Panel Summaries from the 17th Annual International Conference on Transatlantic History at the University of Texas at Arlington

H-Slavery is delighted to publish the following Panel Summaries from the 17th Annual International Conference on Transatlantic History at the University of Texas at Arlington.  We are grateful to Gina G. Bennett, Brandon Blakeslee, Charles Grand, Jacob Jones, William Kingren, and Stephanie Sulik of the History Department at the University of Texas at Arlington for authoring these overviews.  We also thank Lydia Towns for spearheading this conference collaboration with H-Slavery. 

Panel 1: Native American Borderlands 

Panel 2:  Cartographic History

Panel 6: U.S. Imperialism

Panel 7: Post Abolition/Black Nationalism

Panel 8: Caribbean, Pre to Post Conquest

Panel 9: Capitalism in Africa

GIS Roundtable

Panel 11: Creolization and Otherness

 

Panel 1: Native American Borderlands

Commentator: Dr. Paul Conrad, University of Texas at Arlington

Presenters:

Jennifer McCutchen-Texas Christian University, "Cuba and the Creeks: Native and Spanish Trade Relations From the End of the Seven Years' War through the American Revolution."  “

Louis Garcia- Univseridad de Monterrey, “Santiago, Tlaxcalans, and Chichimecas, The Role of Iberian Medieval armed Organization in the Construction of Native Identity in Borderland Communities”

John Paul Paniagua- Princeton University, “Prisoneros de esta clase” Apache Exiles in the Red Atlantic, 1729-1816”

Jennifer McCutchen led off the panel with a reading of her paper, “Cuba and the Creeks: Native and Spanish Trade Relations from the End of the Seven Years’ War through the American Revolution.” McCutchen’s paper details how the Lower Creeks negotiated a shrinking Floridian borderland after the Seven Years War. Neutrality was of utmost importance to the Creek and gunpowder was the instrument to maintain that position. With the French removed, the British traders tried to use their monopoly on gunpowder to get Creek lands. McCutchen’s paper details how, instead of bowing to the pressure, the Lower Creeks sought other sources of gunpowder by increasing their raids on Georgian territories but more importantly conducting secret trading missions to Cuba. Through these actions, the Creeks were able to maintain their position in the Floridian borderland.

After McCutchen, Luis Garcia of the Univseridad de Monterrey read his paper, “Santiago, Tlaxcalans, and Chichimecas: The Role of Iberian Medieval armed Organization in the Construction of Native Identity in Borderland Communities.” Interested in the Texan borderland, Garcia discusses an often neglected point of contact between the Spanish and Indian groups, the military. While the Chichimecas and the Lipan Apache never integrated into the Spanish social system, they did present themselves for military review and sent soldiers to attend Catholic festivals. Garcia notes that the Spanish concept of holy war (as seen as the conquista) related to the Indian tendency to celebrate successful raids. Festivals such as Saint James’ Day brought the martial and celebratory together and so was a confluence point between the Spanish and their Indian allies.

The final presenter was John Paul Paniagua who read his paper, “Prisoneros de esta clase: Apache Exiles in the Red Atlantic, 1729-1816.” Paniagua traces the journey of Apache, Cochauilos, and Mescaleros prisoners as they were taken captive in Texas and then transported to New Spain, particularly Vera Cruz. Though technically protected by law, these prisoners were subject to abuse and slavery on their long journey south. The diseased were left to die with those too sick to travel being left in towns along the way. Many Indian prisoners escaped into the Sierras of New Spain.  Those who did not were introduced to the Atlantic world, by being sent to the Spanish Caribbean holdings. Paniagua shows how the forced migration of the Apache people changed the landscape of the Southwest.

Summary by Brandon Blakeslee
University of Texas at Arlington

 

Panel 2:  Cartographic History

Commentator: Dr. Imre Dehardte, Endowed Chair of Cartographic History, University of Texas at Arlington

Presenters:

William Hansard, University of Texas at Arlington, “The Cartographic Quest for Prester John”

Dan Degges- University of Texas at Arlington, “Anthony Finley: Cartographical view of American Nationalism and Colonialism 1824-1831”

Mylynka Kilgore Cardona, Map Curator, Texas general Land Office- “Quite the fashionable tour”: Gender and the Search for the Source of the Nile in the Nineteenth Century

Dr. Imre Demhardt (Endowed Cartographic Chair at UTA) introduced the panelists who used maps, each in their own way, as a means to understand and explain history from the earliest medieval periods to the nineteenth century. William Hansard (UTA) examined cartographic and literary sources referencing Prestor John, the “legendary Christian priest-king” to reanimate pieces of his chimerical life, legacy, and subsequent resonances into the realm fictional footnotes and obscurity. After an insightful examination of the various physical representations of Prestor John, the floor was opened for questions, many were interested in the idea of travel reports and battles in present day Mongolia as a location of his final disappearance into the multicultural Mongol Empire.  Dan Degges (UTA) moved the cartographic discussion zeroing in on a particular intersection in Philadelphia to explain the significance of Anthony Finley in the wider transatlantic world of American imperialism to Liberia.  Degges argued Finley’s maps and atlases produced in Philadelphia fostered the idea that the east and Africa were a safe space for conquest, similar to Manifest Destiny maps looking westward. Questions after the presentation referred to Philadelphia’s geographic locale as a “critical cosmos” for knowledge sharing, especially in printing and cartographic circles.  Mylynka Cardona (Map Curator, Texas General Land Office) then complicated notions of explorations of Africa with a convincing argument that wealth and education allowed particular women the ability to travel, exemplified by Dutch woman Alexandrine Tinne, and that these women threatened ideas of discovery as a particularly masculine space reserved for men in the nineteenth century.  She used diaries and memoirs written by men and women to support the thesis that these unescorted Dutch women recognized their journey along the Nile moved them from the sphere of touring women into academic circles of explorers.  At the conclusion of Cardona’s insightful presentation questions ranged from the co-opting of “Englishness” to the historical erasure and subsequent reemergence of the Dutch women travelers throughout the twentieth and twenty first century.

Summary by Gina G. Bennett
University of Texas at Arlington

 

Panel 6: U.S. Imperialism

Commentator: Dr. Sam Haynes, University of Texas at Arlington

Presenters:

Chris Davis, University of North Carolina at Greensboro – “The Road to Intervention: The Motivations for 1915 U.S. Invasion of Haiti”

Justin Masucci, University of Buffalo – “Trans-Caribbean Toil: Black Struggles for Justice in the Virgin Islands and the Mainland United States, 1917-1931”

Davis began his presentation by discussing the two primary historiographical camps that strove to explain the motivations behind the U.S. invasion and occupation of Haiti in 1915. Hans Schmidt emphasized the strategic value of Haiti to U.S. hegemony at a time when fears of German imperial encroachment resonated in the Wilson administration, while Laurent Dubois felt that business interests exerted sufficient influence on the administration to engage in the expedition for their own benefit. Davis asserted, however, that the primary motivation for the invasion stemmed from Wilson’s moral and racial philosophies. Davis discussed how U.S. State Department records and Wilson’s correspondence indicate that the Monroe Doctrine proved central to Wilson’s thinking on the question of Haiti. Historical evidence appears to favor Schmidt’s interpretation over that of Dubois’s, but Davis claimed that Wilson’s letters suggest additional philosophical imperatives at work.

In addition to maintaining a Caribbean free of European meddling, Wilson believed that the United States had a moral obligation as a Christian nation to provide governmental stability within its sphere of influence. Having gone through seven presidents in four years, Haiti was experiencing socio-economic turmoil in the years leading up to its occupation. In his correspondence, Wilson articulated a sense of obligation to help countries like Haiti to reach higher levels of economic development and promote democracy. Wilson’s conception of democracy in the Caribbean, however, rested on the principle of consent of the governed—not necessarily self-rule. Because of the racial makeup of the island and the president’s well-known racial attitudes, Wilson believed that the Haitian population could not govern itself. In fact, the instability on the island was proof enough to Wilson of their inability to manage their own governmental affairs. It was these two aspects of Wilson’s thinking, according to Davis, that guided his administration’s foreign policy toward Haiti in 1915.

Davis’s research also uncovered a different racial dimension to U.S.-Haitian diplomacy before the invasion. At the turn of the century, the Haitian government passed the Syrian Exclusion Act of 1903. Haitian authorities felt that Syrian migrants—many arriving by way of the United States, some with U.S. citizenship—were displacing Haitians in the economy. They started to enforce the act in earnest in 1911, harassing, imprisoning, and deporting Syrians. The U.S. State Department tried to convince them to stop targeting Syrian-Americans, extracting some concessions in 1913.

Masucci’s presentation centered on describing the outlines of a trans-Caribbean black struggle against colonialism and racial discrimination that originated in the U.S. acquisition of the Danish West Indies. On March 31, 1917, Denmark sold the Danish West Indies (St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix) to the United States for a historically high payment of $25 million. U.S. concern over the possible German purchase of the islands motivated the mainland power to secure them.

For their part, islanders initially expressed optimism at the prospect of becoming a U.S. territory. Anticipating infrastructural improvements and commercial opportunity, the black population of what became the U.S. Virgin Islands found itself sorely disappointed at the lack of U.S. economic interest in the new colony. Governed by the U.S. Navy, the Virgin Islands saw some investment in infrastructure, a steep decline in mortality rates due to disease, and improvements to its public education system. A stagnant economy and the denial of political rights to many islanders led sections of the black population to become disenchanted with U.S. control, prompting emigration and black struggles for racial and political justice in the Virgin Islands and the United States.

Masucci discussed a handful of black activists originating from the U.S. Virgin Islands. David Hamilton Jackson and Rothschild Francis both served as labor union organizers in St. Croix and St. Thomas, respectively. Their lives further developed parallels as both men served on their respective islands’ colonial councils, evincing criticisms of U.S. rule. They also edited black newspapers that advocated for the expansion of civil rights to Virgin Islanders and a transfer of power from the U.S. naval administration to an elected civilian government.

Other activists Masucci commented on included Hubert Harrison and Frank Crosswaith. Both also editors of publications critical of U.S. rule of the Virgin Islands, Harrison and Crosswaith spent time circulating among radical labor and Garveyist circles in the United States. While they criticized U.S. colonial policy, they also challenged the anti-black racism that “underpinned U.S. colonialism” in the Caribbean. Masucci argued that the migrations and activism prompted by U.S. acquisition of the Danish West Indies resulted in the creation of a general trans-Caribbean black movement for justice operating in both the U.S. Virgin Islands and the United States that demanded racial and socio-political reforms.

Dr. Haynes’s commented on the overall trajectory of U.S. imperialism in the Caribbean, pointing out the colonial ambitions of the United States in the 1850s. Subsequent decades of imperial discourse and expeditions culminated in the invasion of Haiti in 1915. Additionally, Haynes discussed how Germanophobia gave way to a racial order imperative after the end of the First World War. He also mentioned how the imperial presence of the United States in the Caribbean prompted wider black criticism and organizing, pointing to both Marcus Garvey and CLR James as products and agents of trans-Caribbean resistance. Further discussion involving the audience centered on the sophistication (or lack thereof) of U.S. State Department personnel in dealing with the Caribbean.

Summary by Charles Grand
University of Texas at Arlington

 

Panel 7: Post Abolition/Black Nationalism

Commentator- Dr. Christopher Morris, University of Texas at Arlington

Presenters:

Whitney Stewart- Rice University, “Is Slavery Past or Present?: Transatlantic Images of Slave Cabins after Abolition”

Lorenzo Ravano- University of Bologna, “Conceptual Foundations of the Black Radical Tradition”

On Saturday, October 22, 2016, at the University of Texas at Arlington, the Transatlantic History Student Organization’s conference on the Red and Black Atlantic welcomed panelists Whitney Stewart of Rice University and Lorenzo Ravano of the University of Bologna, Italy, to present on Post-Abolition and Black Nationalism. Stewart presented on the image of slave cabins—one type of living space for enslaved people—and how these images were used after emancipation by Black activists and white supremacists. Curiously, when “slave cabins” are pictured, the photos often were taken in the 1930s after emancipation. This conflation of sharecropper dwellings from the 1930s and slave cabins blurs the distinction between slavery and freedom. Stewart is interested in the implications of this ambiguity. Stewart’s historical research is largely based in visual analysis. Ravano’s research, on the other hand, is largely based in political theory. Ravano spoke on the conceptual foundations of the Black Radical Tradition. His work extends from Paul Gilroy’s Black Atlantic which described Black Atlantic counterculture as a critique of Western modernity. This critique reveals the duplicity of modernity that exists in colonialism. Ravano explains how concepts of freedom, nation, and democracy have entirely different meanings in European political thought and the Black Radical Tradition. Commentator Dr. Christopher Morris asked both panelists to think about how people of African descent were working within a language and framework of Eurocentrism. He challenged Ravano to think about if the Black Radical Tradition can resist white supremacy while adopting Eurocentric concepts. He quoted W. E. B. DuBois saying that a “fight against colonialism is a fight against oneself.” Similarly, he asked Stewart to think about other African American dwellings that may have shown connection with an African American aesthetic rather than a drive to obtain white middle-class homes. One of the questions from the audience also asked her to think about how white supremacists explained white families living in “slave cabins.” Stewart and Ravano’s research aims to make sense of strategies used by Black people for empowerment. This panel highlighted the power of Black resistance in the face of white supremacy.

Summary by Stephanie Sulik
University of Texas at Arlington

 

Panel 8: Caribbean, Pre to Post Conquest

Commentator: Dr. Bradley Folsom, University of Texas at Arlington

Presenters:

Karen McKinney- University of Louisiana, “Coffee, Bananas, and Peace: Development of Vernacular in Costa Rica”

Ayinde Madzimoyo- Florida International University, “Mountain and Marronage: Land Use, Resistance, and Identity Construction among Maroon Communities in East Cuba”

The Caribbean panel was unfortunately truncated due to a missing presenter but the two remaining presentations provided for an interesting discussion on unique perspectives in Caribbean history. Karen McKinney, an architect, brought her technical eye to Costa Rica to examine the vernacular architecture of the environmentally conscious country. Her work showed that the vernacular architecture that proliferates in the country is a reflection of the historical mixing of architectural styles from indigenous, African, and European peoples. Most notably, McKinney revealed the way new perspectives can enliven the study of culture. She used part of her presentation to discuss the architecture of bus stops and how these seemingly mundane structures speak volumes about the society and culture that constructed them. Ayinde Madzimoyo similarly tries to bring a new perspective to the study of maroon communities in Cuba. He argues that historians are able to bypass some of the limitations of sources produced by those seeking to eradicate the settlements through focusing on the environment itself, or by ‘foregrounding land and mountain’ to borrow his phrase.  He shows that the land itself was a significant concern for administrators who called for the removal of maroon communities, perhaps as great a concern as the potential civil unrest. More important, perhaps, was his discussion of African cultural systems which shaped the way they viewed their community and the very land on which it rested. He reasoned that one community named their settlement Kalunga for the Kongo cosmogram that can be interpreted as showing a river separating two worlds. Madzimoyo theorizes that the maroons viewed their community as existing in this space between worlds, transforming the mountain and river into something much more than host to maroon communities.  Taken together, these two presenters remind us of the valuable insight the physical geography and landscape can offer into the cultures that inhabit them.

Summary by Jacob Jones
University of Texas at Arlington

 

Panel 9: Capitalism in Africa

Commentators: Dr. Jill Kelly, Southern Methodist University and Dr. Kenyon Zimmer, University of Texas at Arlington

Presenters:

Stephanie Sulik- UTA, “Institutional Racism in a Transatlantic Business: A Case Study of the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company in the United States and Liberia”

Shauntrice Martin- Independent Scholar, “The Anti-Black Roots of Capitalism: A Case for the Annihilation of Major Corporations”

Dr. Jill Kelly (SMU) and Dr. Kenyon Zimmer (UTA) opened the panel with introductions of Stephanie Sulik (UTA) and Shauntrice Martin (Program Director, Silicon Valley Urban Debate League) and the positions of each presenter as they shared research on topics of corporate racism in an Atlantic context and illustrated the power and influence of sustained racism resonating to Liberia and wider transatlantic regions in the post-colonial world.  Sulik’s convincing research on Liberian laborers in the early twentieth century examined the exploitation at the hands of  Firestone Tire and Rubber Company on the people of Liberia. Particular light was shone on the poor working and living conditions of African men, women, and children and their limited access to education, and their physical marginalization as laborers living and working in a racially segregated enclave that overwhelmingly favored whites.  She argued that Firestone manipulated the banks, health services, and constructed unfair lease agreements that repressed workers in ways reminiscent of forced labor practices of Africans and their descendants in the Americas.  Martin, too, looked at multi-national companies to understand the role of corporate oppression and limited access of Africans in a global setting.  She looked to successful boycotts in Honduras, Sudan, England, and North America as models that successfully challenged companies that perpetuated anti-Black practices.  Martin convincingly argued that these practices developed along the same trajectory as slave labor systems operating centuries before.  This presentation concluded with a discussion of reparations as a means to finally address the health care, economic, and educational disparity still resonating today in the twenty-first century.  There were productive questions and responses from all gathered dealing on the topic of corporate racism. Some resonating points were that the very nature of America was built upon boycotts and rebellion to forward concepts of individual liberties, while others pointed to education and raising awareness as a more viable means to change racist business practices.

Summary by Gina G. Bennett
University of Texas at Arlington

 

GIS Roundtable

Presenters:

Dr. Kathryne Beebe, University of Texas at Arlington

Dr. Charles Travis, University of Texas at Arlington

GIS, or Geographic Information System, has developed into a powerful analytical tool for historians, as illustrated by Dr. Kathryne Beebe, Assistant Professor of Medieval History and Digital Humanities, and Dr. Charles Travis, Assistant Professor of Geography at University of Texas at Arlington. Beebe shows how even novice GIS user can use mapping in their research. Bebee’s presentation Imagined Geographies: GIS Mapping and Observant Reform traces the dissemination of Felix Fabri’s Die Sionpilger, a book about Dominican Nuns’ imagined pilgrimage to Jerusalem that was disseminated among fifteenth-century Observant reform convents. The resultant map provides a visual analytic tool to study the pattern of reform in southern Germany, and is an example of a handcrafted GIS project that scholars can create themselves. In Hic Sunt Dracones, Charles Travis presents a selection of GIS projects he has worked on over the years, including his work on the Norfish project with Paul Holm at Trinity College, an environmental history projects that uses fisheries maps in the North Atlantic as a component of economic analysis. As Travis says, “here be dragons:” the world of information is expanding rapidly, and so are GIS applications which should be embraced as a dynamic method for analysis. GIS is a tool that can provide alternative views of scholarly research, and though it can be intimidating, it is an exciting addition to a scholar’s toolbox.

Summary by William Kingren
University of Texas at Arlington

 

Panel 11: Creolization and Otherness

Commentator- Dr. John Garrigus, University of Texas at Arlington, comments delivered by and panel chaired by Dr. Christina Salinas, University of Texas at Arlington

Presenters:

Michael Reyes- University of Texas, “Environmental Racism as Exclusion from the Nation: Exile in Damas and Baudelaire”

Jonathan Dusenbury- Vanderbilt, “Integrating the French Atlantic World: Race, Geography, and Empire in the Revue des Colonies 1834-1842”

Matilde Cazzola- University of Bologna, “Thomas Spence and the Plan of Decolonization of the World”

Michael Reyes of the University of Texas led off the panel with his paper, “Environmental Racism as Exclusion from the Nation: Exile in Damas and Baudelaire.” Reyes spoke about comparing two literary conceptions of Exile from within France and the other from the French Guiana. Reyes also discussed issues of ruination and its importance to the narrative of progress. He ended with questioning the ethics of turning ruins into tourist locations.

Jonathan Dusenbury of Vanderbilt University discussed his prospectus, “Integrating the French Atlantic World: Empire and Free People of Color under the July Monarchy, 1830-1848.” Dusenbury focused his discussion on a journal published in France designated for free people of color. In the pages of the journal France is described as an Empire and Dusenbury argues that this journal and the discourse it spawned began the process by which the French saw themselves as imperial.

Matilde Cazzola of the University of Bologna read from her paper, “Thomas Spence and the Plan of Decolonization of the World.” Cazzola spoke about Thomas Spence and his call to reject private property in favor of public property. Cazzola hypothesized a link between Spence’s writings and the Jamaican Revolt as the discourse and actions share similarities with Spence’s plan. Using Jamaica as a case study, Cazzola suggests a broader look at how Spence’s writings influenced movements for decolonization.

Summary by Brandon Blakeslee
University of Texas at Arlington