The Society for Multi-Ethnic Studies: Europe and the Americas
Since 2015 the Editors of Atlantic Studies: Global Currents have awarded the annual Atlantic Studies Early Career Essay Prize. Eligible candidates must be graduate students or persons who have received their PhD less than three years prior to submission and the winner is selected from among the essays published in a given year. Articles are judged on academic merit by a team of judges chosen from among the journal’s Editorial Board. Special preference is given to articles which emphasize Global Currents in relation to the Atlantic World. The winning author is awarded a prize of £500 and their essay is made available for free on the journal’s website.
Atlantic Studies: Global Currents Early Career Essay Prize 2018
“‘All shall be happy by Land and by Sea’: Thomas Spence as an Atlantic Thinker.” Volume 15, number 4
The judges have unanimously selected Matilde Cazzola, University of Bologna, for her essay, “‘All shall be happy by Land and by Sea’: Thomas Spence as an Atlantic Thinker,” an exceedingly exciting article that promises to be hugely influential in recuperating Spence in an Atlantic context. They noted their admiration for the clarity with which Cazzola traces Spence’s theoretical and practical groundings and his wondrous insights into land and sea, old worlds and new, as well as into the complicated class, race, and gender dynamics of his times. Further, Cazzola analyses in eloquent detail Spence’s critical stance toward oppression, exploitation, conquest, and colonization and shows how his visions of decolonization resonate across the broad expanses of space and time.
Our warmest congratulations to Matilde Cazzola and our thanks to this year’s judges for their time and enthusiasm:
Gary Okihiro, Yale University, USA
Vera Kutzinski, Vanderbilt University, USA
English radical thinker and activist Thomas Spence (1750–1814) has traditionally been considered a minor figure in the history of political thought. Spence was renowned for his “Plan,” the proposal to abolish the private property of the land and promote a common management of it. His claims for the commons as England underwent industrialization sounded anachronistic at home, but made him relevant from an Atlantic perspective. By insisting on the connection between privatization of land and oppression, Spence linked his agrarian radicalism to the struggles against slavery and the dispossession of the natives in colonial contexts. Experimenting the methodological approach of Atlantic intellectual history from below, this article surveys the Atlantic dimension of Spence’s Plan. It discusses Spence’s practical and theoretical political education, showing his acquaintance with the landed and maritime struggles of his time and how he translated them into radical political theory. Spence also engaged with modern political thinkers and challenged the modern liberal conceptions of state and empire, assigning a crucial role to the sea as a reservoir of revolutionary ideas and practice. Seen from an Atlantic perspective, Spence’s Plan can be interpreted as a project of decolonization of the world. The article traces also Spence’s enduring influence, both in England and the Americas. The Atlantic relevance of the Plan is proved by Spence’s legacy in the British Caribbean: the connection between land and freedom theorized by Spence was to African slaves a glaring matter of common sense.
KEYWORDS: Thomas Spence, English radicalism, multitude, sea and land, maritime struggles, Atlantic, revolution, decolonization, slavery, Caribbean
Atlantic Studies: Global Currents Early Career Essay Prize 2017
“Revolutionary narrations: Early Haitian historiography and the challenge of writing counter-history” Volume 14, number 1
The judges unanimously selected Erin Zavitz’s essay, noting that she presents a carefully differentiated thesis and ensuing argument, adding valuably to the increasing academic attention to the discourse following the Haitian revolution. Through close readings of a large corpus, she exposes subtle but significant ambivalences in a spectrum of historical narratives with regard to the revolution and independence process, specifically the agency of the slave class. The writers in question were people with experience on both sides of the Atlantic who chose to live in Haiti after independence (but not necessarily internationally recognized independence) had been achieved. And in studying the nature of the counter-history that was written by these intellectuals, Zavitz recognizes that the authors had to read some Africanness into the justifications for independence that could be developed from their histories of the Haitian revolution and its origins. Zavitz’s nineteenth-century sources provide cogent early examples of the “postcolonial dilemma” in which annalists of color (in this case Haitian writers) could only limitedly but decisively free themselves from the Eurocentric rhetoric of the former colonizers.
Our warmest congratulations to Dr. Erin Zavitz and our thanks to this year’s judges for their time and enthusiasm:
Nicholas Canny, National University of Ireland Galway, Ireland
Cathy Covell Waegner, University of Siegen, Germany
This article examines a selection of understudied nineteenth-century Haitian texts to illuminate how Haitians tensely narrated their country’s foundational event and negotiated the challenge of constructing the first black nation-state in the Americas. The predominantly mixed-race male authors held their own biases and prejudices that were often informed by the same racialized labels they sought to overturn. Writing Haiti’s history, specifically that of the revolution, exposed these biases as well as critical social divisions, most notably between an emergent Eurocentric élite and the majority of recently freed, uneducated former slaves who spoke no French. Despite appeals to unity and Haitians’ Africanity, early narratives of the revolution disavowed or treated with ambivalence the role of former slaves and African-derived spiritual traditions in Haiti’s founding. I trace this ambivalence towards or disavowal of the black majority through a corpus of understudied texts that represent specific interventions in Haiti’s emerging national historiography. In particular, I focus on how five authors, Juste Chanlatte, Baron de Vastey, Hérard Dumesle, Thomas Madiou, and Beaubrun Ardouin, narrate the Haitian Revolution and grapple with the role or contributions of slaves/former slaves in the revolution and the influence of African-derived spiritual traditions. Their histories initiated a process of incorporating the black majority and African traditions into the official national imaginary, though on élite terms. For these authors, the predominantly black majority, while contributors to the country’s founding, needed civilizing in order for Haiti to prosper and progress as a nation in the post-Enlightenment Atlantic World.
KEYWORDS: Haiti, Black Atlantic, Haitian Revolution, nationalism, Caribbean literature, postcolonialism
Atlantic Studies: Global Currents Early Career Essay Prize 2016
Johan Heinsen, “Dissonance in the Danish Atlantic: speech, violence and mutiny, 1672–1683”: Volume 13, number 2
The judges have unanimously selected Johan Heinsen’s essay, noting that it stands out in terms of its originality, innovative methodology, and argumentative reach in its exploration of the role of “speech” in the making of empires. Not only does it examine the nationally specific underpinnings of empire building by dealing with the role of the Danish West India and Guinea Company, but it also addresses the voices – often unheard in the archives – of the men aboard the ships headed for the Caribbean. Conceptualizations of empire building arethus undercut by the heterogeneous class positions of the men aboard these vessels. Moreover, the essay is lucidly written and its argument is masterfully presented, complete with narrative twists and turns. The originality of the piece lies in its discussion of how we can methodologically reconstruct those subaltern voices which are felt rather than heard in official documents collected in the archives. By exploring notions such as rumor and storytelling, the article suggests a methodology for making subaltern voices audible, one which can be applied to a wide range of subjects well beyond the topic of empire building.
Our warmest congratulations to Dr. Johan Heinsen and our thanks to this year’s judges for their time and enthusiasm:
Harry Elam, Stanford University
Laura Doyle, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
Mita Banerjee, University of Mainz
In 1683 the fragile Danish Atlantic was shaken by a mutiny orchestrated by a coalition of common sailors and convicts. On the way to St. Thomas in the Caribbean, they seized the ship, Havmanden, and killed their superiors. Among the dead was the newly appointed governor of St. Thomas, Jørgen Iversen. He was a veteran of Atlantic colonization and had been the governor of the Caribbean colony from its foundation in 1672 to 1680. In his absence the colony had devolved into a pirate’s nest, and the Danish West India and Guinea Company hoped that his experience and authority could once again bring their small empire back on track. Instead, the mutiny further weakened their grasp on their Caribbean colony. In the night before the mutiny, the governor had attempted to quell the simmering disgruntlements on the ship by promising the convicts that he would treat them well when they reached the colony. However, they heard his promise as a threat. This article explores this discrepancy and places it in the context of circulating stories and rumours of violence, exploitation and death in the Caribbean. In exploring the contours of such storytelling felt only indirectly in the fragmented archival trail, this genealogy of a single speech act, in turn, raises questions about the role of speech in the making and unmaking of seventeenth-century Atlantic empires.
Atlantic Studies: Global Currents Early-Career Essay Prize 2015
Joanne Chassot, “Voyage through death/to life upon these shores: the living dead of the Middle Passage.” Volume 12, number 1
The Editors of Atlantic Studies: Global Currents are pleased to announce the winner of the First Atlantic Studies Early-Career Essay Prize. After reviewing a series of finalists, the judges – Professor Mimi Sheller (Drexel University, USA), Professor Gopalan Balachandran (Graduate Institute, Switzerland), and Professor Tara Inniss (University of the West Indies)—unanimously selected Dr. Joanne Chassot, of the University of Lausanne (Switzerland), for her essay “Voyage through death/to life upon these shores: the living dead of the Middle Passage.” In awarding her the prize, they praised the essay, a reflection on the experience of “living death” during the Middle Passage as described in three different genres: a novel, a film, and a historical study. They found the essay to be beautifully and sensitively written, and appreciated the finesse of the author’s interpretive moves across three genres. Further, they note, “the essay is well grounded in both historiography and literary/visual studies, yet brings them together in new ways, also successfully incorporating Orlando Patterson’s sociological concepts of social death and natal alienation.” In making these connections, they explain, “Chassot contributes productive new ways of understanding the liminal, traumatic, and ambiguous experience of living-death implied in the Middle Passage. Above all, the topic also seems especially pertinent for Atlantic Studies to address; Chassot successfully connects a central topic in multidisciplinary Atlantic Studies to the ongoing afterlives of slavery in the Atlantic world today.” Our warmest congratulations to Dr. Joanne Chassot and our thanks to the 2015 Judges for their time and enthusiasm:
Mimi Sheller (Drexel University, USA)
Gopalan Balachandran (Graduate Institute, Switzerland)
Professor Tara Inniss (University of the West Indies)
While historical studies of the Atlantic slave trade have amply demonstrated the magnitude of slave mortality during the Middle Passage, only recently have they started to examine how the captives might have endured and coped with this traumatic experience. Although it constitutes a major topos in African diasporic culture, the Middle Passage has only occasionally been represented directly and in details in novels and in films. This article examines three recent narratives of the Middle Passage, Fred D’Aguiar’s novel Feeding the Ghosts (1998), Guy Deslauriers’s film Passage du milieu (2000), and Stephanie Smallwood’s historical study Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora (2007). Beyond their individual poetic, aesthetic, and scholarly qualities, what is most striking about these three texts is that they all use the figure of the living dead in order to explore the captives’ experience of the transatlantic journey. If the ghastly quality of the living dead powerfully captures the life-threatening material and physical conditions the captives endured on the voyage, its dual, liminal character also allows D’Aguiar, Deslauriers, and Smallwood to represent the metaphysical, psychological, social, and cultural journey they were forced to undertake. Through their use of the trope of the living dead, these three texts show that if death is indeed a central aspect of the experience of the Middle Passage, it impacts the captives in ways that go well beyond the issue of mortality.
KEYWORDS: Middle Passage, living dead, social death, zombi, Fred D’Aguiar, Guy Deslauriers, Stephanie Smallwood