With the recent election of the nation’s first African American president—an individual of blended Kenyan and American heritage who spent his formative years in Hawaii and Indonesia—the topic of transnational identity is reaching the forefront of the national consciousness in an unprecedented way. As our society becomes increasingly diverse and intermingled, it is increasingly imperative to understand how race and heritage impact our perceptions of and interactions with each other. Assumed Identities constitutes an important step in this direction.
However, “identity is a slippery concept,” say the editors of this instructive volume. This is nowhere more true than in the melting pot of the early trans-Atlantic cultures formed in the colonial New World during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. As the studies in this volume show, during this period in the trans-Atlantic world individuals and groups fashioned their identities but also had identities ascribed to them by surrounding societies. The historians who have contributed to this volume investigate these processes of multiple identity formation, as well as contemporary understandings of them.
Originating in the 2007 Walter Prescott Webb Memorial Lectures presented at the University of Texas at Arlington, Assumed Identities: The Meanings of Race in the Atlantic World examines, among other topics, perceptions of racial identity in the Chesapeake community, in Brazil, and in Saint-Domingue (colonial-era Haiti). As the contributors demonstrate, the cultures in which these studies are sited helped define the subjects’ self-perceptions and the ways others related to them.
What Readers Are Saying:
The five essays comprising this volume combine the analytical perspectives of identity studies with the concept of a unified atlantic world in a successful effort to illustrate how race was defined during the eras prior to the twentieth century in parts of Europe, the American South, Brazil, and the circum-Caribbean. In so doing, the emphasis focuses uniformly on subaltern populations, especially African Americans, Native Americans and people of mixed racial identities. Each of these essays was presented as a paper at the 2007 annual Walter Prescott Webb lectures at the University of Texas at Arlington where the volume's two editors John D. Garrigus and Christopher Morris, serve as members of the History Department.
An introduction to this book by Caribbean historian Franklin W. Knight provides a timely overview of the various complexities associated with assessing both identity and race in the Atlantic World form the colonial era to the nineteenth century. Knight's analysis drives home the differences between identity and race, which can sometimes be difficult to define.
"This book represents an important addition to the historical literature because it provides very useful case study analyses regarding the complexities of race and identity."
"...a must-read for any serious student of the Atlantic world."--Matt Clavin, Journal of World History