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

New William and Mary Quarterly Special Issue: Centering Families in Atlantic History

wmq-cover1I planned on doing another “Articles of Note” post for today since it’s been a few months since the last one, and lots of new articles are indeed noteworthy, but I’m feeling lazy today. Plus, as a more legitimate excuse, the William and Mary Quarterly just put out an issue that is worth highlighting by itself. What originated as a conference sponsored by the OIEAHC and the Institute for Historical Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, “Centering Families in Atlantic History” addresses an important (and often neglected) issue in the vibrant, popular, yet often uneven field of study based around the Atlantic Ocean. In brief, two of the lessons that stood out the most to me were 1) the importance of family connectedness within an era usually dominated by an emphasis on empires and states, and 2) the much-needed diversification that encompasses much more than just Anglo-America (perhaps the biggest problem with the “Atlantic History” field.)

If you or your institution have a subscription to JSTOR, you can download the entire issue here. Hopefully we can have a more in-depth and substative review of some or all of the excellent articles in this issue, but for the time being I’ll just post the titles and abstracts here. Continue reading