Seeking Freedom: The Underground Railroad in the Mid-Atlantic

From H-Atlantic, June 2, 2021

Lincoln University and Voices Underground 2021 CFP

Lincoln University, Pennsylvania

March 31, April 1-2, 2022

The Lincoln University Center for the Study of the Underground Railroad and Voices Underground, an organization focused on preserving and sharing the Underground Railroad’s story, welcomes proposals for its inaugural 2022 conference, Seeking Freedom: The Underground Railroad in the Mid-Atlantic. The conference will take place at Lincoln University on March 31, April 1-2, 2022.

We welcome proposals from all fields and disciplines, from historians, preservationists, independent scholars, social scientists, community leaders, undergraduate, and graduate students. Of particular interest are the lower eastern middle states of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and southern New York.  We encourage individuals who are researching sites of memory, the role of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) such as Lincoln University and Cheyney University, and the importance of the free and enslaved African American community through the end of the Civil War to submit. We also desire papers that explore any or all the diverse complexities of the UGRR, including known and unknown physical sites (homes, corridors, routes) and those that extract the voices of the unheard, invisible, and underrated. As such, we welcome research that demythologizes the story and memory of the UGRR. Individuals may also suggest and write on topics that are not listed if the subject falls within this symposium’s overall theme. The following list provides possible areas of inquiry.

  • African Agency
  • Architecture
  • Biographies
  • Community Organizing
  • Economy
  • Law in the 19th century
  • Literature
  • Politics
  • Propaganda
  • Preservation
  • Religious Institutions
  • Resistance and Violence
  • Spirituals/Songs
  • Women in the UGRR

The organizing committee will consider individual papers, panels, and roundtables. Panels and roundtables must designate or suggest a commentator and moderator separate from the presenters. Each participant will be allotted twenty minutes to present.

Proposals for panels and roundtables should include a brief session description (one to two pages), the theme, a 300-word maximum abstract for each participant’s paper, and a short bio (200 words max) of each participant including the moderator, chair and/or commentator. Proposals for individual presentations should also include a 300-word abstract and a short bio (200 words max). All submissions should include each person’s C.V. or résumé (5-page max) including contact information (complete mailing address, the institution or organization’s name (if applicable), an email address, and phone number). Please use the following link to submit.

Participants are responsible for their own lodging and transportation. 

Priority will be given to prospective participants who submit by October 15, 2021. After this date, the committee will review submissions on a rolling basis. We plan to announce the acceptance of regular submissions by December 15, 2021. 

Inquiries can be sent to

For further information please visit           

Convening Committee:

Dr. Nafeesa Muhammad 

Professor of History                                              

Lincoln University, PA

Dr. Gregory Thompson

Executive Director | Voices Underground

Dr. Paul Finkelman


Gratz College

Contact Info:  Dr. Nora Lynn Gardner at 

Contact Email:


LeBlanc on Ogborn, ‘The Freedom of Speech: Talk and Slavery in the Anglo-Caribbean World’ by H-Net Reviews

Miles Ogborn. The Freedom of Speech: Talk and Slavery in the Anglo-Caribbean World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019. x + 309 pp. $35.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-226-65768-4; $105.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-226-65592-5. 

Reviewed by Dylan LeBlanc (La Lumiere School) Published on H-Atlantic (May, 2021) Commissioned by Bryan Rindfleisch (Marquette University) 

Printable Version:

The Stakes and Sounds of Talk in Atlantic Slavery

This book is a crafty reinterpretation of the spaces of Atlantic slavery as soundscapes of power. In general, Miles Ogborn argues that “talk”—the aggregate and discrete dynamics of speech and speaking—both reinforced and had the potential to undermine slave societies. Much of the book develops the distinct dimensions of “talk” as an analytical category, one that helps reveal and explain many of the more subtle yet salient aspects of white supremacy and organized violence that defined Atlantic slavery. In this sense, Ogborn joins a number of important works that have rethought slavery through vital themes: for example, Vincent Brown’s view of slavery and death (The Reaper’s Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery [2008]), Terri L. Snyder’s deconstruction of suicide (The Power to Die: Slavery and Suicide in British North America [2015]), Kevin Dawson’s study of “acquatic culture” in the African diaspora (Undercurrents of Power: Aquatic Culture in the African Diaspora [2021]), and Neil Roberts’s interpretation of “freedom as marronnage” (Freedom as Marronage [2015]). And Ogborn adds another interpretive tool to which historians might turn as they examine slavery’s myriad contexts, which itself is a valuable contribution.

A geographer by training, Ogborn is attuned from the outset to “the relationship between speech and space” and the “microgeographies of speech.” This leads him to consider the ways talking is local and to reconstruct when possible the “courtrooms, taverns, and parlors, as well as the coffeehouses, parliaments, and doorways” in which speech took place, the “words spoken in confidence, overheard through windows, or stated out in the fields in front of everyone” (p. 20). It is in this context of slavery that talk always conveyed politics and power relations charged with racialized violence, and claims to domination or claims to freedom. Further, in considering the enslaved populations of Barbados and Jamaica, Ogborn charts a new course between two common interpretive emphases in the historiography: on the one hand, silences enforced through oppression and, on the other, “the astonishing and inventive proliferation of creolized sonic forms,” such as creole languages, folk music, and the voices of enslaved preachers (p. 28). Herein lies an important contribution. Ogborn’s sounds almost always arise in moments of encounter between the enslaved and the enslaver, humanizing and animating both in insightful ways. In Ogborn’s terms, “who can speak and what they might say is a crucial question for the history of slavery in the Caribbean,” and this emphasis on possibility, on ability, involves a critical grappling with the structures of movement, thought, and agency at the points where the oppressed and the oppressor met (p. 34).

The book is organized in five chapters, with a meditative introduction and conclusion. Though Ogborn does speak to change over time in some areas, the structure is mostly thematic, which will perhaps enhance its usefulness and adaptability as an interpretive tool with which to approach other contexts of Atlantic slavery. Ogborn begins with oaths as a window into understanding the dynamics of talk in slave societies. The act of giving one’s word was fundamental to Anglo-European legal regimes for centuries and the English were no different when first colonizing the Caribbean, but as Ogborn describes, the presence of a racialized and enslaved population changed the stakes and the meanings of oath taking in the Caribbean. In law, only free white men could make oaths and give evidence in court, thereby excluding the voices of the enslaved and raising troubling questions about the need for enslaved testimony in criminal investigations. Further, the negotiations regarding oaths sometimes became as important as the commitments one made when giving an oath. For this, Ogborn turns to the treaties that heralded an end to the Maroon Wars that raged in Jamaica throughout the 1730s. On the British side, the conflict ended and the Maroons gained conditional freedom by treaty; the Maroons, however, insisted that the British also engaged in an oath-taking ritual that the Maroons recognized as binding: a mingling and drinking of blood and rum. By consenting to “swallow the oath,” the British in their negotiations with the Maroons participated in a legal and cultural form that harkened back to similar oath-taking practices in some west African societies (p. 47). Ogborn elaborates with his descriptions of such practices among the Asante peoples and discusses Edward Long’s own treatment of “Coromantin” oaths, elements of which the Maroons might have carried on.

Ogborn’s subsequent analyses echo many of the core themes evoked in the study of oaths. In chapter 2, “The Deliberative Voice: Politics, Speech, and Liberty,” for example, Ogborn adds a new wrinkle to the now canonical understanding that slavery heightened the sensitivity of white colonists to their own prerogatives and liberty. Interpreting the often indignant approach of the Jamaican assembly to relations with Whitehall in the light of colonial paranoia regarding slave rebellion, Ogborn writes: “Freeborn Englishmen … would never be slaves if they spoke out to defend their liberties. This view, in turn, shaped the ways in which the voices of the enslaved were heard and misheard as they discussed and protested slavery’s violent oppressions” (p. 105). In investigations of supposed conspiracies, Jamaican slaveholders wanted to demonstrate that the enslaved had in fact conspired, that they had used the “deliberative voice” proper to political action (in assemblies and the like) to plot against their enslavement. White colonists thereby stubbornly asserted their own liberties and the speech practices they used onto the actions of the enslaved, whose speech practices they never fully understood, which created a tense environment of mutual suspicion and resentment. Among the enslaved, this mishearing or selective hearing was often paid for in blood.

While Ogborn relies much on the tensions between the enslaved and the colonial regime in Jamaica and Barbados in his early chapters, later chapters include more elements of collaboration and exchange through speech across black and white communities. In the realm of botany, for example, talk about the medical value of plants between the enslaved and free helped produce botanical and medical knowledge. Ogborn relates instances in which the enslaved healed ailing planters, accompanied amateur botanists like Thomas Thistlewood on foraging expeditions in the woods, or contributed to the development of early botanical gardens on the sugar islands. A similar process of exchange through talk occurred in the spiritual domain, in which the proselytizing work of both Anglicans and non-conformists in the Caribbean hinged on speaking with the enslaved. In religion, however, talk was often less useful than in botany. For instance, Ogborn employs the reflections of the Moravian missionary Zacharias George Caries to illustrate the collaboration but also ambiguity of slave society speech, as Caries bemoaned the fact that the enslaved could “imitate our language without feeling it in their heart” (p. 163). In this way, speech and talk evoked the ultimate incommensurability of the enslaver and enslaved worlds in the Caribbean. Hardened racial attitudes, even among those British who never stepped foot in a slave society, often rendered the enslaved permanent “others,” no matter what kind of speech they spoke. Ogborn’s interpretation of the free black Jamaican poet Francis Williams illustrates this well. Whereas Williams drew a distinction between a “white negro” and a “black negro” on the basis of speech, David Hume considered Williams a “parrot,” unable to comprehend black eloquence even within European aesthetic paradigms. 

The range of topics that Ogborn details all hang together under the framework of talk-as-power, with power understood as multidirectional, leaving even the most oppressed a modicum of agency to seize the means of shaping the world around them. For the enslaved in places like Jamaica, the most ubiquitous and iconic of these means, aside from violent resistance and rebellion, was linked closely to speech in the practice of obeah. Turning to the rituals, spells, incantations, and protections that black practitioners of obeah used, the enslaved might undermine slave society—for they certainly saw it this way. But as Ogborn recognizes, drawing on the important work of Diana Paton on the meanings of obeah in the age of European “enlightenment” (The Cultural Politics of Obeah: Religion, Colonialism, and Modernity in the Caribbean World [2015]), from the planter perspective, much of obeah was just words, even if it still worried them: for “obeah’s orality [was] both everything and nothing” (p. 160). In much of the book, then, Ogborn maximizes this ambiguity of speech practices in slave societies to useful effect.

Throughout the book, Ogborn also confronts the evidentiary problem at the core of all studies of slavery: the systems of power and violence designed to keep people in bondage but who also conspired to obscure many of the traces that the enslaved left behind on their own terms. Ogborn’s solution is less about “reading against the grain” or “between the lines” or “listening for silences” as it is about identifying traces of speech left in plain sight, or reading old sources in new ways. In general, Ogborn succeeds in revealing the many ways speech demarcated lines between freedom and slavery, and how talking blurred or crossed these lines with great frequency. He deconstructs an eclectic mix of topics to do this—oaths, formal politics, botany and medicine, spiritual practices—through sources that, for the most part, will not be new to historians who have worked on Jamaica and the Anglo-Caribbean. Long’s History of Jamaica (1774) and Long’s papers in the British Library, for example, do a significant amount of the evidentiary lifting for Ogborn in some chapters. However, Ogborn’s heavy reliance on theory, and at times tedious rendition of the theoretical literature, might frustrate some readers. The book devotes almost as much space to discussing other people’s arguments as it does to Ogborn’s own evidence. For example, the work of Bruno Latour is discussed in each chapter and to excessive depth, and with often greater critical attention than Ogborn pays to the richness (and fraught complexity) of Long’s writings.

Historians will without a doubt take inspiration from Ogborn’s method and interpretation of “talk,” and future studies of the sonic dimensions of the Atlantic world will follow his cues. As a work situated within the historiography of Atlantic slavery, however, the flexibility of Ogborn’s category “talk” does perhaps less original work than it claims to. The book’s thematic organization means that Ogborn addresses a slightly different dimension of talk and speech in each chapter, but orality in most cases tends only to reveal the fundamental power dynamics of slavery that historians already understand well. Talk and speech may very well be one of the most effective frameworks through which to study slavery, perhaps better than most frameworks, but Ogborn does not spend much time effectively making this case. Indeed, in the conclusion he writes that this “book does not claim that the history of slavery can be reduced to a history of orality, but considering talk as practice, or as many differentiated practices, can offer a way of rethinking that history” (p. 233). This is fair enough as a claim but also represents a missed opportunity. Too often the reader is left making extrapolations and connections between the many “differentiated practices” of talk between the chapters and/or case studies through implication rather than by following an overarching specific argument. In other words, what Ogborn reveals about the world of Atlantic slavery itself might only go as deep as the reader’s own prior knowledge of that world, and those revelations may not always be made apparent in the book. It seems plausible, then, that Ogborn might have developed a stronger “through-line” of argument about talk in Caribbean slave societies while also avoiding reducing slavery to mere orality.

Citation: Dylan LeBlanc. Review of Ogborn, Miles, The Freedom of Speech: Talk and Slavery in the Anglo-Caribbean World. H-Atlantic, H-Net Reviews. May, 2021. 


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License

CONTAGIOUS CONNECTIONS: Epidemic disease in the Vast Early Americas


From the OIEAHC Website

The Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture invites proposals from scholars across academic disciplines and ranks for a series of workshops dedicated to revisiting and rethinking the history and historiography of epidemics in Vast Early America and the Atlantic World. Co-chaired by Ryan Kashnanipour (University of Arizona) and Claire Gherini (Fordham University), “Contagious Connections” will build from a series of conversations with established scholars in fall 2021 to a workshop in spring 2022. We invite proposals of works in progress on epidemics in the early Americas for that workshop. 

Epidemics were a foundational force in the early history of the Americas and the larger Atlantic World. Yet their interdisciplinary and comparative analysis has often been restricted by the imperial and temporal priorities of these regions’ subfields as well as older biomedical and demographic approaches to the study of disease. Rather than rehashing whether acquired immunity destined Native Americans to extirpation and Africans for slavery in the Americas, this series proceeds from the idea that epidemics are epistemological and ontological forces: they have a historical materiality but become epidemics of a particular disease when historical actors collectively decide to name and treat them as such. We invite paper submissions from scholars of any discipline writing on any region of either Vast Early America or the Atlantic World, 1400-1830 that engage with epidemics and/or infectious diseases beyond their biological attributes.

We are open to papers of many kinds, possible themes and questions might include:

The political and social ramifications, in particular times and places, of naming widespread infirmity an epidemic. How do such pronouncements and definitions work to mobilize resources? What populations do they render legible? Which figures and administrative bodies got to make these definitions?

What administrative differences between empires rendered such pronouncements and definitions easier to make and contest, as well as see in the archive?

How did the divergent temporalities of so-called crowd diseases’ (smallpox, yellow fever, measles for example) and those that are more chronic disorders (yaws, coco-bays, dropsy) shape official and quotidian responses to them?

Naming generalized infirmity an epidemic magnifies its visibility in the archive. Papers might explore the more quotidian types of infirmity that have been overlooked as a consequence and how they were managed and thought about by the communities affected by them.

Papers might use the uneven impact of different epidemics as a window onto the endemic nature of illness in the early modern Americas and underlying health disparities.

Sudden and widespread sickness tends to galvanize discovery of its modes of communication. To think about the materiality of epidemics, papers might focus on how these discoveries reconfigure mobility and daily habits of living. Or they might use authorities’ efforts to regulate or outlaw quotidian practices of bodily health or sustenance to recover what are often overlooked materials and practices that are central to gendered and racialized economies of care.

Papers might explore the development of new forms mourning, internment, and memorialization that communities developed to reckon with the new scale of death created by an epidemic.

We hope to see this series culminate in a community of scholars who might polish their works for collective publication. In spring 2022, between January and May, we will hold a series of workshops to discuss pre-circulated papers with select presenters, leading specialists, and scholars in the field. Papers should be chapter length (no longer than 10,000 words) drafts of works in progress. In summer 2022, should conditions allow, we may also convene for a week-long in person meeting to present revised versions of their papers for a second round of workshops.

Interested individuals are asked to submit an abbreviated CV no longer than three pages and an abstract no longer than 500 words by June 15, 2021:


For more information, please feel free to contact Ryan Kashanipour ( or Claire Gherini (  

CFP Territories of Diplomacy: The Anglo-American World and International Relations in the 17th and 18th centuries

Date:  21-22 January 2022, Toulouse, France.

Proposals in French or English (300-500 words and a short CV) should be sent to by 15 May 2021.

Acceptance notifications will be sent out by 30th June.

Papers will be given via videoconference if delegates cannot physically attend or if the conference cannot be held onsite due to sanitary circumstances.

In The Birth of Territory (2013), Stuart Elden reenvisaged the theoretical and practical approaches to the concept of territory. In his analysis of Shakespeare’s plays, Elden explains that “territory is not a product, but a process.” Likewise, diplomacy is not viewed as a series of events but as a process. Considering these fundamental theoretical evolutions, this conference seeks to analyse the relationship between territory and diplomacy in the 17th and 18th centuries in the Anglo-American world and its international relations. Territory and diplomacy will be examined as words, concepts and practice. The methodological approaches to be used will be those of history (diplomatic, political, economic and social), literature, philosophy, law and the new diplomatic history which articulates literature, history and philosophy. Papers (25-30 minutes) will be given in English or French. They will deal with the Anglo-American world or other geographical areas but in connection with the anglophone sphere of the 17th and 18th centuries.

In the wake of Grotius’ discussion of sovereignty in De iure belli ac pacis, and of territory and the ambassador in Defense chapter V of Mare Liberum (his answer to Richard Hakluyt’s 1609 translation of De iure), the territories of diplomacy will be analysed in terms of porosity and process. The conference will reappraise territorial sovereignty, the rupture between the monarch’s persona and the territory, and their impact on diplomatic representation and action. It will observe the impact of embassy (as both a place and a trade) on the recognition of sovereignty especially in the context of the evolution of ambassadorial residences and the sale and purchase of territories in the Americas, Africa and Asia. Papers may also assess the impact of the English and American revolutions on the concept and use of diplomatic territory. They will raise the issues of extraterritoriality, inviolability and the existence of sanctuary territories. The conference will thus seek to reflect on the creation of territories of diplomacy through commerce and question the influence of intra and extra European commercial roads and practices on the practice of diplomacy and the concept of territory.

Territories of diplomacy and their creation will also be considered in terms of literary, artistic and dramatic creation. Proposals may question the role of (itinerant) artists as creators of territories, the role of cultural spaces as territories of diplomacy (whether we focus on locations, audiences or types of entertainment). In the wake of Lotte Jensen’s work on English translations of foreign poems as gestures of international diplomacy in the 17th and 18th centuries, the conference seeks to observe the tropes of diplomacy and territory in poetry, novels, epistolary literature (e.g. Lady Montagu’s Turkish Embassy Letters (1762)) and in the translation from or into English of literary works. In the wake of the recent research on theatre and cultural diplomacy from Shakespeare’s works and their subsequent recreation to Aphra Behn’s or Susana Centlivre’s plays, the conference seeks proposals on the dramatic writing and dramaturgical creation of diplomatic territories. Like Ellen Welch in Theatre of Diplomacy (2017), papers may observe how drama, painting, music and fiction partake of the creation of diplomatic territories in official and unofficial encounters. Papers may also focus on literary and art objects as creators and ambassadors of a territory.

At the turn of the 17th century, the meaning of the word ‘territory’ evolved to mean “territorie […] region, or the countrie lying about the citie” (Cawdrey, 1604). The conference thus seeks linguistic and lexical analyses of the concept of diplomatic territory. Besides, this changing definition which now focuses on the urban level raises the issue of the existence or the premises of a territorial diplomacy (that of cities or colonised territories) in the 17th and 18th centuries. Finally, the conference welcomes proposals considering the limits of the concept of territory and how moving from territory to territorialisation can be both a practical and an epistemic obstacle. An example of this would be the study of the concept of territory in intercultural diplomacy and treaty diplomacy (notably in the Americas) in contrast with the increasing use of military diplomacy at that time.Contact Info: 

Organising committee : Lucien Bély (Sorbonne Université), Nathalie Rivère de Carles (Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès), and Florence March (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier)

Date and location : Toulouse (France)21-22 Janvier/January 2022

Sponsors : Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès, Sorbonne Université, Société Etudes Anglo-Américaines, XVII-XVIII° siècles, Laboratoire Cultures Anglo-Saxonnes (UR 801), IRCOM, Centre Roland Mousnier (UMR 8596).

Contact Email:


Teaching to Treat: Medical Education in the Empires (18th-20th centuries)

From H-Net, February 24 2021

Call for Papers

Date: 21 & 22 June 2021 (Dates and time TBC), University of Oxford

Venue: online with Zoom

Abstract submission deadline: 1 March 2021

This online workshop aims to bring together early career researchers to share their research into the history of colonial medical education. While the application is open to all, the committee particularly encourages those focusing on the 18th-19th century British and French Empires. It will prioritise research projects based on archives in colonies or former colonies. The workshop will take the format of discussions of pre-circulated, short papers (drafts) prepared by all participants. We plan to publish a selection of workshop papers as a special issue in a peer-reviewed journal.

Possible topics may be:

– The establishment of medical schools in colonies

– Interactions between metropoles and colonies in medical education

– Teaching personnel involved in medical education

– Medical curricula

– Structures and architecture of imperial medical schools

– Accounts of student population

– Comparative studies of medical education between colonies and/or empires

Participants will be asked to submit drafts of research in English to participate in the workshop. Applications for the workshop, however, may be sent in either English or French. They should include a title, 300 word abstract, and institutional affiliation, and should be sent to and no later than 1 March 2021.Contact Info: 

Please contact Dr Martin Robert or Hohee Cho for queries: /

Contact Email:


Seeking panelists for AHA 2022: “Slavery and Sexual Economies in the Atlantic World”

 From H-Atlantic, March 1, 2021

We are seeking to put a panel together for the 2022 AHA on the sexual economy of slavery in the Atlantic World (broadly construed) from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Currently, one paper will analyze sex and plantation management in nineteenth-century Martinique and another will examine the urban sexual economy and enslaved prostitution in nineteenth-century Rio de Janeiro. To complete the panel, we are looking for two more papers that explore sex, slavery, and the economy from any region in the North or South Atlantic. We are also seeking a scholar who would be interested in serving as panel chair and commentator. 

If interested, please send a paper title and short (300 word) abstract by March 1, 2021 to Deirdre Lyons at 

Contact Email:

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