The Zamani Reader

On Atlantic Africa and the West Indies (1655-1807)


Winter/Spring, 2014

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”

Conquering the Organic in Filthy Cities

In 2012, the final episode of the BBC-documentary series Filthy Cities, hosted by the English television presenter Dan Snow, took viewers back “to a seething Manhattan in the throes of the industrial revolution.” Among other things, the only American episode of this three-part series argued that New York was a “nightmare” for the millions of poor emigrants who settled in the Lower Manhattan slum of Five Points in the late nineteenth century. Continue reading “Conquering the Organic in Filthy Cities”

Separating Cultures in Opening the Vaults at the Field Museum

Displaying photo 5.JPG

On Friday, October 23, 2013, the Field Museum of Chicago launched its temporary exhibit Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair in their Holleb Exhibition Gallery on the first floor. To be clear, this post is not intended to be a journalistic review of that exhibit. If that is what you are looking for, I can only direct you to reviews by the Chicago Tribune reporter Steve Johnson and the TimeOut Chicago reporter Jake Malooley. Instead, this post is intended to address a singular, structural assumption that other reporters have not fully discussed. This assumption is the strict and continued separation of Western civilization from other cultures—an intellectual separation that was embodied in the structure of the original Columbian Exposition of 1893, and reaffirmed one-hundred and twenty years later in the structure of Opening the Vaults. Continue reading “Separating Cultures in Opening the Vaults at the Field Museum”

Reflections on the Documentary DuSable to Obama: Chicago’s Black Metropolis

DuSable to Obama DVD DocumentaryThe 2010, WTTW-Channel 11 (otherwise known as Chicago PBS) documentary DuSable to Obama: Chicago’s Black Metropolis endeavors to present over two centuries of African-American history in Chicago, from the settling of the Afro-French trader Jean Baptiste Point du Sable at the mouth of the Chicago River around 1790, to the presidential victory speech of Barack Obama in November, 2008, at Grant Park. Needless to say, this is an ambitious task. At a length of exactly two hours and sixteen minutes, the documentary succeeds in packaging black-Chicago history for its public audience, but it also falls prey to problems associated with deciding when to adhere to dominant narratives and when to create a new narrative by introducing stories that are local and unexpected. Continue reading “Reflections on the Documentary DuSable to Obama: Chicago’s Black Metropolis”

The Columbian Question: A Call for a Plebiscite on Columbus Day

Columbus Day ECardIn 1994, Common Courage Press, a progressive publishing house dedicated to social justice and based out of the small town of Monroe, Maine, produced a manuscript entitled Indians Are Us?: Culture and Genocide in Native North America. The author of this text was none other than the Creek-Muskogee intellectual, political activist, and scholar, Ward LeRoy Churchill, who was at the time serving as the professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. In the second chapter, entitled “Bringing the Law Back Home: Application of the Genocide Convention in the United States,” Churchill joined—and perhaps even surpassed—a growing number of journalists, scholars, activists, and citizens by emphatically calling for an end to the annual celebration of Columbus Day in America. “Undeniably,” Churchill wrote, “the situation of American Indians will not—in fact cannot—change for the better so long as such attitudes are deemed socially acceptable by the mainstream populace. Hence, such celebrations as Columbus Day must be stopped.” Continue reading “The Columbian Question: A Call for a Plebiscite on Columbus Day”

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