American Freedom in Caribbean Contexts: Transnational and Comparative Challenges to the Legacies of US Slavery

AHA Session 35
Thursday, January 5, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Room 503 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
David Barry Gaspar, Duke University
Julie Saville, University of Chicago

Session Abstract

While US slave emancipation has long been a subject of comparative scholarship, studies have often served to reinforce rather than challenge exceptionalist nation-centered narratives. In one typical instance, US Reconstruction is described as “a unique and dramatic experiment in interracial democracy in the aftermath of slavery.” This panel takes a different tack, emphasizing transnational and comparative connections between black politics in the US and Caribbean to question that uniqueness. Whether highlighting similarities of language and practice during moments of protest in Jamaica and the US, reframing a foundational text of Reconstruction historiography to recover its Haitian influences, or revealing the Jamaican rejection of American concepts of freedom in the light of early twentieth-century segregationist and expansionist ideologies, each paper questions the extent to which the US was truly different or democratic. The panel takes emancipation as an ongoing process rather than a clearly defined event, employing an expansive chronology to complicate conventional periodization; the trajectory toward black freedom appears non-linear, as much underway in the early twentieth century as in the decades immediately following the legal end of slavery in each society. Furthermore, by locating unusual points of connection between different times and regions—a metaphor, ideology, historical text, or moment of disaster—panelists point to new methods of comparative and transnational study.
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