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Biography and the Black Atlantic

Edited by Lisa A. Lindsay and John Wood Sweet

Publication Year: 2013

In Biography and the Black Atlantic, leading historians in the field of Atlantic studies examine the biographies and autobiographies of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century African-descended people and reflect on the opportunities and limitations these life stories present to studies of slavery and the African diaspora. The essays remind us that historical developments like slavery and empire-building were mostly experienced and shaped by men and women outside of the elite political, economic, and military groups whom historians often turn to as sources.

Despite the scarcity of written records and other methodological challenges, the contributors to Biography and the Black Atlantic have pieced together vivid glimpses into lives of remarkable, through previously unknown, enslaved and formerly enslaved people who moved, struggled, and endured in different parts of Africa, the Americas, and Europe. From the woman of Fulani origin who made her way from Revolutionary Haiti to Louisiana to the free black American who sailed for Liberia and the former slave from Brazil who became a major slave trader in Angola, these stories render the Atlantic world as a densely and sometimes unpredictably interconnected sphere. Biography and the Black Atlantic demonstrates the power of individual stories to illuminate history: though the life histories recounted here often involved extraordinary achievement and survival against the odds, they also portray the struggle for self-determination and community in the midst of alienation that lies at the heart of the modern condition.

Contributors: James T. Campbell, Vincent Carretta, Roquinaldo Ferreira, Jean-Michel Hébrard, Martin Klein, Lloyd S. Kramer, Sheryl Kroen, Jane Landers, Lisa A. Lindsay, Joseph C. Miller, Cassandra Pybus, João José Reis, Rebecca J. Scott, Jon Sensbach, John Wood Sweet.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: The Early Modern Americas

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5

Table of Contents

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pp. 6-9

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Introduction: Biography and the Black Atlantic

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pp. 1-16

...In recent years, historians and other writers have begun to produce a surge of studies of the “Black Atlantic” organized around particular life stories. This approach builds on and also suggests the limitations of scholarship over the last generation, which has focused on the myriad flow of captives, capital, and...

Part I. Parameters

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Chapter 1. A Historical Appreciation of the Biographical Turn

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pp. 19-47

...documented detail, for all its comprehensive richness at the level of the slaving ventures designated in its entirely appropriate title, has only intensified popular and scholarly quests for the humanity that the database lacks: information on the people carried in the holds of those 35,000 (and doubtless still counting)...

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Chapter 2. Understanding the Slave Experience in West Africa

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pp. 48-65

...understanding the experience of slavery within Africa and articulating the slave voice. The most substantial research project in the history of slavery, Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, has provided data on 35,000 voyages out of an estimated 41,000.1 It provides useful data on many questions: the...

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Chapter 3. Robinson Charley: The Ideological Underpinnings of Atlantic History

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pp. 66-90

...the field of Atlantic Studies was born. Recounting the story of the early conferences and publications in the 1950s that explored the foundations of an “Atlantic Civilization,” he acknowledged that the idea of Atlantic history provided a “historic, ‘inevitable’ Atlantic Community” that legitimized and sustained a variety of postwar governmental initiatives (including the Marshall...

Part II. Mobility

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Chapter 4. Black Pearls: Writing Black Atlantic Women’s Biography

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pp. 93-107

...Dark brown skin shiny with reddish light, she returns our gaze, an enigmatic smile tugging the corners of her full lips, head encased in a white cap, ribbon under the chin. Her white dress sports a pink ribbon on her chest; her right hand rests a little awkwardly across her stomach. A single word painted in...

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Chapter 5. Recovered Lives as a Window into the Enslaved Family

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pp. 108-130

...On November 25, 1783, a war-weary George Washington finally laid claim to thirteen colonies of America, marching his victorious army through Manhattan streets packed with cheering patriots, their hats and bonnets adorned with ribbon cockades or sprigs of laurel. The public jubilation...

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Chapter 6. From Slave to Wealthy African Freedman: The Story of Manoel Joaquim Ricardo

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pp. 131-146

...On June 20, 1865, Manoel Joaquim Ricardo, approximately ninety years old, died in the city of Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. He was survived by his widow, Rosa Maria da Conceição, and four children, three men—Damazio, Olavo, and Martinho—and a woman, Benta. Ricardo’s probate records registered property...

Part III. Self-Fashioning

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Chapter 7. David Dorr’s Journey toward Selfhood in Europe

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pp. 149-171

...International travel became one of the most common experiences for nineteenth-century American authors to describe in their first books. Journeys to distant cities and unfamiliar cultures provided new opportunities for personal freedom or empowerment; and despite important differences in the...

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Chapter 8. Methodology in the Making and Reception of Equiano

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pp. 172-191

...of Equiano must approach his life and writings from multiple disciplinary perspectives: literary critics and scholars universally recognize his book as the foundational text in the genre of the slave narrative; anthropologists consider his autobiography to be the fullest account of eighteenth-century Igbo...

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Chapter 9. Remembering his Country Marks: A Nigerian American Family and its “African” Ancestor

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pp. 192-206

...In the mid-1850s, James Churchwill Vaughan accomplished a feat that no other African American had ever done: he traveled to Africa and found his ancestral family. Born and raised in South Carolina, James was the son of a Yoruba man known as Scipio Vaughan, who had been captured in what is...

Part IV. Politics

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Chapter 10. The Atlantic Transformations of Francisco Menéndez

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pp. 209-223

...For some twenty years now, I have been tracking the Atlantic trails of a Mandinga man known to me as Francisco Menéndez. I first encountered him through a 1738 petition to the Spanish governor of Florida in which he acted as spokesman for a group of African runaways from Carolina slavery...

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Chapter 11. Echoes of the Atlantic: Benguela (Angola) and Brazilian Independence

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pp. 224-247

...This chapter reconstructs the trajectory of Francisco Ferreira Gomes, a black man born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, who was arrested in the city of Benguela, Angola, in 1824 on charges of plotting a revolt that would cause Benguela to secede from Portugal. According to the accusation, Gomes and four accomplices...

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Chapter 12. Rosalie of the Poulard Nation: Freedom, Law, and Dignity in the Era of the Haitian Revolution

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pp. 248-268

...On December 4, 1867, the ninth day of the convention to write a new post- Civil War constitution for the state of Louisiana, delegate Edouard Tinchant rose to make a proposal. Under the Congressional Reconstruction Acts of 1867, the voters of Louisiana had elected ninety-eight delegates—half of...

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pp. 269-278

...Some years ago, I was asked to review a book about slavery for the Sunday book review section of a prominent national newspaper. I began with a datum that I often cite in my classes, intended to establish a sense of the institution’s scale and significance in the making of the modern world. I repeat it here: Of the human beings who migrated from the Old World to the New...


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pp. 279-352

List of Contributors

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pp. 353-358


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pp. 359-368

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pp. 369-376

...Several years ago, as we both were working on own projects reconstructing the life stories of particular members of the African diaspora, we were struck by the number of other historians at work on similarly biographical approaches to the Black Atlantic. We thought the time was right to reflect on...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812208702
E-ISBN-10: 0812208706
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812245462
Print-ISBN-10: 0812245466

Page Count: 384
Illustrations: 1 map
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: The Early Modern Americas

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Blacks -- Atlantic Ocean Region -- Historiography.
  • Blacks -- Atlantic Ocean Region -- Biography.
  • Blacks -- Atlantic Ocean Region -- History.
  • Blacks -- Atlantic Ocean Region -- Biography.
  • Slave trade -- Atlantic Ocean Region -- History.
  • Biography as a literary form.
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