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The Zamani Reader

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

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Caribbean history

Draft Program Released for the 2019 ACH Conference in Curaçao

Dear readers,

This weekend the conference committee for the Association of Caribbean Historians (ACH) released a draft of their program for the 51st Annual Conference. The conference will take place in Curaçao from Sunday, May 26, to Thursday, May 30. The theme is “Resistance: A View from the Margins.” I will be presenting a paper on Thursday, May 30, as part of “Panel #13: Documenting Caribbean Cultures.” This panel will also feature presentations by Drs. Emiel Martens, Orpheo Donk, and Rose Mary Allen. My paper will introduce a primary source that I discovered in the archives of the British Library in the summer of 2017. The core of this primary source is the lengthiest set of musical notations that have survived from the early-modern period and that were composed by enslaved people. I am currently collaborating with the Early Caribbean Digital Archive (ECDA) to create an online exhibit for sharing these notations with the public. That exhibit should be completed by the time of the conference, so that I can use it during my presentation. I posted a link to the current draft of the ACH conference program below, as well as a link to the ECDA. Enjoy!

2019 ACH Conference Program

Early Caribbean Digital Archive

To Hold Both Sides Together: Miami Historiography and the Question of the ‘New Immigrant City’

“Mid-flight between Miami and Havana, in either direction, I believe I can hold both sides together. Increasingly, there is the possibility for a coherent perspective, for an imagined future that transcends the rupture without denying the pain, without compromising the ethics and principles that in the long run make a difference in history.”

– María de Los Angeles Torres, In the Land of Mirrors (200)

In the summer of 2005, the historian and scholar of human migration, Melanie Shell-Weiss, published an essay in a special, transnational issue of the regional journal Florida Historical Quarterly. The article was called “Coming North to the South: Migration, Labor and City-Building in Twentieth-Century Miami,” and it described the experiences of early-twentieth-century Bahamian migrants to South Florida in order to argue that “Miami has always been a transnational city, even if it only recently has become a global city.” In the commentaries section of this same issue, Alex Lichtenstein, an historian of race and labor in the American South, set out to respond to Shell-Weiss’ thesis that Miami was “not a new immigrant city.” He cited sociological distinctions between “internal” and “foreign-born” migrants, and he questioned the historical impact of the latter group in “the first half of the twentieth century” when compared with the second half. He dug into the city’s census records, listing out percentages of foreign and native-born migrants for each decade of Miami’s history. He then weighed the early statistics for human migration against other urban areas with substantial portions of foreign-born migrants. Afterward, he concluded that “by no stretch of the imagination could Miami be described as a city significantly shaped by foreign immigration prior to 1960.” Later, he stated bluntly that “the visible imprint of the Bahamian contribution was limited,” leaving only a “faint” impression on the urban landscape. This impression was minimal when compared to that of the Latin American and Caribbean migrants who completely “remade the face of the city” in the decades following the Cuban Revolution of 1959.[1]

These FHQ exchanges between Shell-Weiss and Lichtenstein epitomized the character of Miami historiography in the early-twenty-first century. Everything from a mutual desire to “distinguish sharply between the pre- and post-1960s eras,” an interrogation of a “foreign” Bahamian influence in reference to that of later “foreign” migrants from the Spanish and French-speaking countries of the Caribbean and Latin America, and what some have called an often-excessive “quibble over numbers” was characteristic of where the urban history of Miami stood in the early 2000s, as well as where it had come from. All things considered, the debate over whether Miami was or was not a “new immigrant city” was essentially a trial about the city’s past. Indeed, if Miami was a “new immigrant city,” as Lichtenstein argued, then where did its pre-1960 history belong? On the contrary, if Miami had “always been” a transnational city as Shell-Weiss claimed, then how should the unique effects of its post-1960 transformation be fully appreciated?[2]

The following essay will provide background to this special historiographical moment. It will offer a cursory overview of Miami historiography from about the founding of the city in 1896 up to these 2005 exchanges. The defining factor of the essay is that its analysis is confined entirely to the provincial, urban historiography of one single city. In other words, this paper does not draw upon theoretical models applied in different urban environments, American or otherwise; it is not comparative in scope; and it does not cite broader historical contexts. Of course, there are moments when Miami’s historiographical turns are probably more indicative of larger trends—like the rise of cliometrics, new social sciences, or postcolonial narratives—than they are of any self-contained idea about the city or a single generation of writers. Nonetheless, the present author hopes only that this historiography of Miami, however insulated and self-serving in its content, will provide a detailed case study for those authors who are bold enough to make larger connections. Continue reading “To Hold Both Sides Together: Miami Historiography and the Question of the ‘New Immigrant City’”

Essay on the Historiography of Unfree Labor in the English Atlantic World

In Atlantic History: A Critical Appraisal (2009) Jack Greene and Philip Morgan defined the field of Atlantic history as “an analytic construct and an explicit category of historical analysis that historians have devised to help them organize the study of some of the most important developments of the early modern era.” One of the most important historical developments historians have explored through the analytical construct of Atlantic History is the evolution of English and British overseas empire and its relationship to the the rise of capitalism and unfree labor in the early-modern era. These developments were largely ignored during the first four decades of the field’s history, but they stand at the forefront of the discipline in the twenty-first century, as David Armitage declares that “we are all Atlanticists now.”

Continue reading “Essay on the Historiography of Unfree Labor in the English Atlantic World”

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.

Introduction:

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”

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