dun is an Assistant Professor of History at Princeton University. He has published articles in the William and Mary Quarterly and the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, as well as a number of chapters in edited volumes on race and identity, radicalism and revolution, slavery and antislavery. His first book, Dangerous Neighbors: Making the Haitian Revolution in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), appeared last year. We are grateful that he took the time to answer some of our questions. Continue reading

Manufacturing Bodies: A Review of Slavery at Sea

Sowande’ Mustakeem, Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2016).

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

Guest Post: German Pietism and the Black Atlantic

This is the second post in The Junto’s roundtable on the Black Atlantic. The first was by Marley-Vincent Lindsey. Mark Dixon is a PhD candidate in Church History at Princeton Theological Seminary writing a dissertation on the interaction and exchange between German Pietists and enslaved Africans in colonial South Carolina. He spent the past year (2015-16) as a Fulbright Graduate Fellow researching in Pietist archives in Halle and Herrnhut, Germany. He produces Church History Chat, a podcast featuring interviews with historians of Christianity, which will begin publishing episodes in February 2017.

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A painting depicting the first Moravian converts. Johann Valentin Haidt, “First Fruits” (1747). Source.

If it sounds strange to speak of a German Atlantic in the first place, it must sound even stranger in a conversation dedicated to new scholarship and understandings of the Black Atlantic. After all, Germany was not an Atlantic colonial power, and German speakers were not as deeply involved in the slave trade as their British, Dutch, Portuguese, or Spanish neighbors. Indeed, Aaron Fogleman’s 2015 keynote lecture, “A German Atlantic, or Germans in the Atlantic?” delivered at the McNeil Center’s spring workshop, questioned the label’s usefulness for historians.[1] I want simply to assert the reality of the German Atlantic, and more importantly speak to its surprising utility for scholars interested in the experiences of Africans and people of African descent in the eighteenth-century Atlantic. In particular, the activities of German Pietists (and their surviving sources) can enrich Black Atlantic studies. Continue reading

Guest Post: A View from the Past: The Contingencies of Racialization in 15th- and 16th-Century Iberia

When Paul Gilroy wrote his now-classic critique of cultural nationalism in 1995, he conceived a Black Atlantic that was a geo-political amalgamation of Africa, America, the Caribbean, and Europe. Gilroy was particularly interested in the construction of a modern, post-colonial cultural space in which slavery remained a part of modern black consciousness. His book is particularly noted for the introduction of race as a critical consideration in exploring the Black Atlantic.

It is fitting then, that we kick off our week-long discussion of the Black Atlantic with a post by Marley-Vincent Lindsey, which explores considerations of race in the Iberian Atlantic. Subsequent posts will consider Black responses to freedom (and unfreedom), historical narrative, race, and of course, power. Marley-Vincent Lindsey is a PhD student at Brown University. He is interested in writing the history of a Medieval Atlantic, tracing connections of land and labor grants between fourteenth-century Iberia and sixteenth-century New Spain. He also writes about history and the web with Cyborgology, and can sometimes be found tweeting @MarleyVincentL

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An early image of an African conquistador during Cortes’s invasion of Tenochtitlan. While the associated text makes no specific mention of Juan Garrido, historians have often associated this image with Garrido, one of the few known early black conquistadors. Fray Diego Duran, Historia de las Indias de Nueva Espana e Islas de la Tierra Firme (1581), 413. Image credit: People of Color in European Art History.

Juan Garrido was a typical conquistador: arriving in Hispaniola by 1508, Garrido accompanied Juan Ponce de León in his invasion of Puerto Rico, and was later found with Hernan Cortés in Mexico City. Yet his proofs of service, a portion of which was printed by Francisco Icaza in a collection of autobiographies by the conquistadors and settlers of New Spain, made a unique note: de color negro, or “of Black color.”[1] Continue reading

Call for Guest Contributors on the Black Atlantic, c. 1400-1860

Junto LogoCalling all contributors!

December 12-16, 2016. The Junto will host an online roundtable on new scholarship and historical themes that enhance our understanding of slavery and the Black Atlantic, c. 1400-1860. We welcome posts that approach these topics through a focus including—but not limited to—recent scholarship, teaching, public history, or historical memory. Continue reading

Review: Zara Anishanslin, Portrait of a Woman in Silk

Zara Anishanslin, Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic WorldNew Haven: Yale University Press, 2016.

A silk worm begins wrapping itself round in a cocoon, encasing itself in its fiber. Faceless hands unravel the cocoon, turning it into a single linear thread, the thread then woven together with other linear threads unraveled by other faceless hands until all the threads, warped and wefted, form a connected fabric. Finally, completing the circle, a woman poses for a portrait, wrapped up in yard upon yard of silk, another body encased and shrouded.

It’s a fitting prologue and introduction to Zara Anishanslin’s Portrait of a Woman in Silk, a study in—literally and figuratively—the threads that connected and constructed the eighteenth-century British Atlantic Empire. Anishanslin’s book is not quite like any book that I’ve ever read before. It meanders—but with purpose: from Spitalfields Market in London, to an imagined college in Bermuda, to a parlor in Lancaster crowded with soldiers and military waggoners; from the inner mechanics of the loom, to the symbols within Milton’s Paradise Lost, to the aesthetics of colonial orchards and gardens; from cultural to intellectual to political to spatial to economic to material history. It defies traditional sub-disciplinary designations by design. Anishanslin’s ambitious first book draws inspiration from leading figures in material culture studies—Robert Blair St. George, T. H. Breen, Richard Bushman, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and others—but also draws inspiration from book historians like Robert Darnton, from economic historians, from religious historians, and from historians of transatlantic intellectual and epistolary networks. Continue reading

Men of La Mancha

don-quixote-book-coverIn a certain village of vast early America, whose name I do not recall, a book fell open. Then another. And another. By 1860, many generations’ worth of American readers had imbibed the two-volume work of Spain’s early modern master, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: Don Quixote, or, El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de La Mancha (1605). Cervantes’ metafiction of a mad knight-errant, often hailed as the first Western novel, bustled and blistered with originality. Continue reading