Politics in the Shadow of Transatlantic Slavery: Financialization, Fugitivity, Fetishes, and Freedom

AHA Session 286
Conference on Latin American History 68
Monday, January 6, 2020: 11:00 AM-12:30 PM
New York Ballroom East (Sheraton New York, Third Floor)
Anna More, Universidade de Brasília
The Audience

Session Abstract

What type of political responses and configurations were possible given the material, human and economic changes brought about by the transatlantic slave trade? These four papers couple new methodological approaches to the archive with vantage points that span the early transatlantic slave trade through the eighteenth century. Anna More begins with the earliest documentation of the middle passage, examining the ways that financial instruments augmented the inherent violence of the Portuguese slave ship and registered racialization through the creation of records, now our archives. She argues that by setting stakes and compensation for mortality, finance sought to undermine and offset possible responses by the enslaved. Andrew Apter looks at the effects of the trade on the political formation of the Fante, arguing that their polities were shaped by the fetish contracts that formed its basis in the region. The resulting Fante government was a “ritual confederacy” that vested power in ritual office and avoided state centralization. Daniel Nemser and Karen Graubart examine the political and legal by-products of racial capitalism. Nemser locates ongoing fugitive practices along the physical routes of the trade, cimarrón communities that fed on and attacked the merchants using Mexico's camino real. He turns the usual discussion of cimarrones as those who flee on its head, arguing that fugitives were always in place, a constant attack on global commerce. Graubart asks how the debates around freedom and unfreedom were experienced and articulated by indigenous and African-descent subjects in Peru, who lived and worked together in cities, plantations, and obrajes (manufactories). In their hands, slavery was often opposed to wage labor, and functioned both as a deep metaphor for oppression and a concrete demand for remuneration in an economy that racialized taxation and compensation. By reworking our understanding of the ways that the slave trade structured the regions it involved, these papers all seek to tease out the myriad political responses available to Africans and Afro-descendants on both sides of the Atlantic.
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