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Atlantic History Group

The Atlantic History Group generates innovative scholarship on the relations linking Africa, Europe and the Americas by investigating the expansion of markets during the slave trade; the production of literary texts and forms of historical memory; the politics of religious dissent and conversion; the growth of colonial science and cartography; Native American ethnogenesis; the rise of abolitionist and Pan-African ideologies; and the dynamics of race, gender and creolization throughout the Atlantic world.

Atlantic History Faculty & Students

Coordinating Committee 2020-2021: Carla Pestana, Robin Derby, Aisha Finch, Elizabeth Landers.

Department of History Faculty: Andrew Apter, Scot Brown, Robin Derby, Catherine Hall, Robert Hill, Peter James Hudson, Robin Kelley, Fernando Pérez Montesinos, Carla Pestana, Debbie Silverman, Brenda Stevenson, Bill Summerhill, Kevin Terraciano, Mary Terrall, Craig Yirush.

Interdisciplinary Affiliated Faculty:  Judith Carney, Elizabeth Deloughrey, Aisha Finch, Jorge Marturano, Alex Mazzaferro, Stella Nair, Jemima Pierre, Patrick Polk, Allen Roberts, Dominic Thomas.

Graduate Students: Tania Bride, Jeannette Charles, Desmond Fonseca, Thabisile Griffin, Elizabeth Landers, Javier Muñoz, Madina Thiam, Matthijs Tieleman, Christian Zavardino.


All events will be held virtually on Zoom, Thursdays from 12:30pm to 2:00pm unless otherwise noted. * Outside Events.

January 14, 2021

Tawny Paul, Director of the Public History Initiative, Department of History, UCLA

Commodified Bodies: Debt Bondage and Maritime Labor Recruitment in the British Atlantic 

Many forms of coerced labor existed in the eighteenth-century British Atlantic. A variety of mechanisms, from indenture to convict transportation, facilitated coercive recruitment. This paper explores one of these mechanisms, debt bondage, and its practice in domestic England where it was used to forcibly recruit sailors for the Royal Navy.  I focus on debt’s capacity to commodify bodies in both formal and informal ways, and on the forms of agency available to individuals to commodify their own bodies. One of the consequences of capitalism was that Britons became used to thinking about their bodies as commodifiable, blurring the distinctions between bodies and things. By examining the link between debt and coerced labor, it becomes possible not only to trace a direct route from Britain’s overflowing debtors’ prisons to Atlantic labor markets, but to uncover the state’s role in commodifying bodies for imperial labor. 


February 4, 2021

Sasha Turner, Associate Professor of History, Johns Hopkins University
"Negotiating Slavery and Motherhood on the Terrain of Feelings."

This presentation centers on the story of Abba, an enslaved woman who was the mother of an unusually large family in eighteenth century Jamaica. Abba had been pregnant thirteen times. She had ten live births and one still birth. We come to know Abba’s story through the diaries of Thomas Thistlewood, notorious among scholars of slavery because of his practice of diarizing how he daily tortured the enslaved. In addition to her large family, Abba stands out in the diaries because, despite Thistlewood’s notoriety as a sadistic enslaver, he whips Abba only three times in almost thirty years of claiming power over her life and body. By contrast, Thistlewood was exceptionally generous to Abba providing her with well needed material goods to support her family and permitting her to perform spiritual rituals, outlawed a felony, to grieve the death of her children. Reading Abba’s life against the 18th Century burgeoning culture of sensibility, including Thistlewood’s own displays of sympathy and grief to white community members, this discussion explores Abba's deployment of feelings in negotiating her condition. How did Abba’s displays of feeling mirror Thistlewood’s, and what did Abba seek to gain by consistently exhibiting feelings in Thistlewood presence?


February 25, 2021

Sara Johnson, Associate Professor of Literature, UC San Diego
"Between the Archive and the Speculative Turn: Notes toward a Biography of Moreau de Saint-Méry.”


March 11, 2021

Jenna Gibb, Associate Professor of History, Florida International University
"Protesting Slavery, Asserting Freedom, and Defying Racism at the African Grove Theatre in New York in the early 1820s."



All events will be held virtually on Zoom, Thursdays from 12:30pm to 2:00pm unless otherwise noted. * Outside Events.

April 15, 2021

Barbara Krauthamer, Associate Professor of History, UMass Amherst


All events will be held virtually on Zoom, Thursdays from 12:30pm to 2:00pm unless otherwise noted. * Outside Events.

September 18, 2020*

The Early Modern Global Caribbean Conference, Huntington Library

September 25, 2020*

Book Chat
Becoming Free, Becoming Black: Race, Freedom, and Law in Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana by Alejandro de la Fuente and Ariela J. Gross

October 29, 2020

Alejandra Dubcovsky, Associate Professor of History, UC Riverside
"Iquenibilahacu, iquibitila, Killed but not Extinguished, Centering Native Women in the Early South."

In 1695 a Chacato woman was killed far from home and kin. Who was this woman? How did she manage to travel so far? Why was she murdered? This talk explores the life and death of this unnamed Chacato woman. She offers a surprising and quite different view of the contested colonial world she both inhabited and helped shape. She disappears as quickly as she appears in discussions about community, social breakdown, order, balance, and family. She reveals intimate, at times even tactile, understanding of the interpersonal relations that defined her life, which unfolded in the simultaneity of empire building and colonial conflict. Allowing her to tell her story relies on the available colonial documents but refuses to let them dictate the terms of historical engagement. Her violent death, the trial that followed, and the many uncertainties that surrounded both, show how Native women were a central force in the making and unmaking of the early Southeast.


November 6-7, 2020*

Cuban Slavery and the Atlantic World, The MacMillan Center of Yale University

The Gilder Lehrman Center’s 22nd Annual International Conference provides a forum for discussion of the study of Cuban slavery and emancipation today, placing the island’s history within the wider Atlantic world. Over the past few decades, the study of Cuban history has been an increasingly international effort. Cuban historians have interacted more and more with colleagues from abroad, with discussions grounded in the unique primary sources found in the rich Cuban archives. These scholars have demonstrated the importance of understanding Cuban slavery within the context of the Atlantic world and broad colonial networks of domination and resistance. This conference brings together scholars from Cuba and abroad working on the transatlantic slave trade, resistance, systems of control, abolition and emancipation, and the memory and legacies of slavery in Cuba. Join us for in-depth conversations about the present and future of understanding slavery and its long aftermath in this crucial part of the world.

November 19, 2020

Thabisile Griffin, PhD Candidate, UCLA
"Black Militias in the Era of Revolutions: Politics, Race and Labor"

From 1781 to 1790, the British Caribbean military and colonial administrators struggled with renegotiating their racial truth systems - through a recalibration of defense. The last two decades of the century were ripe with not only the insurrections of enslaved Africans, but also threats from competing European powers and indigenous populations. In order to survive, there were constant re-adjustments made to garrison structure and fortifications, that ultimately disrupted racial sensibilities to security. A contentious reinforcement would develop in the 1780s, incentivized by previous strategies used during the American Revolution. Military officials and colonial administrators in the Caribbean were now reckoning with the possibility of employing and arming entire battalions of Black men for the British Army. The creation of this unit in the Caribbean, the Black Corps, was only possible through the evolving myths and villainization of St. Vincent’s Black indigenous population—the Black Caribs. Only through the narrative of the Black Caribs could the fantasy of the Black Corps be actualized.



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For further information about the Atlantic History Group, please send an email to Robin Derby (derby@history.ucla.edu).

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