Lapidus Center Fellows, 2019-2020
We are pleased to announce the 2018-2019 Lapidus Center Fellows.The Lapidus residency program is designed to (1) encourage research and writing on the slave trade, slavery, and anti-slavery in the Atlantic world, (2) to promote and facilitate interaction among the participants including fellows funded by other sources, and (3) to facilitate the dissemination of the researchers’ findings through lectures and publications. Congratulations to this year’s cohort!
Selena Doss (Ph.D. in History, Vanderbilt University)
Current Position: Associate Professor of History, Western Kentucky University
Project: “Involuntary Pilgrimage: Black Southerners and Territorial Separatism, 1783-1904”
This project uses social movement theory to analyze how black southerners developed a nascent Black Nationalist ideology centered on territorial separatism to achieve political and economic self-determination through land ownership during the long 19th century. It addresses questions related to movement emergence, participant motivations, and movement structure including leadership, participation networks, framing and ideology. This research complicates the study of Black Nationalism by analyzing southern separatism in its totality and documenting the political assertiveness of enslaved and formerly enslaved peoples through their participation in movements to Nova Scotia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Midwest, and all black communities in the South.
Tashima Thomas (Ph.D. in Art History, Rutgers University)
Current Position: Visiting Assistant Professor, Pratt Institute
Project: “AfroGothic: The Haunted Imaginarium of the Black Atlantic”
The Afro-Gothic is an aesthetic means of coping with the trauma of colonial slavery. Thomas’ approach expands upon this definition by identifying the AfroGothic as a colonial-based system of aesthetics, centralized in the Afro-Caribbean, and present in contemporary politics of representation. At first glance, the Gothic by name is derived from a European literary tradition. However, the gothic by manifestation and mythology is a global phenomenon. In other words, every culture possesses its own form of ghost stories, monsters, or mythical creatures with supernatural powers. However, when the tropes of the gothic are closely examined, we are able to identify how constructions of the monstrous parallel constructions of race, particularly blackness, under the colonial project. A critical analysis of the Afro-Gothic that is rooted in archival materials and connected to contemporary black aesthetics is able to define how blackness is often represented as aberrant or gruesome. Whether through creative performance or the reality of everyday racialized violence, a pattern of Afro-Gothic sensibilities emerges in the present.
Current Position: Ph.D. Candidate in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory, University of Pennsylvania
Project: “The Middle Passage in Continental Terms: The Slave Ship and the Passages Before”
As slave ships set sail for the Americas time and time again, filled with captives confined to the hold, what was happening on the land from which they were dispossessed, and to the unfathomable in literature. Charles uses literary representations and historical documents of this era to assemble substantive sources for interpreting complex human experiences. She will account for subjects such as local women who were married off to European slavers as part of negotiation deals and those whom she refers to as the dispossessed, nearly deported captives who were destined for sale to European slavers and yet were sold elsewhere or rejected before the boarding of the slave ship. Charles’s dissertation, “The Middle Passage in Continental Terms: The Slave Ship and the Passages Before,” will consist of archives and contemporary, multilingual novels that represent these discounted passages in Africa, specifically those passages sequentially before a given slave ship that temporally continued long after the departure the slave ship. In doing so, she will reconsider theories of entanglement and intimacy specific to this period and yet too often predicated on the experiences aboard the slave ship or within the institution of racial enslavement in the Americas.
Current Position: Ph.D. Candidate in History, University of Oklahoma
Project: “Seizing Citizenship: African Americans, Native Americans, and the Pursuit of Citizenship in the Antebellum United States”
In 1862, United States Attorney General Edward Bates famously asked “Who is a citizen? What constitutes a citizen of the United States?” Bates would go on to write that “eighty years of practical enjoyment of citizenship, under the Constitution, have not sufficed to teach us either the exact meaning of the word or the constituent elements of the thing we prize so highly.” Citizenship in the antebellum United States was a fluid concept, one that 19th century Americans often understood in much different terms than Americans do today. In the antebellum period, citizenship was not associated primarily with individual rights but rather obligation and was largely performative. African Americans, Native Americans, and their allies also used the language of citizenship to challenge their marginal status in American society. Although they often understood citizenship in different terms from their white counterparts—and even from one another—freed black and Native activists saw the pursuit of citizenship as a calculated political decision designed to reshape American society along more egalitarian lines. While historians have explored how both African Americans and Native Americans understood and/or pursued citizenship during this period, they have not fully demonstrated how both groups influenced the meaning of citizenship in the process. Through a careful analysis of private correspondence, print culture (particularly newspapers and pamphlets), and congressional proceedings, Hooper argues in his work that by appealing to the federal government in their attempts to improve their position within or alongside American society, African Americans and Native Americans shaped citizenship from a local or state construct to a federal concern. Although the federal government took a more central role in governing citizenship after the Civil War and the passage of the 14th Amendment, African American and Native American activists played a critical role in laying the foundations for this transition in the antebellum period. As a Lapidus Center short-term fellow, he will develop his chapter concerning the passage of the Negro Seamen’s Acts in Southern states, particularly South Carolina, shaped conversations about citizenship in the antebellum period. Yet as southern states restricted the rights of free black sailors to protect their “peculiar institution,” he argues that they unconsciously ignited a discussion about citizenship and antislavery activism that transcended the boundaries of the United States.