- Currents in Transatlantic History: Encounters, Commodities, Identities ed. by Steven G. Reinhardt
The University of Texas at Arlington organized its annual Walter Prescott Webb Memorial Lectures in 2014 to honor the contribution of Stanley H. Palmer to the creation of its doctoral program in transatlantic history, which was celebrating its fifteenth anniversary. This volume pulls together several of the papers that were presented at that event, and in their breadth and creative uses of sources they certainly demonstrate that the field remains at least as vibrant as it was when the doctoral program began. Above all, the individual chapters each elucidate aspects of the long process through which the various peoples around the Atlantic basin came to create societies and cultures shaped by extensive contacts with others.
Many of the relationships that forged Atlantic societies and cultures were rooted in the experience of slavery and other forms of captivity. The volume begins with an essay by Marcus Rediker on the Amistad rebellion of enslaved Africans in 1839. Drawing on the research he conducted for his 2012 book on the same topic, Rediker emphasizes that the shared experiences of the rebels, "based in the West African cultures from which they came," were a crucial factor in their success, an aspect of this famous event that needs to be as well appreciated as is its legacy for the antislavery movement more generally (p. 9). The next chapter, Benjamin Mark Allen's study of the experiences of the children of the French colonial Talon family in captivity and freedom in Texas during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, displays the fluidity of status and identity in the evolving relationships between Native American and European peoples.
The remaining five chapters explore aspects of modern transatlantic social and cultural relations. Emmanuel M. Mbah's essay on the Cameroon diaspora in the United States focuses on the challenges faced by those who seek refuge from deteriorating social and political conditions in their home country. Their high expectations for a new life in America often leave them disappointed, as "Cameroonians and many other Africans in the United States are never fully comfortable" in their homes on either side of the Atlantic (p. 44). Julie L. Holcomb contributes an essay on the British Orientalist William Adam, who relocated to the United States in 1838 and played a leading role in the international efforts to abolish slavery in British India during the middle decades of the nineteenth century, a movement that increasingly called for boycotts of goods produced with slave labor. The international cotton trade was a focal point of global commerce, and, as the [End Page 144] chapter by Tom Aiello ably demonstrates, Dallas emerged as a focal point of that trade during the later decades of the nineteenth century, with Texas leading the United States in cotton production from around 1890. The economic connections between Dallas and the industrial heart of England were apparent to all observers, but the cultural ties between Texas and Great Britain were also evident in such developments as the establishment of a thriving branch of the English-Speaking Union in Dallas in the 1920s. One aspect of that cultural relationship involved upper-class British hunters testing their manhood in the wilds of the American West and, as Gregory Kosc explains in his essay, living to tell the tale through travel memoirs. For some of these hunter-writers, the American West was a sufficiently challenging environment to prove "the vindication of British manliness" (p. 148). The volume's final chapter, Pawel Goral's fascinating study of representations of the American West in the Cold War cinema and literature of Poland, takes as its starting point the role of Gary Cooper's image from High Noon (1952) in political advertisements from Poland's first democratic elections in 1989.
In its highly ambitious sweep—covering three centuries and several continents—this volume makes a strong case for the relevance of transatlantic history to...