My work explores the history and the memory of the Atlantic slave trade and slavery and their social and cultural legacies. I am particularly interested in the public memory, heritage, and visual culture of slavery. This work resulted into various publications, including two monographs, three edited books, one co-edited book, in addition to several articles and book chapters published in English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.
In my book Romantisme tropical : l’aventure illustrée d’un peintre français au Brésil [Tropical Romanticism: The Illustrated Adventure of a French Painter in Brazil], I examine the construction of a particular image of Brazil in nineteenth-century France. I look at the various written and visual representations of Brazilian natives and black populations, through the work of the French artist François-Auguste Biard (1799-1882), in particular his richly illustrated travelogue Deux Années au Brésil(1862). The book argues that the image of Brazil conveyed in Biard’s travelogue, is part of a long French tradition of representing Brazil, which started in the sixteenth century, intensified during the nineteenth century, and persists today.
My most recent book Public Memory of Slavery: Victims and Perpetrators in the South Atlantic (2010) is a study of the recent phenomenon of memorialization of slavery in Brazil and Benin (West Africa). By examining monuments, memorials, and museums, I argue that the construction of the public memory of slavery in the South Atlantic is not only the result of survivals from the period of the Atlantic slave trade but also the outcome of a transnational movement that was accompanied by the continuous intervention of institutions and individuals who promoted the relations between Brazil and the present-day Republic of Benin.
Over the last few years, I also edited a number of books: Living History: Encountering the Memory of the Heirs of Slavery (2009), Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Interactions, Identities (2011), and Politics of Memory: Making Slavery Visible in the Public Space (2012). With Paul E. Lovejoy and Mariana P. Candido I co-edited the volume Crossing Memories: Slavery and African Diaspora (2011). I was also guest editor of a special issue of the journal Luso-Brazilian Review titled “Brazilian Slavery and its Legacies” and a special issue of the Journal of African Diaspora Archeology and Heritage titled “Atlantic Approaches on Slave Resistance in the Americas.”
I have two book projects in progress. The first, Shadows of the Slave Past: Memory, Heritage and Slavery, is a transnational study of the public memory of slavery and the Atlantic slave trade. Combining historical and ethnographic analysis, I argue that the rise of the transnational public memory of slavery and the Atlantic slave trade in the public space is a movement based not only on historical and fictional narratives but also on images, widely disseminated through European travel accounts, photography, and film. I show that public initiatives (including monuments, memorials, and museum exhibitions) commemorating the Atlantic slave trade not only rely on visual and written representations of slavery of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but also appropriate elements of the representations of other atrocities, especially the Holocaust.
The second project titled Picturing Slavery in the Americas, is a historical analysis of European and North American travelogues visual and written representations of slavery in the Americas from the beginning of the eighteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century. The monograph expands my previous work on images of slavery of nineteenth-century European travelogues and is aimed to provide historians with methodological instruments to interpret representations of slave life in the Americas.
Also, I am finishing expanded versions of my book Romantisme tropical: l’aventure illustrée d’un peintre français au Brésil to be published in English and Portuguese.
Presently I am an Associate Professor of History and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of History at Howard University (Washington DC). I am the editor of the Cambria Press book series Slavery: Past and Present. I am also a member of the editorial board of the Journal of African Diaspora Archeology and Heritage and member of the board of the newly created Potomac Center for the Study of Modernity.