Past Dissertation Descriptions

Sergio Pinto-Handler


"The Last Emancipation: Rio de Janeiro and the Atlantic History of Slavery and Abolition, 1879-1900".

This dissertation examines how abolitionists reworked the history of Atlantic emancipation to bolster the argument that abolition could open an era of social peace, economic prosperity and political stability in Brazil. I explore how activists sought to realize this vision by learning from historical examples in order to formulate reformist and revolutionary visions for a more equitable Brazilian future. I suggest that the manner in which history was injected into the abolition question meant that when slavery was abolished in 1888, activists had downplayed the prospect that racial hierarchy and political exclusion would survive or become more rigid after abolition. This led to a particular, transnational and comparative way of remembering Brazilian emancipation and to a corollary mythology of racial exceptionalism. By using comparative history to link emancipation with national progress, abolitionists unwittingly helped lend durability to residual forms of inequality and exclusion that were often as pronounced as those inherent to slavery itself. 

Course: AADS 5521 Comparative Slavery in the Atlantic World
From New England to Brazil, American slavery was central to the emergence of the modern world. This course examines the comparative history of Atlantic slavery, tracing the institution’s evolution from an engine of colonial expansion, to the backbone of an industrial plantation economy. We will focus particularly on the lived experience of slavery, examining how people made sense of, survived, and challenged enslavement across diverse historical contexts. By comparing the different combinations of racism, material inequality, and political exclusion that undergirded centuries of enslavement, we will attempt to understand how and why slavery’s legacies continue to burden an entire hemisphere..

Tatiana Cruz


"Boston's Struggle in Black and Brown: Racial Politics, Community Development, and Grassroots Organizing, 1965-1985".

This project is the first historical investigation of Boston’s racial politics in the “post civil rights era.” In a comparative multiracial study of Boston’s African American and Latino communities, this dissertation utilizes a “bottom up” perspective to expose the limits of a black/white racial binary order. This work begins by examining postwar urban community development in Boston, a city that embodies the complexities of the African Diaspora in the American urban North. Paying close attention to the role of black-brown im/migration into Boston’s emerging ghettos, it considers how these communities intersected, overlapped, and engaged with one another and how this, in turn, shaped their racial and ethnic formation. This project highlights the ambiguous racial position of Afro-Latinos in the city, considering what it meant to be both Latino and black. It also complicates what it meant to be black or African American in Boston by considering the role of migrants from across the African Diaspora like Cape Verde, the West Indies, and Haiti.

Course:  AADS5520 Rethinking Civil Rights: Black/Brown Activism

The narrative of the civil rights movement remains centered on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and nonviolent protests in the American South. This course challenges this story and transforms the way we think about this history. Shifting away from top-down perspectives and national organizations in the South, we focus on "bottom up" history in areas like the urban North. The course centers on black/brown grassroots organizing and the role of ordinary people, particularly women, in creating and sustaining the movement. We consider various protest strategies and more radical visions of revolution from the 1960s to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Tyesha Maddox


"From Invisible to Immigrants: Political Activism and the Construction of Caribbean American Identity, 1890-1940"

The early twentieth century witnessed the formation of numerous Anglophone Caribbean American benevolent associations and mutual aid societies. This project highlights how participation in these social and cultural organizations created kinship networks that both empowered immigrants to form a collective "Caribbean" identity and unleashed a political activism among immigrants fighting alongside African Americans to insure their equality in the tumultuous era of American Jim Crow. Despite excellent work on themes such as labor and remittance sending, scholars examining immigration narratives neglect the importance of this early period of history, as well as social and cultural organizations as vital to the development of Caribbean American identity and a wider black identity. However, without an examination of these organizations we are left with an inadequate analysis of the way in which transnational identity formation occurs. This study will remedy this gap in the literature by examining these organizations in order to illuminate the relationship between culture, politics, the role of women, and identity formation in the context of immigration. This work illustrates that it is in the framework of U.S. social and cultural organizations in the early twentieth century that Caribbean immigrants first saw themselves as Caribbean, developing a unified identity, which did not exist prior to immigration to the U.S. Through participation in these same organizations, immigrants were able to work together with African Americans; ultimately, championing issues that affected the black community as a whole.

Course: AADS 5519 Defining Freedom: Migration, Labor and Transnationalism in Post-Emancipation British Caribbean

Migration is a theme integral to the history of the Caribbean. Nowhere has this been truer than the British West Indies, which established a long tradition of mobility in the century following Emancipation in 1838. This course examines blacks in the Caribbean immediately after the abolishment of slavery and follows their migration, for both seasonal and long-term work projects, throughout the Caribbean-basin. This course discusses the ways in which emancipated blacks defined freedom, highlighting the connection between mobility and freedom. Further, students will analyze the themes of race, gender, identity, class, and nation in the context of Caribbean migration.

Amber Murrey-Ndewa


"Lifescapes of a Pipedream: a Mixed-Tape on Structural Violence, Resistance, and Struggle in Two Villages Along the Chand-Cameroon Oil Pipeline"

At the center of this research are the structural violences that accompanied the implementation of the Chad-Cameroon Oil Pipeline, represented through the narratives, perspectives and resistance practices of the people who live alongside its right-of-way in Kribiand Nanga-Eboko in Cameroon. This research project will demonstrate that there are longstanding and historically grounded understandings of structural violence(s) in Cameroon based on witchcraft epistemologies and that these frameworks problematize and enrich scholarly theories of structural violence and resistance. Critical scholarship reveals the violence of large-scale development projects that fail to consider local epistemologies and cultural sensitivities (Scott 1998; Ferguson 2008) and my project responds to this lacuna by seeking to understand local narratives of violence and resistance within agrarian landscapes and lifescapes, as rural people are (re)incorporated into the structures of modern capitalism.

Course: AADS 5517 Geographies of Violence and Resistance in Africa

From resistance against Shell Oil in Nigeria’s Ogoniland to the revolutionary movement led by Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso, this course looks at geographies of violence and resistance. Using case studies across West and Central Africa, we examine the routes/roots of protest movements and "nonmovements" against colonial, neo-imperial, and structural forms of violence. Challenging ethnic, religious, and race-based interpretations that naturalize violence in African places, we outline a comprehensive historical and spatial examination of violence, emphasizing that resistance and violence have particular geographies. We become acquainted with debates on the interconnections between violence, space, and development in Human Geography.

Justin Leroy


“Race, Empire, and the Global Intellectual Tradition of the Black Atlantic, 1750-1850.”

This work reconsiders the history of black political thought in the British Atlantic between the American Revolution and the first decade of the twentieth century by engaging black literary and oratical responses to the expansion of Anglo-American imperialism. Despite the prominence of recent scholarship on the nineteenth-century British Atlantic world focuses on the constitutive role of empire in national self-fashioning, the study of black political thought in this period remains framed by national boundaries and discrete periodization centered on emancipation. This scholarship breaks from these forms of spatial and temporal categorization by arguing that black thinkers articulated the persistent importance of struggles againts empire both before and after emancipation.

Course: BK 515 Race and Capitalism: Blackness in Global Economy from Slavery to Mass Incarceration.

This course explores how violence against black bodies has been an integral component of global economic development from the eighteenth century to the present. Focusing broadly on the African Diaspora, we will study the history of capitalism's racial violence as it leverages cultural nationality, and sexuality, among others. We will critique relationships among capitalist as they develop from histories of racial slavery, colonial expansion, ghettoization, mass incarceration, and overseas warfare.

Siphiwe Ndlovu


“‘I Live by a Stranger of another Nation:’ Land, Travel and Belonging in a Southern African Country.”

This study discusses the political need to focus on land in order to simplify belonging throughout Zimbabwe’s history and the impact that travel has had in problematizing this over-simplified sense of “national” belonging. Through an analysis of Rhodesian and Zimbabwean works of fiction and non-fiction, I examine how travel makes all belonging unsettled, and how this unsettledness can be productive in making us re-think and interrogate “African” identity in a post-colonial, post-essentialist, post-nativist, and post-race era.

Course: BK 518 Women Writers of Africa & the African Diaspora

This course comparatively looks at portrayals of girlhood, womanhood, sisterhood, and motherhood in the works of women writers in Africa and the African Diaspora.

Peace Medie


“Theorizing Policy Implementation: Enforcing Anti-Gender-Based Violence Laws in Post-Conflict Liberia”

The central objective of this project is to understand why law enforcement officers (LEOs) deviate from their agencies’ official directives when they respond to some forms of gender-based violence (GBV). It also seeks to understand how this deviation affects governments’ efforts to reduce levels of these crimes and how the women’s movement influences the strategies that LEOs adopt.

Course: BK 511 Race & Politics in the African Diaspora

Subtitle: Gender and In (Security) in Conflict and Post-Conflict Settings

This course aims to introduce students to the theories of gender and security. It also seeks to foster an understanding of how gender affects men and women's experiences of (in)security during and after conflict and, of how (in)security constitutes gendered norms and practices. The course draws on debates and lessons from across the globe but focuses on conflict and post-conflict settings in Africa, the shifting demographics and the cultural transformation they bring with them.

Noah Tamarkin


"(Lost) Tribes to Citizens: Lemba ‘Black Jews’ Engage the South African State"

“(Lost) Tribes to Citizens: Lemba Black Jews Engage the South African State” traces Lemba people’s efforts to position themselves as diasporic Jews and as indigenous Africans in pursuit of political and cultural citizenship within and beyond South Africa. The Lemba participated in DNA tests to prove their Jewish ancestry and have been the subject of debates about ‘lost tribes of Israel’ and ‘black Jews’ since the late 19th century. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in rural villages and townships, this project examines contemporary Lemba politics of citizenship and belonging against a backdrop of structural inequalities that survived South Africa’s late 20th century political transformation. By moving beyond essentialist ideas that position Lemba people as either ‘real’ Jews or as the products of invented traditions, I emphasize their multiple subjectivities and demonstrate that their cultural identities are meaningful to Lemba people as they struggle to find a viable place in their worlds.

Course: BK 362 South African Struggles, South African Lives

In South Africa, “the struggle” often refers to mobilizations against the racist Apartheid regime that was in power from 1948 to 1994. In this class, the struggle against Apartheid is just one site through which we will study meanings and practices of struggle in South Africa. As we examine various struggles for independence, livelihoods, rights and justice before, during and after Apartheid, we will also consider the role of struggle within South Africa. We will pay close attention to the struggles that people engage and enact in their lives, and we will approach discourses and meanings of concepts like culture, belonging, and politics as sites of struggle in and of themselves.