Guest Post: In Memoriam: Michal Jan Rozbicki

In today’s guest post, Cho-Chien Feng, a PhD candidate at Saint Louis University, remembers his late advisor, Michal Jan Rozbicki, and his last book, Culture and Liberty in the Age of the American Revolution (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011). Before Rozbicki began his twenty-seven tenure at Saint Louis University in 1992, he served as Director of the American Studies Center at Warsaw University. His first book on early America, The Complete Colonial Gentleman: Cultural Legitimacy in Plantation America, was published in 1998. He passed away on July 31, 2019.

Professor Michal Jan Rozbicki passed away on July 31, 2019 after retiring from teaching this June. As a student of his, I would like to take this opportunity to revisit his contributions to the early American history and hopefully stimulate some further reflections or conversations. In the summer of 2011, when I went to New York to conduct research for my master’s thesis, I found his book, Culture and Liberty in the Age of the American Revolution, in a bookstore. After reading few pages, I was so attracted by his ideas and viewpoints that I knew I wanted to contact this author and see if I could be his student. That was what I did, and that was how I came to Saint Louis. Continue reading

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

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

Why We Will Not Go

How and why does a group in a society feel affection for the society they live in, despite the constant abuses faced by them? A great case study to help answer the question is through the anti-slavery movement. Boston abolitionist intellectual Maria Stewart, after the loss of both her husband, James Stewart and intellectual mentor, abolitionist David Walker in 1830, refocused her life on Jesus and fighting for her race. From that foundation, she met and collaborated with  upstart white abolitionist newspaper editor William Lloyd Garrison of The Liberator. Garrison was a major influence on Stewart’s public career because Garrison promoted Stewart as a voice of her people, and the Liberator offered her room to publicly debate the best policies for her race’s future. In one of Stewart’s published writings in the Liberator, she wrote about death to the body of the enslaved, that would also free the soul. “The blood of her murdered ones cries to heaven for vengeance against thee. Thou art almost drunken with the blood of her slain.[1]” The plunder of black bodies effectively built the United States, and based upon Stewart’s interpretation, America became drunk from its excess. Continue reading

Black Women Intellectuals and the Politics of Dislocation

In light of the recent tragic stories of family separation occurring on the Mexico-United States border, what instantly came to my mind was America’s history of dislocation through American slavery. From the United States’s conception, the place of the country’s Black population, enslaved and free, was centered in debates on who this country was ultimately built for. There were factions that saw slavery as antithetical to the founding principles of “freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” During the Revolutionary War, even British orators like Samuel Johnson, clearly saw this dichotomy. In his 1775 pamphlet Taxation No Tyranny: An Answer To The Resolutions And Address Of The American Congress, Johnson juxtaposed the colonist’s “Declaration of Rights,” and equivocated “If [s]lavery be thus fatally contagious, how is it that we hear the loudest yelps of for liberty among the drivers of negroes.”[1] Not all factions of the founding generation decidedly occupied one camp of pro-slavery or anti-slavery though. America’s first and third presidents denoted this friction. Washington and Jefferson’s stories denoted both held surface level anti-slavery positions, yet also owned hundreds of bondswomen and men; very similar to what Johnson characterized. This complication stemmed from the generation’s refusal to resolve the “slavery question” that plagued the new nation. Political compromises, like the counting of enslaved peoples as three-fifths a person, prolonged America’s reckoning, but only temporarily. However, a middle ground emerged by the early 19th century: colonization. Continue reading

Q&A: Craig Bruce Smith, author of American Honor

Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 9.58.33 PMWe are pleased to host a Q&A with Craig Bruce Smith, author of the recently released American Honor: The Creation of the Nation’s Ideals During the Revolutionary Era (UNC Press). Dr. Smith received his PhD from Brandeis and is an assistant professor of history at William Woods University. We will be featuring a review of the book in the coming weeks. Continue reading

A Short Ode to Slow History

An article just came out in the American Historical Review’s October issue that should be on the radar for anyone interested in early American history: Holly Brewer’s “Slavery, Sovereignty, and ‘Inheritable Blood’: Reconsidering John Locke and the Origins of American Slavery.” In it, Brewer connects Locke’s criticism of absolutism with an opposition to inheritable slavery, thereby casting our understanding of democracy, capitalism, and slavery in an entirely new light. Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: