Conference on Latin American History 47
The movement of human beings across space has been central to constructions, enforcements, and subversions of enslavement and freedom, race-making, colonial or national projects, gender and religious faith. Fundamental to the condition of enslavement was the denial of the right to control one’s own movement. At the same time, Atlantic slavery enforced the greatest movement of human beings in modern history. Bound transatlantic migration was refracted ad infinitum through further forced journeys. Enslaved people were moved across national or colonial boundaries, through internal slave trade routes that helped mark national frontiers, or in countless smaller-scale sales between city and countryside and from port to port. Yet official attempts to control mobility did not extend only to the enslaved population. Indeed, they formed a basic part of broader colonial and national projects, helping set or expand the boundaries of citizenship and form individuals’ racial and national subjectivities across the miles. Meanwhile, states’ abilities to map the political trajectories of subjects, slaves or citizens were constantly complicated by the movements of human beings. Such movements, whether from parish to parish, across national regions, between islands or across the Atlantic itself, mobilised contestatory definitions of sacred and secular space and of race, place, and freedom.
This panel aims at a transnational and comparative discussion of such themes, facilitated by presentations from four scholars whose work analyses mobility in the nineteenth-century Atlantic World. Two papers on colonial Cuba discuss how the mobility of African-descended people helped formulate political and legal notions of slavery, freedom, race, and imperial/ national belonging. David Sartorius uses passports as a lens through which to scrutinise Spanish efforts to control travel for African-descended people to and from the island. Camillia Cowling provides a counterpoint, examining small-scale, constant movements of enslaved and free(d) people of colour across the island itself. The second two papers bring other parts of the Atlantic World to the conversation, examining how human movement shaped the meanings of freedom itself. Jessica Millward’s paper focuses on the emigration of free(d) people of colour from the United States to Liberia in order to understand how mobility helped literally re-map notions of freedom at the level of both the sacred and the secular. Celso Castilho demonstrates how the journeys north of thousands of enslaved people to the north-eastern Brazilian province of Ceará, declared “free” following a successful abolitionist campaign there, symbolically reversed the direction of the Brazilian internal slave trade and created new political geographies for the national abolition movement. In sum, by tracing the footsteps of the mobile historical actors that are the focus of our papers, we hope to follow their lead in mapping and challenging the boundaries of the Atlantic World.