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

Roundtable: Of Records and Rituals: Native Americans and the Textile Trade

Roundtable: Of Records and Rituals: Native Americans and the Textile Trade

This Colonial Couture post is by Laura E. Johnson, associate curator at Historic New England. The exhibition Mementos: Jewelry of Life and Love from Historic New England, which she curated, will open at the Eustis Estate Museum in Milton, Massachusetts, in May 2017.

“Echatillons Etouffes d’angleterre a l’usage des Espagnolesen Europe y en Amerique,” (Samples of English stuffs in use by the Spanish in Europe and America), Joseph Downs Collection, Winterthur Museum and Library

I’d like to build on Kimberly Alexander’s question from last week, “How can we write history when we do not have the original object?” There are many ways to examine a textile and its context without the physical object, as she demonstrated so ably. Much of my research on Native peoples, identity construction, and the Atlantic textile trade is based by necessity on a combination of archival resources, rare portraits, and archaeological evidence. Trade records, price lists, descriptions of treaty meetings, and other archival sources offer a wide range of evidence about textiles and how Natives consumed them, even in the absence of the pieces themselves.

Textiles were among the most lucrative and desirable of imported objects in the early Atlantic economy.[1] The French, Dutch, and British all relied heavily on textile production for a substantial portion of their national revenue. Woolens and linens raised, spun, woven and finished in these areas drove international commerce from the 13th century.[2] Native Americans presented an enormous potential market for their products as the domestic market became increasingly saturated. As one scholar has stated, it could have been termed the “cloth trade as easily as the deerskin trade.”[3] Continue reading