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Ecological Chains of Unfreedom: Contours of Black Sovereignty in the Atlantic World

Abstract

Black sovereignty in the Atlantic world pivots, as in the case of Haiti, from a haunting apparition to a haunting recognition, never quite forming a tangible, and legal, sovereignty unto itself. Haiti's tangled and complicated geopolitical positioning within the Atlantic world gives this spectral state of being meaning. Sovereignty, or, as I will suggest, the processes of recognizing sovereignty and the material shape of its appearance, imbues Haiti's sovereign claims with a specific racialized threshold. Reading along Haiti's racio-national edge also illuminates the tenuous position on the international stage of Liberia and Abyssinia – two nations, along with Haiti, that represented the only nation-states in the Atlantic world by the end of the nineteenth century with a majority black population and independence. Although a small representative group, these sites deserve far more scrutiny within the fields of race and sovereignty studies by legal scholars and scholars of transnational American studies, especially because of the ways the nations battled for recognition and respect amongst other nation-states who may have attached derogatory notions of humanity onto the political work and rights of these self-avowed black nations. Haiti is an important example of this phenomenon.

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Michael J. Drexler , “Haiti, Modernity, and U. S. Identities,” Early American Literature, 43, 2 (2008), 453–65, 454

J. Michael Dash , Haiti and the United States: National Stereotypes and the Literary Imagination (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997)

Paula Chakravartty and Denise Ferreira da Silva , “Accumulation, Dispossession, and Debt: The Racial Logic of Global Capitalism – An Introduction,” American Quarterly, 64, 3 (Sept. 2012), 361–85, 364

David Scott , Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004)

Sibylle Fischer , Modernity Disavowed: Haiti and the Cultures of Slavery in the Age of Revolution (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004)

John Agnew , “Sovereignty Regimes: Territoriality and State Authority in Contemporary World Politics,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 95, 2 (June 2005), 437–61

Jens Bartelson , A Genealogy of Sovereignty (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995)

Graham Huggan and Helen Tiffin , eds., Postcolonial Ecocriticism: Literature, Animals, Environment (London: Routledge, 2009)

Elizabeth DeLoughrey and George B. Handley , “Introduction: Toward an Aesthetics of the Earth,” in DeLoughrey and Handley eds., Postcolonial Ecologies: Literatures of the Environment (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011)

Jennifer James , “‘Buried in Guano’: Race, Labor, and Sustainability,” American Literary History, 24, 1 (Spring 2012)

Christina Duffy Burnett , “The Edges of Empire and the Limits of Sovereignty: American Guano Islands,” American Quarterly, 57, 3 (Sept. 2005), 779803

Gregory Cushman , Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World: A Global Ecological History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013)

Alfred Crosby , Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900–1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)

Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann , “Climate Leviathan,” Antipode, 45, 1 (2013), 122

Rob Nixon , Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011)

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Journal of American Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-8758
  • EISSN: 1469-5154
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-american-studies
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