Spring 2020 CMRS Symposium - "The Americas before 1620: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Indigenous Cultures, Colonialism, and Slavery"


Friday, February 21 - Saturday, February 22

Please join us for the Spring 2020 CMRS Symposium: "The Americas before 1620: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Indigenous Cultures, Colonialism, and Slavery."

All events will take place in 202 Thompson Library. The schedule and information about food, parking, etc. will be posted here as it becomes available.

Keynote Address: Herman Bennett (CUNY, History): "Before the Human: Africans, Sovereigns & Slaves" - 4:00pm

Abstract: How might the focus on eighteenth-century race and commodification obscure earlier and equally expansive ideas about difference and dispossession?  In taking up this question as a conceptual starting point, the talk charts a different, if not lost, genealogy of difference and dispossession that defined how Europeans in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries registered their encounter with Africans and subsequently classified some as subjects of sovereigns and other as sovereign-less subjects who could be enslaved.

Friday, Feb. 21

9:30 - 10:00am - Registration and Refreshments

10:00 - 11:30 - Session One

Alanna Radlo-Dzur (OSU, Art History) - "Archaeology and Identity: Imagining the Marietta Earthworks"

Karen Graubart (Notre Dame, History) - "Republics of Difference: Self-Governance, Colonialism, and Early Lima"

11:30 - 1:00 - Graduate Student Lunch (RSVP to Manuel Jacquez, jacquez.4@osu.edu, by Wednesday 2/19)

1:00 - 3:30 - Session Two

Margaret Newell (OSU, History) - "From 1619 to 1620: New England Indians, Colonists, and the Origins of American Slavery"

Jeffrey Glover (Loyola Chicago, English) - "Between War and Race: Legalizing Slavery in the English Atlantic World"

David Silverman (GWU, History) - "The Wampanoag Polity in 1620 and Beyond"

4:00 - 5:30 - Keynote Address

Herman Bennett (CUNY, History): "Before the Human: Africans, Sovereigns & Slaves"

Reception to follow


Saturday, Feb. 22

8:30am - Refreshments

9:00 - 11:00 - Roundtable


Speakers' Abstracts:

Alanna Radlo-Dzur (OSU, Art History) - "Archaeology and Identity: Imagining the Marietta Earthworks"

Abstract: Constructed atop a narrow alluvial shelf along the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio Rivers, the complex of earthworks at what is now known as Marietta, Ohio were used, modified, and expanded by Native communities over the course of nearly two millennia. The oldest structure, a massive conical mound situated within a circular henge, was a funerary monument erected as early as 500 BCE. Later arrivals buried their own dead within that structure and constructed new mounds nearby. The ceremonial landscape grew over time until there were two large rectangular enclosures, a processional route down to the riverbank and many large mounds of different styles indicative of at least three distinct cultural periods­: Adena, Hopewell, and Mississippian. As European-American settlers invaded the region, the site was selected for the construction of the first fortifications of the nascent United States military to aid colonial expansion into what came to be known as the Northwest Territory. It is this moment–the arrival of the members of the Ohio Company of Associates in 1788–that frames our present understanding of the earthworks complex.

A series of paintings by Charles R. Sullivan purport to record the earthworks as they would have appeared in 1791. The image Sullivan captured represents the combined memory of one of the first colonists to settle at Marietta, Ichabod Nye with that of his son, Horace. These paintings, although they survive materially, are known to most contemporary scholars as well as the public in the form of a lithographic copy made as the frontispiece to the first publication of the Smithsonian Institution’s Contributions to Knowledge series, The Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, in 1848. Widely reprinted and reproduced in academic and popular publications, museum exhibits, and now freely available online, the lithograph amended the original image to whitewash a violent incident perpetrated by settlers on Natives documented in the painting. Instead, the lithograph replaced that act of physical violence with a psychological attack on the Indigenous population in general. The lithograph displays an early example of an Orientalist-style visual argument that situates Natives as part of nature, fading into the shadows, and cut off from European-American “civilization” by a precipitous chasm. Adding insult to injury, the image goes one step further to equate the earthworks with the new “civilized” architecture built by the settler-colonists. Following Kopytoff’s notion of an object biography, this essay traces the life of the imagined Marietta from its inception in the eyes of the Associates of the Ohio Company through to the present, including the 2019 publication of David McCullough’s deeply problematic book, The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West.

Karen Graubart (Notre Dame, History) - "Republics of Difference: Self-Governance, Colonialism, and Early Lima"

Abstract: Spanish colonialism leaned heavily on the political concept of the republic, a self-governing unit with elected representation (like a guild) that reported to levels of hierarchy up to the crown. On the Iberian peninsula during the medieval conflicts between Christians and Muslims, frontier settlers in Christian-conquered areas were recognized as self-governing municipalities subject to their own as well as the sovereign's law. Muslims and Jews who lived under Christian law were also recognized in this form as "aljamas" (in Castile) that paid special taxes in exchange for self governance under their religious law. In the New World, monarchs extended the model, granting township to groups of Spanish settlers (cabildos) and recognizing polities of indigenous peoples under their own leadership but also subject to the Catholic church, royal law, and other legal entities. This paper examines the formation of a particular republic on the outskirts of Lima, Peru in the late sixteenth century and early seventeenth centuries to see how self-governance might have contribute to the formulation of racial stereotypes about indigenous peoples. It closes with a gesture to the large number of peoples left out of the republic model in the Americas -- men and women of African heritage, products of the Atlantic slave trade -- and how that refusal contribution to their racialization in the early colonial period as well.

Margaret Newell (OSU, History) - "From 1619 to 1620: New England Indians, Colonists, and the Origins of American Slavery"

Abstract: The 1620 Plymouth commemorations would appear to offer a pivot from the 1619 Project’s focus on American slavery, but in fact 1620 is also a benchmark date in slavery’s origins and development. The New England colonists produced the first law of slavery in English North America in 1641, and by then had already enslaved hundreds of Indians in the Pequot war.  Enslavement and involuntary servitude informed warfare, displacement, and the assertion of jurisdiction over Wampanoag, Narragansett, Nipmuc, Pocasset, and other regional peoples throughout the colonial period. Trade in Indian captives connected New England to Caribbean and Atlantic slave economies, and New England Indians labored on sugar plantations in Jamaica, tended fields in the Azores, and rowed English naval galleys in Tangier. But, most lived in English New England households. Our imaginary of early New England daily life needs to include enslaved Native Americans. As its charter generation, Native Americans influenced the New England slave regime into which enslaved Africans entered in the late 17th and 18thcenturies, and also some of colonial America’s earliest antislavery resistance.

Jeffrey Glover (Loyola Chicago, English) - "Between War and Race: Legalizing Slavery in the English Atlantic World"

Abstract: In the latter part of the seventeenth century, English colonists in North America defined slavery as a matter of matrilineal inheritance. Children born in bondage inherited slave status from their mother. Before that time, however, colonists often justified slavery using a different legal code: the Roman-law principle that prisoners taken in just wars were the rightful slaves of the conqueror. This principle colonists readily applied to Native Americans, claiming their wars with tribes were justified conflicts following Roman-law models. However, they also applied it to Africans, claiming conqueror's rights by proxy and asserting that imported captives from the West African coast had been captured in intertribal conflicts before sale to traders. This paper will consider the shift from war to race as a justification for slavery, tracing how the earliest English colonists justified their entrance into the transatlantic slave trade before the adoption of heritable notions of race as a basis for slavery.

David Silverman (GWU, History) - "The Wampanoag Polity in 1620 and Beyond"

Abstract: The Wampanoag people play a starring role in the Thanksgiving story, one of the United States’ founding myths. They are the tribe that welcomes and allies with the Pilgrims of the Mayflower, thereby enabling the creation of the first English colony in New England. Yet there is no consensus about what kind of polity the Wampanoags were in 1620 at the moment of this encounter, or even if they were a bona fide polity at all. Indeed, to the extent that there is a dominant interpretation of the Wampanoags, it is that sachem (or chief) Ousamequin used his alliance with the English to create a confederation of what had previously been unaffiliated communities.

This essay contends that Ousamequin’s ambition was less to form a new polity than to reconstitute one that had existed for at least two generations, that is, until an epidemic in 1616-1619 devastated the Wampanoags and rendered them tributaries to their Narragansett rivals. I venture that around the year 1600 the Wampanoag people formed a paramount sachemship, in which individual communities (or sachemships) paid tribute and military service to the powerful (or paramount) sachem of Pokanoket. The primary impetus for this confederation was the threat posed by the Narragansetts. In turn, this essay will explore the likely causes of the Wampanoag-Narragansett rivalry and how that contest continued to shape the Wampanoag polity, including relations with the English, well after the iconic events of the Thanksgiving story.