Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Two studies in Fear and Violence in the Comparative Atlantic Slave Experience

On the American Studies Association web gateway to American studies journals worldwide are two articles with interesting takes on the role of fear in the comparative experience of slavery and its aftermath.

The first is Tobias Green, Fear and Atlantic History: Some observations derived from the Cape Verde Islands and the African Atlantic, in Atlantic Studies. Green writes:
The history of the Atlantic necessarily encompasses a permanent dialogue with fear, but analysis of this fear is often absent from many historical discussions. Historical documentation is difficult to cite in such an analysis, as human nature often prevents people from writing of their fears. Yet the slightest pause for reflection confirms the importance of grasping the role of fear if the historical changes that accompanied the Age of Discovery are to be fully understood. Concentrating on fifteenth-seventeenth centuries accounts of the Cape Verde islands and Senegambia, this paper elucidates how the role of fear can be discerned through documentation and physical remains. It shows how the modernization of consciousness required by the fifteenth-century voyages of discovery can be interpreted as a distancing mechanism provoked by fear. Studying the physical remains of the first European settlement in the tropics, Ribeira Grande, it suggests that urban architecture betrays the multiplicity of fears felt by its early settlers. In addition, analysing the conceptual framework of navigators and settlers, it shows how familiar categories from fifteenth-century Iberia were subsequently applied to the newly discovered geographical spaces. The paper argues that this web of interactions stimulates thought as to the role of fear in other places and during other times. The use of alien concepts in the Cape Verde islands and the African Atlantic was pivotal in the process of dehumanisation, which enabled the transatlantic slave trade to endure. Properly seen, fear created a conceptual stasis that allowed damaging and long-lasting stereotypes to develop-thereby securing for this elusive emotion a lasting place in the genesis of the contemporary Atlantic.

In the journal Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies, is R.L. Watson's article, Abolition, Violence, and RapeThoughts on the Post-Emancipation Experiencesof the United States and the Cape Colony. Here's the abstract:
While there are a number of similarities between the experiences of the United States and the Cape Colony immediately after the abolition of slavery, the levels of violence in the two societies present a vivid contrast. Nothing at the Cape remotely resembles the savagry of the U.S. experience. This article speculates about the reasons for the contrast and suggests that, among other things, the absence of a fear of ex-slave rapists contributed to the relatively peaceful Cape experience.