The Zamani Reader

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


African American history

All Creole Cultures: Identity, Community, and the Limits of Talking About African “Ethnicities” in the Early Americas

In taking their cues from the extant primary-source materials, scholars have written about African “ethnic” communities in the colonial Americas since almost the moment that they began writing about the transatlantic slave trade and its origins. Researchers today are occasionally surprised to discover that even scholars of the Jim Crow-era, such as Ulrich B. Phillips, wrote about these various “ethnic” groups in the Americas. As early as 1918, Phillips gestured to a theory of ethnogenesis—the idea that distinct African identities underwent a collective transformation on American plantations. “Ceasing to be Foulah, Coromantee, Ebo or Angola, ” Phillips wrote, African people in the diaspora became “instead the American negro.” This statement was one of the earliest expressions of what the historian Michael Gomez has more-recently called the “process whereby Africans [in the Americas] moved along a continuum from ethnicity to race.”[1]

The discussion around African “ethnicities” has a long history in the literature of American slavery. Nonetheless, as a scholarly conversation, it has received an unprecedented amount of attention over just the past quarter century. Case studies by authors like David Littlefield and David Wheat (Rice and Slaves, Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean), surveys by authors like Michael Gomez and Gwendolyn Midlo Hall (Exchanging Our Country Marks, Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas), and compilations by editors like Paul Lovejoy and David Trotman (Trans-Atlantic Dimension of Ethnicity in the African Diaspora) have all contributed to a renewed interest in studying African diasporic identities through the framework of “ethnicity.” For many of these historians, “ethnicity” serves the simple function of moving our dialogue beyond homogenous portrayals of African peoples in the diaspora. “Ethnicity” helps scholars avoid speaking in the analytically flat categories of “African,” “Black,” or “Negro.” In this sense, the conversation is both well-intentioned and necessary. However, in another sense, the language of “ethnicity” brings with it a series of assumptions that threaten to limit our ability to understand African identities. I address a couple of those limitations in this essay. In doing so, I argue that that framework of “ethnicity” is useful, provided scholars localize their studies, interrogate their sources, and emphasize the inherently creole, dynamic, fluid nature of all diasporic groups.[2] Continue reading “All Creole Cultures: Identity, Community, and the Limits of Talking About African “Ethnicities” in the Early Americas”

Presentations from “HIST 037: Women in American History” — African Women and Slavery in the Colonial Era

Dear readers, I am continuing my lecture series with a new presentation called “African Women and Slavery in the Colonial Era.” I have spent the last three weeks working on this presentation, and I am very satisfied with the result. The PowerPoint is broken into three separate parts called 1) Representations, 2) Historical Concepts, and 3) Primary Sources. The first section focuses on displaying imagery of African women in the colonial era, with the goal of juxtaposing racist images with honest portrayals; the second section sets forth some very basic concepts in order to help us understand the historical context of slavery, black women, and the colonial era; and the third section introduces the audience to a few of the types of primary sources that historians use to further explore these experiences.

This presentation was originally created for my HIST 037 class, “Women in American History.” I taught this class last Fall at Solano Community College. More specifically, this presentation was given to my class on Monday, August 31, 2015. Please note that all of the PowerPoint presentations for HIST 037, including this one, were developed from content in the following textbook: Ellen Carol DuBois and Lynn Dumenil,Through Women’s Eyes: An American History with Documents. Boston and New York: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2012. I would like to extend my gratitude to these two authors for their extraordinary work.Through Women’s Eyes is a wonderful educational resource. Second, I would like to extend my gratitude to everyone at SCC who encouraged the development of this course.

Thanks, and enjoy!

African Women and Slavery in the Colonial Era Presentation (8-31-15)

New Book Review Published on H-Florida, Forum of H-Net

Dear readers, today I was fortunate enough to have my first academic book review published on the H-Florida forum of H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online. As stated on their website, “H-Net is an international interdisciplinary organization of scholars and teachers dedicated to developing the enormous educational potential of the Internet and the World Wide Web. [Their] edited lists and web sites publish peer reviewed essays, multimedia materials, and discussions for colleagues and the interested public.” Although “the computing heart of H-Net resides at MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences Online, [at] Michigan State University,” contributors come from all over the world. Professional historians, lay readers, and college students alike know H-Net for providing concise, informative, and easily accessible reviews of new books written by experts in their respective fields. These reviews are especially tailored for the digital age; they come out much faster and they are much more accessible than reviews in hard copy publications. In addition, the virtual format of the reviews allows for instant feedback from readers, reviewers, and the authors themselves in a variety of ways, including discussion posts. In these ways and more, H-Net is well suited to meet the particular educational needs of students in the information age.

H-Net editors manage forums or “lists” for a variety of sub-fields within the wider discipline of History. Earlier in the summer, I contacted one of the list editors of the H-Florida forum, Jeanine Clark Bremer, and requested to be added to the book reviewers list. Now, only a couple of months later, my first book review has been published. The review is on Chanelle N. Rose’s new work and refurbished dissertation, entitled The Struggle for Black Freedom in Miami: Civil Rights and America’s Tourist Paradise, 1896-1968. Please feel free to read the book review by accessing either of the three links below. If you are interested, you are encouraged to post your responses to the review in the “Replies” section. Many thanks to Jeanine and the rest of the staff at H-Net for their help in editing and publishing this review. Best wishes,

Review of The Struggle for Black Freedom in Miami on the H-Florida list

Review of The Struggle for Black Freedom in Miami on the H-Net Website

Printable Version of the Review of The Struggle for Black Freedom in Miami

Research Guide to the Study of Maroons and Marronage in the New World

Image: The Statue of the Unknown Maroon is situated before the presidential palace on the boulevard Champ de Mars in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Also known as “Neg Mawon” in Haitian Kreyòl and “La Negre Marron” in French, this statue was commissioned by the Duvalier government in 1968-1969 to commemorate the slaves who founded the nation. It was created by the Haitian sculptor and architect Albert Mangones.

Summary Paragraph: (cont’d in full post)

Secondary scholarship about maroon communities and the phenomenon of marronage in the New World is vast, interdisciplinary, and extends back at least to the 1920s. Marronage is a widespread phenomenon that cannot be rooted in a single location or bracketed within a single period of time; marronage took place all over the New World during the early-modern era, and many ancestors of the maroons still exist today. As a result of this extraordinary diversity, much of the literature regarding maroon communities is particularistic, and much of it is written in languages other than English, namely Spanish, Dutch, and French. Continue reading “Research Guide to the Study of Maroons and Marronage in the New World”

Essay on the Historiography of Comparative Slavery in the Atlantic World

Comparative Slavery Image

Fewer twentieth-century historiographical debates have been more engaging than the debate over comparative slavery in the colonial or Atlantic World. Since the early writings of scholars like Mary Williams and Frank Tannenbaum, historians have been actively engaged in debating the exceptionalism of the American slave system, and in comparing the severity of slave systems across contexts. More than anything, the historiography of comparative slavery is a methodological exercise. Comparing slave systems has required historians to address the larger question, “how does one measure the severity of a slave system?” Continue reading “Essay on the Historiography of Comparative Slavery in the Atlantic World”

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 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”

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”

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