The Mobile Resistance: Rumor and revolution in Julius Scott’s black Atlantic.
At long last, The Common Wind, Julius Scott’s classic in African-American history and studies of resistance, has found a publisher in Verso. The volume, which began as his 1986 dissertation and went unpublished because of Scott’s perfectionism and ill health, has acquired a cult following over the years. Modeled after Fernand Braudel’s masterpiece on the Mediterranean, The Common Wind started out as a history of the Caribbean and the informal communication networks that emerged among people of African descent during the Age of Revolution. But the project ended up doing so much more: Through traditional archival work and innovative interpretation, Scott—who is now an emeritus historian at the University of Michigan—unearthed an entire underground world.
BOOKS IN REVIEW
THE COMMON WIND; AFRO-AMERICAN CURRENTS IN THE AGE OF THE HAITIAN REVOLUTION
By Julius S. Scott
Along with the popularity of the subaltern school in South Asian history, recent peasant studies in Latin American history, and James C. Scott’s much-cited works on the “weapons of the weak” and the everyday politics of the oppressed, The Common Wind redefined for many historians how we write “history from below.” Drawing on Georges Lefebvre’s study of the role of rumor in the French Revolution, Scott brought Lefebvre’s techniques into the world of black revolutionaries. Tracking the currents of the ocean and the well-traversed routes of trade, war, and rebellion, Scott showed how ideas of black resistance flowed among the slave colonies of various European nations and helped inspire new visions of freedom among the enslaved.
All of this revolutionary unrest came to a head with the Haitian Revolution. News of the rebellion could not be contained by anxious slaveholders and local authorities, and it inspired urgent demands for emancipation among the enslaved throughout the so-called New World. “Sweeping across linguistic, geographic, and imperial boundaries,” Scott writes, “the tempest created by the black revolutionaries of Saint-Domingue and communicated by mobile people in other slave societies would prove to be a major turning point in the history of the Americas.” The title of his study was taken, appropriately, from Wordsworth’s ode to Toussaint Louverture: “There’s not a breathing of the common wind / That will forget thee.”