I am a cultural historian of the Atlantic World. 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.
My most recent book Brazil Through French Eyes: A Nineteenth-Century Artist in the Tropics (University of New Mexico Press, 2015) is a revised and expanded English version of my book Romantisme tropical (2008). The book explores the idea of “tropical romanticism,” a vision of Brazil with an emphasis on the exotic. I examine the travelogue Deux années au Brésil by the French artist François-Auguste Biard, by situating his work in the context of the European travel writing of the time. The book shows how representations of Brazil through French travelogues contributed and reinforced cultural stereotypes and ideas about race and race relations in Brazil.
My third single-authored book Shadows of the Slave Past: Memory, Heritage and Slavery (Routledge, 2014) examines the processes that led to the memorialization of slavery and the Atlantic slave trade in the second half of the twentieth century. I explore numerous kinds of initiatives such as monuments, memorials, and museums as well as heritage sites. By connecting different projects developed in Europe, Africa, and the Americas during the last two decades, I discuss how different groups and social actors have competed to occupy the public arena by associating the slave past with other human atrocities, especially the Holocaust. I look at how the populations of African descent, white elites, and national governments, very often carrying particular political agendas, appropriated the slave past by fighting to make it visible or conceal it in the public space of former slave societies.
My second book Public Memory of Slavery: Victims and Perpetrators in the South Atlantic, published in 2010, explores 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.
In my first book, published in French, Romantisme tropical : l’aventure illustrée d’un peintre français au Brésil, 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. I expanded and updated this work, which was published in English as Brazil Through French Eyes: A Nineteenth-Century Artist in the Tropics.
I also edited a number of books: African Heritage and Memories of Slavery in Brazil and the South Atlantic World (2015), Politics of Memory: Making Slavery Visible in the Public Space (2012), Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Interactions, Identities (2011), and Living History: Encountering the Memory of the Heirs of Slavery (2009). With Paul E. Lovejoy and Mariana P. Candido I co-edited the volume Crossing Memories: Slavery and African Diaspora (2011).
Currently, I am writing a book provisionally titled Reparations for Slavery and the Slave Trade: A Transnational and Comparative History, which examines from a transnational perspective the history of reparations for slavery and the slave trade in the Americas and Africa.
I am Professor of History at Howard University (Washington DC). Also, I am engaged in disseminating my scholarship to the public. In addition to be active on Twitter and Facebook, I recently created the website A Historian’s Views: Digital Humanities and Arts in the Age of Presentism to share comments on my scholarship, and current events related to the topics of memory and slavery.