This essay investigates a moment for Caribbean knowledge production in which intellectuals, gathered in Haiti in 1944 for an International Congress of Philosophy, questioned whether to politicize knowledge or to seclude it from politics. Focusing on Aimé Césaire’s “Poetry and Knowledge,” the author compares the 1944 conference paper with the version published in Tropiques in 1945 to show a feedback loop between poetry and politics. The war, the isolation, and the intellectual evolution of Tropiques coalesced to form a new environment that prompted Césaire to rethink the relation between poetic practice and political relevance. Illuminating the relation between poetry and politics, “Poetry and Knowledge” is symptomatic of an epistemological shift from poetic writing geared toward political actions to poetic knowledge uncorrupted by political considerations that prepared Césaire for undertaking in 1945 a new literary and political trajectory.
Yohann C. Ripert is an assistant professor of French and francophone studies at Stetson University. His research focuses on transatlantic intellectual history and African diplomacy, and his work has appeared in African Studies Review, Lingua Romana, and the Journal of African Philosophy. He is currently completing “Senghor for the Ages,” the first critical translation of a collection of political and philosophical essays written by Léopold Sédar Senghor between 1935 and 1985.
Robert Wedderburn’s London-based periodical, Axe Laid to the Root (1817), disseminates his vision for a transatlantic alliance between the radicals of England’s lower classes and the enslaved people in the West Indies. Throughout the Axe’s six issues, he challenges the abolitionist narrative that liberal, individualist freedoms should be spread from England to the West Indies. Wedderburn instead instructs his white, lower-class readers in London about already existing African Jamaican practices of insurrectionary land and food reclamation. First, he champions the provision grounds as a land commons that produce food sovereignty and communal identity. Then he represents the Jamaican Maroons’ local ecological knowledge as a source of resistance to plantation economies. Using Sylvia Wynter’s environmental theories of resistance, this essay argues that Wedderburn’s political theories champion African Jamaican land and food commons as a model for abolitionist futures.
Katey Castellano is a professor of English and coordinator of environmental humanities at James Madison University. She is the author of The Ecology of British Romantic Conservatism (2013) and was awarded an Eccles Centre Fellowship at the British Library to continue researching Robert Wedderburn and the migration of black Caribbean thought to Romantic-era London. Her essay in this issue is part of her book project, “Romantic Commons: Resisting Enclosure in Great Britain and the Caribbean, 1750–1850.”
While interned by the Nazis in Belgium and Bavaria during World War II, the little-known Surinamese artist Josef Nassy (1904–76) created a series of paintings and drawings documenting his experiences and those of other black prisoners. Nassy’s artworks uniquely register the presence of Caribbean, African, and African American prisoners in the Nazi camp system. While the Nassy Collection at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum cannot render transparent a wartime experience that has gone largely unrecorded, it illustrates how shifting from a textual to a visual lens can enable an unremembered history to enter our field of vision, thereby generating an alternative wartime narrative. After tracing Nassy’s family history in Suriname and the conditions of his European incarceration, this essay discusses two paintings that demonstrate the significance of visual art in the context of black civilian internment—for both the artist-prisoner and the researcher.
Sarah Phillips Casteel is a professor of English at Carleton University, where she is cross-appointed to the Institute of African Studies. She is the author of Calypso Jews: Jewishness in the Caribbean Literary Imagination (2016) and the coeditor, with Heidi Kaufman, of Caribbean Jewish Crossings: Literary History and Creative Practice (2019). She is currently writing a study of literary and visual representations of black victims of Nazi persecution.
This essay provides a meditation on the field of Caribbean intellectual history. Commencing with a reflection on the second edition of the Caribbean Festival of Arts (Carifesta 1976), the essay proceeds to outline the contours of the field through a consideration of eight relatively discrete though overlapping categories. It argues that the study of Caribbean intellectual history gives us more conscious control over the articulation and reproduction of critical ideas about the region over time and space, alerts us to transformations in the conditions of Caribbean intellectual production, and reminds us of the existential crises the region faces in the third decade of the twenty-first century.
Aaron Kamugisha is a professor of Caribbean and Africana thought at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill. He is the editor of ten books and special issues of journals on Caribbean and Africana thought and is the author of Beyond Coloniality: Citizenship and Freedom in the Caribbean Intellectual Tradition (2019).
This essay considers the participation of Port-au-Prince women in municipal and national politics during the later decades of the nineteenth century. The growth of Port-au-Prince changed the dynamics of these contests, as newly arrived women joined expanding popular neighborhoods, and many assumed a central role in feeding the city. Women moved freely through the heart of the capital and the immediate countryside on personal, commercial, and sometimes directly political itineraries. While formally excluded from electoral politics, working women made their political desires well known, as they exerted an influence on the military movements that toppled the administration several times. These armed contests, as well as the stratification and militarization of the political scene during peacetime, provoked gendered violence. Simultaneously, working women confronted disdain from journalists who would discipline the women’s great influence. Nevertheless, these women commanded considerable respect in political contests that often seemed to have as their stakes the very independence of the nation itself.
Anne Eller is an associate professor of history and an affiliate of Spanish and Portuguese and African American studies at Yale University. She is the author of We Dream Together: Dominican Independence, Haiti, and the Fight for Caribbean Freedom (2016), which crafts a deep history of the Haitian Revolution and emancipation on Dominican soil during the Spanish reoccupation in the 1860s. Her current research, “Other 1898s,” considers the relationship of working people with the state in the Caribbean in the 1890s.
When South African–born Peter Abrahams moved to Jamaica in 1956, he thought he had found a racial paradise. Over the next six decades as a Jamaican, his understanding of race in Jamaica was complicated after independence. His last two novels—This Island Now (1966) and The View from Coyaba (1985)—fictionalize the transition to independence in the anglophone Caribbean and how that transition related to the set of concerns unfolding across the rest of the black world. This essay traces Abrahams’s thought on questions of race and decolonization through a close reading of his Caribbean fiction and how he came to theorize the literal and conceptual space of the Caribbean—the island—as a strategy for freedom. In so doing, the author asks, What are the limits of the Caribbean novel of the era of decolonization (1960s–80s) in the anglophone Caribbean? What constitutes it? And how does it articulate liberation?
Victoria J. Collis-Buthelezi is a senior lecturer in English at the University of Johannesburg. She is also a senior research fellow at the Johannesburg Institute of Advanced Studies and a research associate at the Institute for Research in African American Studies, Columbia University. Some of her work on black intellectual and literary histories has appeared in Callaloo, Small Axe, boundary2, and the Journal of Arts and the Humanities.
This essay traces the roots of marginalization of the Dutch Caribbean in Caribbean studies, approaching these roots as an integral part of a shared Caribbean intellectual history. In the era of twentieth-century Caribbean anticolonialism, nationalism, and decolonization, local intellectuals emerged in the public arena throughout the Caribbean region. The author studies the intellectual interplays and incubations taking place, asking if and how Dutch Caribbean thinkers and writers were involved. Her analysis finds that neglect and erasure impacted Dutch Caribbean studies first and foremost from within. Mid-twentieth-century Dutch Caribbean anticolonial intellectuals have confronted strong oppression and retaliations, leading to obscured publications as well as to considerable societal and archival silences. This reflects on the self-image of the Dutch Caribbean and an observed otherness attitude among Dutch Caribbean intellectuals.
Margo Groenewoud obtained her PhD at the Universities of Curaçao and Leiden. She is an assistant professor at the University of Curaçao Dr. Moises da Costa Gomez and a researcher in the Traveling Caribbean Heritage project and Caribbean Studies and Digital Humanities Institute. As a social historian, she specializes in the twentieth-century Dutch Caribbean, with interests in postcolonialism, social justice, cultural history, and digital humanities.
This essay argues for an approach to postcolonial Caribbean intellectual history that moves beyond the national archive to rely on a globally dispersed archive. It uses Rastafari repatriation to Tanzania to highlight the intellectual history of the movement and to demonstrate the extent to which the repatriation created a transnational documentary trail with a set of archival imperatives that renders the national archive insufficient for the reconstruction of postcolonial Caribbean intellectual history.
Monique A. Bedasse is an associate professor of history at Washington University, St. Louis, where she teaches courses in African history, Caribbean history, and Africana studies. Broadly, her research interests include the intellectual, political, and social history of decolonization, Pan-Africanism, African diasporic politics, and transnational approaches to history. She is the author of the prizewinning Jah Kingdom: Rastafarians, Tanzania, and Pan-Africanism in the Age of Decolonization (2017).
This essay explores the genealogy of historian and anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s writings as related to broader trends in historical scholarship. The author suggests that it was through Silencing the Past’s acceptance and ascendance within the very North Atlantic “guild” that Trouillot deconstructs in his historical writings that the ideas of nineteenth-century Haitian historians such as Baron de Vastey, Hérard Dumesle, Beaubrun Ardouin, and Thomas Madiou produced an immeasurable influence on the direction of historical scholarship across the world. The author argues that the influence of these nineteenth-century Haitian authors can be seen everywhere in social history, especially in the concept of history from below, even though most historians in Europe and the United States have never even heard the names of these other Haitian authors.
Marlene L. Daut is a professor of African diaspora studies at the University of Virginia. She is the author of Tropics of Haiti: Race and the Literary History of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World, 1789–1865 (2015) and Baron de Vastey and the Origins of Black Atlantic Humanism (2017). She is currently finishing an intellectual history of Haiti, tentatively titled “Awakening the Ashes.”
What is the relationship of the natural world to memory, personal and cultural? How does nature create memorials for the large and subtle histories that occurred? The sea, the land, and the flora all play a role. Echoing the dichotomy of the Caribbean landscape, the vital foliage cloaks the soil that nurtures and buries our histories.
In my narratives I hope to create a seasonal memorial. Cycles of memory that are embedded in weather patterns and seasons. A young girl who is both ancestor and descendant. Her journey begins inland, and she makes her way to shore only to return to the center. Her impulse is to perform this ritual as a form of (re)membering what was lost/taken/forgotten. Traveling across (in)visible boundaries toward the shore.
Deborah Jack (whose work appears on the cover of this issue) is an artist with affiliations to the Netherlands and Saint Martin. Her work, based in video/sound installation, photography, painting, and text, currently deals with transcultural existence, memory, the effects of colonialism, and mythology through re-memory. As a multimedia artist, she engages a variety of strategies for mining the intersections of cultural memory and climate change, while negotiating a global present.
This book discussion essay addresses critical questions concerning historical methodologies when working with the archives of Atlantic-world slavery. Thinking with Hazel V. Carby’s Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands, the essay considers the power of historical memoir to narrate the violence of the British empire through family stories. The long-intertwined histories of England and the Caribbean inevitably lead to slavery’s archives, and in the final section of the book, Carby describes the lives of her earliest ancestors on a Jamaican coffee plantation. In response, the essay author revisits her hesitations regarding slavery’s archive and the stakes of approaching the silences of enslaved people in the records. Drawing on pivotal work in black feminist studies, this essay rearticulates the nuances of Saidiya Hartman’s “critical fabulation” to bring attention back to archival boundaries and the limits of historical methodologies that make certain imaginings most difficult.
Marisa J. Fuentes is the Presidential Term Chair in African American History and an associate professor of history and women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University. She is the author of Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive (2016) and the coeditor of volumes 1 and 2 of Scarlet and Black: Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History (2016, 2020) and “Slavery and the Archive,” a special issue of History of the Present (2016).
Through a combination of critical memoir and family history, Hazel V. Carby’s Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands offers an intimate history of empire—an excavation of close connections across space and time, of empire’s presence in the most intimate spaces and relationships, and of the sedimented yet contingent racial logics underlying constructions of Englishness and Britishness. This brief discussion essay considers the book’s eccentric form and method as a challenge to imperial history, its methodological commitments, and its archival moorings. Carby offers a powerful critique of narratives of the black presence and racism in postwar Britain that center on the arrival of the HMT Empire Windrush in 1948. By way of conclusion, the essay follows Carby in revisiting the so-called Brown Baby debate at the end of World War II, an episode in the reracialization of Britain that offers glimpses of the diversity of perspectives and political imaginaries among people of African descent and their extensive ties to a wider black Atlantic.
Marc Matera is an associate professor of history and a codirector of the Center for Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the author of Black London: The Imperial Metropolis and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century (2015) and the coauthor, with Susan Kingsley Kent, of The Global 1930s: The International Decade (2017) and, with Misty L. Bastian and Susan Kingsley Kent, of The Women’s War of 1929: Gender and Violence in Colonial Nigeria (2011).
This discussion essay on Hazel V. Carby’s Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands considers the contrasting ways the dominant society and the people of the African diaspora approach and regard research into family histories. Beginning with reflections on the somewhat dreaded though seemingly benign question, “Where are you from?,” the essay explores the shortcomings and racial biases of popular genealogical websites, contrasting these with the deeply and profoundly nuanced ways Carby’s book tackles fundamental questions, shortcomings, and difficulties in endeavors to trace ancestry. Along the way, the essay references Alex Haley’s Roots and then takes up the Moynihan Report and Maury Povich’s daytime TV show, Maury, both of which, the author asserts, reflect the pathology of depicting the black father as absent and deviant. The essay concludes with considerations of an inevitably settled yet nevertheless creatively fertile “mixed upness” of the creation of African diaspora family histories.
Eddie Chambers is a professor in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas, Austin, teaching African diaspora art history. He is the author of Roots and Culture: Cultural Politics in the Making of Black Britain (2017) and World Is Africa: Writings on Diaspora Art (2020) and the editor of Routledge Companion to African American Art History (2020).
Reflecting on arguments and insights in the discussion essays by Eddie Chambers, Marisa Fuentes, and Marc Matera on the author’s Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands, this response essay focuses on the dilemma of black feminist critique, practice, methodology, and pedagogy in a constant struggle with and against the colonial archive. It poses questions about the possibilities and limits of developing alternative ways for narrating racialized lives into being.
Hazel V. Carby is the Charles C. and Dorothea S. Dilley Professor Emeritus of African American Studies and a professor emeritus of American studies, Yale University, and a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts. She is the author, most recently, of Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands (2019), winner of the 2020 British Academy’s Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding and finalist for the 2020 John Hope Franklin Publication Prize (American Studies Association).