Martha S. Jones, Johns Hopkins UniversityRebecca J. Scott, University of Michigan
Jean M. Hébrard, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales & Johns Hopkins University
The trans-Atlantic slave trade and the New World system of chattel slavery that sprang from it constituted a displacement unlike any that had preceded it, making slavery into an essential force in the construction of what we now term the Atlantic World. Freedom, in turn, required the displacement of an old order that viewed people of African descent as best suited for servitude, replacing it with one that remade them as rights-bearing citizens. of Michigan
The trans-Atlantic slave trade and the New World system of chattel slavery that sprang from it constituted a displacement unlike any that had preceded it, making slavery into an essential force in the construction of what we now term the Atlantic World. Freedom, in turn, required the displacement of an old order that viewed people of African descent as best suited for servitude, replacing it with one that remade them as rights-bearing citizens.
Historians have long been drawn to this subject precisely because the dynamics of slavery and freedom resonate so enduringly. Through the work of a previous generation, we learned about the magnitude of Atlantic slavery, and discovered the social, political and economic forces that it generated. We also saw the intimate lives of enslaved people brought to light, restoring to the record their capacities to extract the most from a system structured to offer them very, very little. Recent work has done the same for emancipation, demonstrating that struggles for freedom and citizenship in places like Cuba and Louisiana, Saint Domingue and France, overlapped in unexpected ways.
The Law in Slavery and Freedom Project is an international collaboratory of scholars whose current work seeks to excavate the daily dynamics of slavery and freedom, while reshaping the broad narratives within which we situate them. Central to our inquiry is legal culture--from legislatures and the offices of notaries public in Brazil, Cuba, and Louisiana. These were often sites for the exercise of slaveholders’ power, yet they also provided the openings through which slaves and former slaves constructed claims for rights and citizenship.
Our collaboration places a particular emphasis on the compilation, transcription, and sometimes translation of archival materials, subjecting them to collaborative analysis. On this website we share some of the fruits of that academic work, including both historiographic and monographic essays. Our first formal “Teaching Packet” will provide access to scans of manuscript plantation records from the Santa Rosalía Plantation in Cuba, along with transcriptions and translations of selections from them, encouraging students to construct their own microhistories. We continue to build bibliographies on topics including the Amistad captives, competing constructs of citizenship, and the phenomena of contemporary slavery.
Our project has grown through a half-dozen international conferences organized by different partners and held at various locales associated with our research and our teaching: Ann Arbor, Michigan; Windsor, Ontario; Havana and Santiago, Cuba; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Nantes and Paris, France; Cologne, Germany; Dakar, Sénégal; and Paris, France.
We invite interested researchers and teachers to explore the website and to download resources that they may find useful. We also thank the units that have provided continuing support at the University of Michigan, including the Department of History, the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, the Law School, the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the Brazil Initiative, the Institute for the Humanities, the Rackham Graduate School, and the Office of the Vice-President for Research.
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