Transnational History of the Americas

This is the course blog for HIST 525/615: Transnational History of the Americas.

6 thoughts on “Transnational History of the Americas”

  1. I shall take a stab at it and jump in as the first post. I am about 3 chapters in and the first thing I wanted to point out was that it is pretty easy to digest. I can definitely see a transnational concept being presented here in the relationship between Haiti’s slave rebellions and the rise of slavery and the sugar economy in Cuba. The most interesting concept that I am getting from these chapters so far is that of the almost ironic fact that in order for slavery and sugar to prosper in Cuba, the plantation owners imported slaves from Haiti (not exclusively) knowing full well that these men had witnessed and some even taken a part in a somewhat successful uprising. It is as if the Spanish wanted to have their cake and eat it too. It seems to me like the potential risks would far outweigh the immediate benefits. It also speaks to the racist white exceptionalism that the Spanish obviously believed in if they truly thought that they could control this revolution that began to take shape worldwide. The Spanish still did not seem to respect blacks as people or this movement as legitimate. Hopefully this can be a jumping off point for our blog discussion at least and I will be able to contribute more once I finish the book.

    1. Hi Alan,

      I think your identification of the primary transnational concept is right. While slavery was fighting to become a thing of the past in Haiti, it provided an opportunity for Cuba to assume the sugar economy as well as the massive increase in slavery they needed to make a profit. I think that was reason behind the purchase of Haitian slaves by the Cuban farmers even after the purchase the slaves from Haiti was prohibited by the Cuban and Spanish leaders. The farmers were concerned with their short term profit and not their long-term security.

      I think another transnational concept in this book is the concept that the Haitian Revolution had a pretty significant impact on the slave trade in the region. I think it brought the possibility of a slave revolt into reality and the ruling kingdoms of the time had to take notice and many made changes based on the Revolution. I would be interested in studying the impact the Haitian Revolution had, if any, on the abolishing of slavery and the events that lead up to it in the U.S.

      See you tomorrow!

      1. Thanks for your response Emily. The purchase and exporting of blacks during the Revolution in Haiti in Saint Domingue by the Cubans (fighting for Spain) while they had an alliance with the Black leaders made me ponder something else. What exactly were these black leader’s thoughts on slavery overall? I wonder this because not only did they consent to watching their own people be captured and sent to work on plantations in Cuba, but there is a common knowledge that there were Africans implicit in the slave trade themselves as well as free black men ( I don’t have any references at the time). The book ends with mentioning that the transnational idea of a “free Haiti” was one that even the actual free Haiti would struggle to resolve as is evident in the part of their constitution that refers to labor. Yes, these black men were now free to rule themselves but did they still enforce a slave like system of labor and were the leaders ok with this just because the masters themselves were now black?

    2. Hey Alan,

      Your thoughts from the beginning of the book completely reflected my own. The concept that jumped out to me right from the start was the multiple mentions of historical irony. Just as you pointed out, Ferrer notes the arrival of Haitians to Cuba, implicating the “first slavery” as a propeller of “second slavery”. I was particularly struck by her description of news dispersion via the slave trade. She writes that the boats carrying news of uprising and revolution were the same carrying slaves to be sold, which in hindsight seems incredible.

      Ferrer’s approach makes me wonder if one of the benefits to transnational history is the ability to reveal the often overlooked irony of the past. I may be wrong, but it seems that if one were to study the Haitian revolution alone, without acknowledging the effect on the Cuban sugar plantations, or vice versa, the irony would not be as clear. I guess this also leads me to wonder if acknowledging human irony when studying transnational history is necessarily important?

  2. Freedom’s Mirror takes an in-depth look at the impact of the Haitian Revolution on slavery in the Spanish colony of Cuba. The transnational study explores the transformation of Cuba from a quiet, mainly subsistence farming colony to a mass sugar producer. Due to the revolution in Haiti, the slave traders needed to find another market for their slaves in the area and an opportunity to seize the sugar crop in the region presented itself. Cuba capitalized on this and while Haiti was leaving slavery in its history, Cuba was just developing its role in slavery.

    Along with detailing the ever changing alliances and oppositions in the region (and among their rulers), the book also takes an interesting look at the impact Haiti and its revolution had on slavery on both sides of the Atlantic. Those in support of the slave trade had to question whether there could be uprising among their own slaves and the slave populations in other countries/colonies had an inspiration of sorts. Haiti after its revolution was not perfect, however it accomplished what many believed was impossible; that the black population of a nation or colony could rise up, fight back and win.

  3. Ada Ferrer’s work, Freedom’s Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution, has clearly used a transnational approach to the study of the events of late 18th and early 19th century in the Spanish Caribbean as well as across the Atlantic, in Western Europe. In beginning her work with the Haitian revolution, a history I personally was unfamiliar with, she clearly explains the connection to the rise of Cuban sugar plantations. Furthermore, she acknowledges the impact the former slaves of Haiti had on Spain’s battle with France, the temporary territorial loss of San Domingo, and the final uprising ensuring Haitian liberty. In this approach, the vast impact of the initial Haitian uprising becomes clear.

    Her historical analysis is far reaching and highly informational, however, I wonder to what extent the study of transnational history might reach too far and consequently lose important details. I do not believe this book was too all-encompassing, but the amount of information I received made it clear that attempting to make too many transnational links could become detrimental to the strength of a historical work.

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