Geographies of Identity, Solidarity, and Belonging in the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic

AHA Session 71
Saturday, January 3, 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Gibson Suite (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Matthew Smith, University of the West Indies, Mona
Matthew Smith, University of the West Indies, Mona

Session Abstract

This panel engages the 2015 AHA theme of “History and Other Disciplines” by taking a critical and expansive look at geographies of emancipation-era Atlantic, concrete and imaginative.  In an era of contest and repression alongside the possibilities of emancipation, freed people of North America, the Caribbean, and West Africa saw mobility and hierarchy in geographic expanse.  Recaptives, migrants, colonists, indentured laborers, citizens of Haiti, and emancipated families across the hemisphere gauged and acted upon networks of solidarity as well as public spheres, small and large.  As Asaka demonstrates in her presentation, these geographies were not necessarily liberatory.  As former masters and their allies grappled to maintain hegemony as labor shifted forms, they conceived of transnational geographic frames of stratification and unfreedom as well.

Our panel engages with a number of historiographies, both confluent and disparate.  It builds, for example, on the literature of the politics and geography of settlement and resettlement, and the claim to space made in North America and Caribbean; it expands, too, on burgeoning treatment of colonization in Atlantic context, through Banton’s contribution particularly.  It addresses scholarship on race and nation in Latin America, the post-emancipation semi-colonial Caribbean, and the African Diaspora.  As Eller argues in her paper, the insistently regional and expansive political projects of the so-called “Age of Revolutions” continued to have salience in subsequent decades.  In fact, new technologies aided and fanned such conceptions.  Once again, metropolitan concerns figured in these geographies.  Spain sought to combat its flagging hemispheric influence by imagining U.S. encroachment as a contest of the raza anglosajona (Anglo-Saxon “race”) against their own raza hispana, for example.  Such metageographies were invoked both for repressive and anticolonial discourses.

These political geographies proved dynamic across decades, confronting lingering and renewed discourses of appropriate modes of labor, the racialized and racist discourses of marginalization, and uneven economic fates.  Our panel interrogates how, in the face of tremendous constraint and new technologies of imperialism, would-be citizens of the hemisphere acted through and beyond the geographies ascribed for them, as they crafted networks and itineraries all their own.

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