I am a cultural historian of Latin America and 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. This work resulted into various publications, including three 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 second 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.
My third book Shadows of the Slave Past: Memory, Heritage and Slavery (forthcoming in 2014) is a transnational and comparative study. I examine 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 various countries and urban centers in Europe, Africa, and the Americas during the last two decades, I retrace the various stages of the Atlantic slave trade and slavery, including the enslavement in Africa, the process of confinement in slave depots, the Middle Passage, the arrival in the Americas, the daily life of forced labor, until the fight for emancipation and the abolition of slavery. Relying on a multitude of examples from the United States, Brazil, and the Caribbean, 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.
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 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.
In 2012, I started a new book project focusing on the history of enslaved women in Brazil, a topic largely neglected in Brazilian historiography. Based on criminal records located in the archives of Rio Grande do Sul (south of Brazil), I am looking at the various ways enslaved women developed violent forms of resistance during the period of slavery, by committing suicide and infanticide, and by killing their masters and mistresses and their children.
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 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.