Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Introduction

Cambria Press: Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade
Cambria Press: Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade

Ten years ago we published a highly acclaimed volume, Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Interactions, Identities, and Images, edited by leading slavery studies scholar Professor Ana Lucia Araujo (Howard University). The book continues to be an important resource, and in celebration of its ten-year anniversary, we will be highlighting excerpts from each chapter of the book, beginning with the introduction “Interactions, Identities, and Images” by Professor Araujo .

Unlike imperial history, which privileges the perspective of the former European metropoles, Atlantic history required—and still requires—the use of multidirectional and transnational approaches in the analysis of the interactions among Europe, Africa, and the Americas, rather than the traditional examination of the relations between the center and the periphery, which tended to obey a hierarchical and dichotomous orientation. Indeed, not only did the center have an impact on the periphery, but the periphery itself exerted influence on the center (and on other peripheries, as well). The existence of multiple centers and peripheries generated the need to study diverse networks in constant interaction and transformation and also led scholars to reconsider the results of these interactions that gave birth to creolized and hybrid groups, cultures, and artistic forms on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

The twelve chapters in this book examine some of the different pathways—physical and geographical, intellectual and metaphorical —that arose over the centuries in different parts of the Atlantic in response to the slave trade and slavery. The book is divided into four sections.

Part I: Moving Paths examines slave resistance and migrations in a zone encompassing the British Caribbean, North America, and Sierra Leone from the second half of the eighteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth century. These chapters examine the transatlantic collective and individual dimensions of the fight for freedom. Relying on different kinds of sources—petitions, newspapers, legislative journals, court records, private correspondence—the chapters explain the complex form that the Atlantic slave trade and slavery took in South Carolina and the circum-Caribbean and explore the effects of specific features on the enslaved and freed population. The chapters in this section shed light on how mobility, interactions, and networks have shaped individual and collective conceptions of race, citizenship, and identity.

Part II: Paths to Freedom, investigates the effects of the transition from slavery to freedom in the United States, the French West Indies, French Guiana, and Brazil. Focusing on the various dimensions of Atlantic legal traditions (French, British, and Luso-Brazilian), the chapters in this section explore how colonial and former colonial societies dealt with the abolition of slavery. Examining various sources (including novels, court records, and newspapers), the authors discuss, on the one hand, antislavery movements and, on the other hand, how freedmen and freedwomen have dealt with their new status. Because many former slaves—and, in the case of the Caribbean, indentured workers—were born in Africa, they had an ambiguous status that placed them between Africa and the Americas, between slavery and freedom.

Part III: Paths of Identities focuses on identity building in three South Atlantic former slave ports. These chapters shed light on how commercial, cultural, and religious exchanges contributed to constructing new Afro-Creole Atlantic identities that continued to be reshaped after the end of the Atlantic slave trade. Although the chapters’ aim is not to discuss creolization, the three authors shed light on elements of Creole communities established in Saint Louis as well as in Bahia, Lagos, and Benguela.

Part IV: Paths of Representations, examines the ways images depicting enslaved men and women—as well as those depicting African Americans more generally—have contributed to the development and renewal of the plural memories of slavery and its legacies in the Atlantic world. Whereas the analysis of the multiple representations of slavery (and its connections with the colonial past) in West African, French, and North American films lead us to question and redefine a Black Atlantic aesthetic, the study of North American paintings of the end of the nineteenth century allows us to measure the cultural impact of the Afro-Atlantic slave past in North American memory. Past and present representations of slavery in engravings, sculptures, paintings, monuments, and movies contribute to building a particular image of enslaved men and women. These images of victimhood, resistance, and agency contribute to reshaping the Atlantic slave past in the present.

Challenging the prevailing Atlantic-world scholarship that usually focuses on economic exchanges and demographic data, the slaving paths explored in this volume highlight the different trajectories and representations of African individuals and their descendants in the Atlantic regions and beyond. Without neglecting demographics, and making use of numerous primary sources, the contributing authors bring to light multiple experiences of African and African-descended historical actors in the North and South Atlantic spaces. More than merely victims or heroes, these individuals and groups were forced into different pathways; they were sometimes able to negotiate, make choices, and seal various alliances—and in these ways they faced the challenges imposed by the Atlantic slave trade’s dynamics. Although the people themselves are no longer alive to narrate their experiences, the chapters of this volume—even when the sources are scarce—retrace multiple slaving paths and piece together individual and collective encounters and interactions across and around the Atlantic.

Ana Lucia Araujo, “Introduction: Interactions, Identities, and Images” in Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade, edited by Ana Lucia Araujo (Amherst, New York: Cambria Press, 2011).

Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Interactions, Identities, and Images edited by Ana Lucia Araujo is available in hardcover. It is also available as in different ebook formats, which start at $19.99 to purchase and $9.99 to rent. Professors who wish to use this book along with others in the slavery studies collection for their classes should use the Cambria Book Cloud, which allows for the bundling of ebooks at only $9.99 per title for each student.

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