The Zamani Reader

On West Africa, Britain, and the West Indies in the Eighteenth Century



My Favorite Historical Lecture

James Baldwin and William F. Buckley Debate Video

(Click the link above to skip the commentary and watch the debate)

Since I finished my summer independent study course last week, you will finally stop seeing book reviews on “The Black Atlantic” posted on this blog. For those of you that read some of those reviews, thank you for giving me an audience. Now, I have decided to followup my weekly tradition by posting a video. My favorite historical video. Continue reading “My Favorite Historical Lecture”

Review of Avengers of the New World by Laurent Dubois

LAURENT DUBOIS. Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, York: The Dial Press, 2004. Pp. viii, 357. $17.95.

Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution (... Cover Art

Avengers of the New World is the first book written by Laurent Dubois, the historian, anthropologist, and literary scholar of France, the French Atlantic, and the Caribbean. Dubois wrote Avengers as a new history of the Haitian revolution (1791-1804), updating the anticolonial work of the Caribbean scholar C.L.R. James with Atlantic and African scholarship and social and cultural methodologies. Whereas James tended to “essentialize the differences” between groups within San Domingo, and focus on defending the actions of black revolutionaries and condemning those of planters from within a racialized discourse, Dubois is interested in creating an understanding of the revolution’s wider context within the “Age of Revolutions.” Continue reading “Review of Avengers of the New World by Laurent Dubois”

Review of The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James

CYRIL LIONEL ROBERT JAMES. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. New York: The Dial Press, 1938. Pp. xi, 396. $3.75.



The Black Jacobins is the seventh and most famous work written by C.L.R. James, the late Afro-Trinidadian historian, journalist, playwright, professor, social theorist, and essayist. It is a vivid and nuanced historical narrative of the San Domingo Revolution, popularly known as “the only successful slave revolt in history,” and its “courageous leader,” Toussaint L’Ouverture, from the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 to the declaration of independence for Haiti in 1804. Written in anticipation of widespread African decolonization, with sincere Marxist-socialist leanings and a defining sense of solidarity for oppressed peoples, The Black Jacobins is widely hailed as a classic critique of imperialist and colonialist historiography. Continue reading “Review of The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James”

Review of The Slave Ship by Marcus Rediker

MARCUS REDIKER. The Slave Ship: A Human History. New York: Viking Press, 2007. Pp. 434. $27.95.


Slave Ship Book Cover

The Slave Ship is the fourth book written by Marcus Rediker, a prize-winning American historian of the early-modern era and the Atlantic world and a Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh. Through evocative language, fluid narration, poignant imagery, dramatic vignettes, diverse sources, dynamic characters, and bold statistics, Rediker synthesizes the violent nature of the Anglo-American slave trade during its so-called Golden Age, from 1700-1808, for common readership.

Like Walter Johnson’s multi-perspective approach to the American interstate trade in Soul by Soul, Rediker captures the phenomenon of the transatlantic trade from the perspectives of its many, diverse participants: merchants, underwriters, captains and officers, seaman, slaves, and agitators. At the core of this visceral, conceptual history is a special focus on the gruesome yet calculated “hardware of bondage,” most aptly characterized by that “vast and diabolical machine,” the Guineaman slaver. To borrow a metaphor used elsewhere by Walter Rodney, although The Slave Ship offers very little new information, the book presents one of the first nuanced and comprehensive portrayals of the Atlantic slave trade as “capitalism without a loincloth.” It not only reminds us that “violence and terror were central to the Atlantic economy.” It shows us, time and time again.


For sources, Rediker has cited diaries, memoirs, letters, legal documents, testimonies, essays, exposés, interviews, muster rolls, manifests, log books, inventories,  manuals, almanacs, broadsheets, pamphlets, images, diagrams, speeches, lectures, sermons, poems, and material evidence. Much of this information dates from the abolitionist movement of the late 1780s, and its resurgence in the 1820s, when historians (like Thomas Clarkson), ex-slaves (like Olaudah Equiano, Ottobah Cugoano, and Louis Asa-Asa), preachers (like Silas Told), and former seamen and captains (like James Field Stanfield, John Newton, Hugh Crow, and William Butterworth) began publishing personal accounts of their experiences. These works coincided with parliamentary hearings that produced depositions, debate transcripts, and reformist legislation (the Dolben Act of 1788, the Slave Carrying Bill of 1799, and the Foreign Slave Trade Bill of 1806). For archival research, (especially on slaving voyages before the 1780s), Rediker has explored many collections, including the papers of the High Court of Admiralty, the sessional papers of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, the Liverpool Record Office, the Bristol Record Office, and a multi-volume compilation edited by Elizabeth Donnan, entitled Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade to America. Continue reading “Review of The Slave Ship by Marcus Rediker”

Review of Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams

ERIC WILLIAMS. Capitalism and Slavery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1944. Pp. ix, 245. $29.95.

Scan cover.jpeg

Capitalism and Slavery is the first and most important work by the late Trinidadian scholar and statesman, Eric Eustace Williams. Based on a dissertation written at the University of Oxford in 1938, entitled “The Economic Aspect of the Abolition of the British West Indian Slave Trade and Slavery,” the work is an “economic study of the role of Negro slavery and the slave trade in providing the capital which financed the industrial revolution in England and of mature industrial capitalism [eventually] destroying the slave system.” More generally, the book documents the historical shift of Britain’s political economy from monopolistic commercial mercantilism based on tropical, Caribbean islands with black-plantation slavery to laissez faire commercial capitalism based on white free-labor factories in temperate, Continental regions. Continue reading “Review of Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams”

Review of Black Society in Spanish Florida by Jane Landers

JANE LANDERS. Black Society in Spanish Florida. Forward by Peter H. Wood. (Blacks in the New World.) Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999. Pp. xiv, 390. $29.00.


Cover for LANDERS: Black Society in Spanish Florida

Black Society in Spanish Florida is the first book written by Jane Landers, colonial Latin Americanist, historian of the Caribbean and the Hispanic southeast, and assistant professor of History at Vanderbilt University. In the text, Landers presents the first English-language, conceptual history of black society on the Florida peninsula during the first and second Spanish tenures (1565-1763, and 1783-1821). Continue reading “Review of Black Society in Spanish Florida by Jane Landers”

Review of Villains of All Nations by Marcus Rediker

MARCUS REDIKER. Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2004. Pp. 240. $20.00.


Villains of All Nations is the third book written by Marcus Rediker, a prize-winning American historian of the early-modern era and the Atlantic world and a Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh. In Villains, Rediker explores the social, political, and cultural history of the nearly 4000 pirates who sailed on roughly 80 pirate ships and captured approximately 2,400 vessels during the late period of the Golden Age of Piracy, from 1716-1726. Continue reading “Review of Villains of All Nations by Marcus Rediker”

Review of Soul by Soul by Walter Johnson

WALTER JOHNSON. Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999. Pp. 283. $25.50.


 Soul by Soul is the award-winning first book written by Walter Johnson, an American historian specializing in capitalism, imperialism, and nineteenth-century slavery, particularly the internal slave-trade of the American south between 1820 and 1860. In the book, Johnson explores “the making of the antebellum south” through “the daily history of the slave pens” in the largest North American slave market: New Orleans, Louisiana. He approaches the domestic slave trade—which resulted in the relocation of one million enslaved persons from the declining, tobacco fields of the Upper South to the burgeoning, sugar-and-cotton plantations of the Lower South—from the conflicting viewpoints of traders, buyers, and slaves. The slim stature and narrow focus of this book betray its sheer brilliance; Soul by Soul is an outstanding work of history that recaptures the complex psychological processes involved in making the commercial abstractions of the political economy material in the form of human bodies.

As a foil, Johnson cites historiographical preferences for representing the slave trade graphically (e.g., The Transatlantic Slave Trade by James Rawley and The Atlantic Slave Trade by Philip Curtin). He states, “the very aggregations that have been used to represent” the trade—charts, arrows, lines, maps, and tables—have obscured its human history. Borrowing inspiration from W.E.B. Dubois’ Black Reconstruction, Johnson claims that the history of the domestic slave trade will remain incomplete until its story is told “from the perspectives of all of those whose agency shaped the outcome.” For this reason, Johnson devotes himself to articulating “the story of a single moment—a slave sale—from three different perspectives.”

For sources, Johnson relies upon the nineteenth-century narratives of former-slaves, their abolitionist publishers, and their amanuenses. Among these, Johnson emphasizes John Brown, William Wells Brown, Solomon Northrup, Charles Ball, and Moses Grandy. He also features escaped-slave interviews conducted by Benjamin Drew in Ontario, Canada, in the 1840s. Johnson compares these narratives with the docket records of 200 cases of disputed slave sales in the Louisiana Supreme Court, as well as Notarized Acts of Sale, slave advertisements, record books, and price lists. Because Louisiana law designated slaves as real estate, rather than personal property, these court records are extraordinarily comprehensive. Many of them are stored in the archives and special collections of the University of New Orleans, being used here for the first time. Lastly, Johnson relies upon the epistles and diaries of southern slaveholders, like John Knight, and northern tourists, like Frederick Law Olmstead. Continue reading “Review of Soul by Soul by Walter Johnson”

Review of History of the Upper Guinea Coast by Walter Rodney

WALTER RODNEY. History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545-1800 (Oxford Studies in African Affairs)New York: Oxford University Press, 1970. Pp. ix, 283. $7.00.

History of the Upper Guinea Coast is the refurbished dissertation of the late Guyanese historian and political activist, Walter Rodney. Originally written in 1966 for a PhD in African History at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, the text is a chronological/conceptual history of a section of the West African coast (between the Gambia and Cape Mount) from its first contact with Hispano-Portuguese sailors in the mid-fifteenth century until approximately 1800. Continue reading “Review of History of the Upper Guinea Coast by Walter Rodney”

Review of The Black Middle by Matthew Restall

MATTHEW RESTALL. The Black Middle: Africans, Mayas, and Spaniards in Colonial Yucatan. Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011. Pp. xviii, 456. $29.95.


The Black Middle is the twelfth book by the colonial Latin Americanist and current Professor of History, Anthropology, and Women’s Studies at Pennsylvania State University, Matthew Restall. It is the first work to undertake the history of Africans and people of African descent in Yucatán—a peninsular province of New Spain—during its colonial era, approximately 1541-1829. Borrowing the “black middle” thesis from historians like Philip Morgan, Restall positions “Afro-Yucatecans” as social, economic, and political intermediaries between Mayas and Spaniards. Continue reading “Review of The Black Middle by Matthew Restall”

Review of The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness by Paul Gilroy

PAUL GILROY. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992. Pp. xi, 261. $29.50.

The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consciousness Cover

The Black Atlantic is the third book written by the Afro-English sociologist, scholar of literary and cultural studies, and current professor at the University of London, Paul Gilroy. By taking the “Atlantic as one single, complex unit of analysis,” Gilroy charts the existence of a counterculture to modernity among black intellectuals, activists, writers, speakers, poets, and artists between approximately 1845 and the 1980s. Gilroy positions the hybrid and transnational nature of these figures as a “changing same” that challenges notions of ethnic essentialism, ethnic pluralism, nationalism, and racial purity based in the logic of the Enlightenment and still embedded in the structure of academia. Continue reading “Review of The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness by Paul Gilroy”

Review of Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World by John Thornton

JOHN THORNTON.Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800. 2d Ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Pp. xxxvi, 340. $37.00.


Originally published in 1992, Africa and Africans was the second monograph written by the American historian, Africanist, and current professor at Boston University, John Thornton. Begun as a reference work for non-specialists in 1984, the text was intended to bring “Africa into the Braudelian scheme of Atlantic history,” and, in doing so, revise dated anthropologists like Melville Herskovits, Eurocentric scholars like Pierre Chaunu, and dependency theorists like Walter Rodney. The original work addressed “Atlantic Africa” between 1400 and 1680. Aside from a new chapter that carries this analysis through the eighteenth century, Thornton has left the second edition unchanged. Continue reading “Review of Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World by John Thornton”

Are you Smart Enough for High School History?

As the spring 2014 semester winds down for us Loyola history majors over the course of the next week, I thought that it would be nice to celebrate with something fun, light and easy. For that reason, I am posting on our blog to share with you an interactive website that one of my students at the Howard Area Community Center has recently introduced me to. The site is an online companion to the world history textbook Ways of the World: A Brief Global History with Sources; and it was created by the author and global historian Robert William Strayer. Continue reading “Are you Smart Enough for High School History?”

Manufacturing Sustainability in the Postindustrial Age

Image of Meiji-Jingu forest on the outskirts of Tokyo

Ninety years ago, citizens of Tokyo, Japan, asked their government for permission to honor the passing of their imperial leaders by cultivating a sustainable, forest shrine on the outskirts of town. The result was Meiji-jingu, an “eternal forest” of 120,000 trees, planted on 700,000 square meters of previous “marshland, farms, and grassland.” Based upon the Shinto religious belief that natural deities, called Kami, reside within the wood of sacred forests, the shrine was designed to be a paragon of sustainability. But, while the model of Meiji-jingu proves to be sustainable, it is also anything but natural. An examination of literature in the sub-fields of environmental and urban history reinforces this relationship, suggesting that sustainable environments have indeed existed in the past, but that they have suffered as a consequence of failed stewardship during the industrial era. Continue reading “Manufacturing Sustainability in the Postindustrial Age”

Situating the WPA, Ex-Slave Narratives in the Historiography of American Slavery

Between 1936 and 1938, approximately 2,194 ex-slaves living in the American south were interviewed by writers and journalists under the auspices of the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), one of five “artistic” branches of the greater Works Project Administration (WPA). As historians well know, both of these initiatives were part of the New Deal, a series of domestic programs first enacted in 1933 by the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to help the United States recover from the Great Depression. Specifically, these five “artistic” programs were called Federal Project Number One, and they were initiated in 1936, during the second phase of the New Deal.

This blog post will situate the WPA ex-slave narratives within the historiography of American slavery, showing how they have been both used and challenged in the past, and suggesting what roles they might play in the future. Continue reading “Situating the WPA, Ex-Slave Narratives in the Historiography of American Slavery”

Highlights from the Chicago Metro History Fair, Suburban Regionals

history fair

Official image for the American, academic competition of National History Day, 2014.

On Saturday, March 1, 2014, Niles North High School in the village of Skokie, Illinois, hosted the Suburban Regional Competition for the Chicago Metro History Fair. The top 300 students from nineteen suburban secondary schools came to Niles North in order to present 150 historical projects in the format of poster-board exhibit, research paper, performance, documentary, or website. Emelie and I decided to attend the event as first-time, volunteer judges. After two orientations, the event organizers paired us with a veteran judge and assigned us to Room 2030, where we were tasked with judging a panel of 5 group documentaries. The following blog post is a reflection on that experience. Continue reading “Highlights from the Chicago Metro History Fair, Suburban Regionals”

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