Competition: US & Canada
My research and writing focus on the histories of revolutions and empires in Europe, the United States, and West Africa. I seek to create dialogues between social theory and transnational archival research that open plebeian and non-Eurocentric perspectives on the past. I am the author of Anthropology and Antihumanism in Imperial Germany (Chicago, 2001) and Alabama in Africa: Booker T. Washington, the German Empire, and the Globalization of the New South (Princeton, 2010), as well as numerous articles and essays. I also edited Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Civil War in the United States (International Publishers, 2016). Many of my publications can be found online here.
After completing a PhD in history at the University of California, San Diego, where I studied European intellectual history and science studies, I joined the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at Columbia University. In 2000 I moved to the George Washington University, where I am now professor of history. In the 2017-18 academic year I will be a member of the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.
The Guggenheim fellowship will allow me to work on my current book project, “Conjuring Freedom: A Global History of the American Civil War.” “Conjuring Freedom” offers not only a new interpretation of the US Civil War but also a model for rethinking archetypical national events like the US Civil War from a perspective that is transnational, deprovincializing, and ‘from below.’ Beginning with the multi-racial and multi-ethnic plebeian intellectual and political worlds that intersected in the mid-19th-century US, I study a revolution against slavery that exceeded the Civil War both spatially and temporally. I focus on political traditions informed by African American conjure and German-American communism. (Conjure was the North American counterpart of Haitian Vodou and other Afro-Atlantic religions whose connections to the politics of slavery have been well studied.) Those who turned the war from a battlefield contest over the fate of the Union into a grassroots and often illegal revolution against slavery advanced longstanding democratic struggles that began in Africa and Europe well before 1861 and continued long after 1865. This revolution against slavery was not a discrete struggle within the Civil War: it played a decisive role in the Union victory, especially in the Mississippi River Valley, where the most important Union advances and political innovations, if not the best known battles, took place. “Lincoln and them other big emancipator men,” as one former slave called the Union leadership, depended on this revolution but also could not tolerate its radically democratic aims. The dialectic between revolution against slavery and war for the Union helps explain the contradictory outcomes of the war itself, which ended slavery but also inaugurated new forms of coercion in the Gilded Age North and the Jim Crow South. With Conjuring Freedom I thus also offer a model of how transnational/global history, history from below, and deprovincializing approaches to social theory not only reveal new historical actors and events, but also force us to reconsider some of the most venerable topics of historical writing, including the American Civil War.