JAMES F. DATOR
ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF HISTORY
‘To See a World in a Grain of Sand’:
Liberty and Slavery in the Leeward Caribbean, 1627-1741
(book in preparation)
In his famous poem “Auguries of Innocence,” William Blake pointed to the paradox of how seemingly small scenes shine light on the larger contradictions born of inequities in human society. Taking its title from the first line of his poem, ‘To See a World in a Grain of Sand’ aims to do just that. By revealing how the process of colonialism in a crowded archipelago created contradictions at the edges of empire in an age when the definition of liberty was taking on new meaning, the book captures how islanders manipulated the competing prerogatives of imperial expansion and containment by pitting competing empires against each other in search of their own freedom. The book is thus a “history from below” that centers the activity of Irish servants, enslaved Africans, and other dispossessed islanders as central actors who shaped the boundaries of liberty in this crucial era of Atlantic history.
The book focuses on the interwoven lives of settlers and enslaved islanders living in the transimperial Leeward Islands in the Lesser Antilles, a 150-mile stretch of tightly-knit islands that included French Guadeloupe, Irish Montserrat, English Antigua and Nevis, and imperially-divided Saint Kitts. These mountainous islands are so close that people living on them at the turn of the century witnessed an Atlantic world in microcosm: slaves in Montserrat, for example, could look out from the sloping cane fields and see Nevis, French Saint Kitts, and Guadeloupe. Thus, instead of comparing different modalities of colonial life, the book examines the interwoven, transimperial aspects of the rise of the plantation regime in this archipelagic context. In the Leewards, islanders learned to straddle imperial space and use it against their masters, thereby turning the imperial division of land against itself. From above and below, islanders harnessed this crowded environment and became transimperial smugglers, interisland runaways, and wartime deserters, in turn exposing the limitations of British and French power in an era when both racial plantation slavery and the rhetoric of “British liberty” were on their ascendency.
“Education must not simply teach work, it must teach life.”
– W.E.B. Du Bois, 1903
This quote from the essayists, historian, and pioneering sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois hangs over the desk of my office. I hung it there to remind me why I teach what I teach, to remind me why I do what I do. Its spirit, full of contradictions born of the progressive era, reminds me of the important role teachers play in our society today. We are responsible for educating global citizens— people who reflect on who they are in the world, what it means to be part of something greater than themselves, and how their lives are inextricably tied to those around them. Our responsibility is primarily to the future and to our students who are bound to inherit it. We must teach our students that their lives are precious and, though circumscribed by factors beyond their control, theirs alone to command.
I believe that we must teach our students not simply to work, nor simply to solve problems, but also to question why and how these problems came to be in the first place. Our obligation is not simply to provide our students with names, dates, facts and formulas, but the knowledge of how these bits of information have been and can be wed together to create new ways of seeing and interpreting the world. Without a doubt, a teacher’s responsibilities rest with cultivating self-reflective thinkers— global citizens whose knowledge-of-self will guide them through life’s course as they confront difficult problems that seem at first glance unsolvable.
Teachers must not simply teach work. We must teach what it means to live a life examined.
AND WORKS IN PROGRESS
‘To See the World in a Grain of Sand’: Liberty & Slavery in the Leeward Caribbean, 1627-1741.
Articles & Book Chapters
“Insurrections of the Enslaved,” in The Cambridge History of the Caribbean, eds. Kristen Block, Anne Eller, Edward Rugemer, and Matthew Smith (Under Contract w/ Cambridge University Press).
“'Choicest of the Cargoe': Antigua, The Codringtons, and the Slave Trade, c. 1672-1808,” An Archaeology and History of a Caribbean Sugar Plantation, ed. Georgia Fox (University of Florida Press, 2020).
“Between the Mountains and the Sea: The Inter-Imperial Desertion Tradition in the Leeward Archipelago, 1627-1727,” A Global History of Runaways: Workers, Mobility, and Capitalism, 1650-1850, eds. Titas Chakrabarty, Marcus Rediker, and Matthias Rossum, (University of California Press, 2019).
“Frank Travels: Space, Power and Slave Mobility in the British Leeward Islands, c. 1700-1730,” Slavery & Abolition 36, no. 2: 335-359.
Articles in Progress (titles are tentative)
“The Baptism of Indian Warner: ‘Hereditary Heathenism’ at Imperial Crossroads”
“Moral Economies and the Creation of the 1736 Antigua Conspiracy”
“Teaching Slavery after the Baltimore Uprising.” Invited Contributor, The Panorama, Journal of the Early Republic, http://thepanorama.shear.org/2017/07/17/teaching-slavery-after-the-baltimore-uprising/
“Tipping Point.” Invited Contributor, The Panorama, Journal of the Early Republic, http://thepanorama.shear.org/2017/08/18/tipping-point/
Review: Troubling Freedom: Antigua and the Aftermath of British Emancipation, American Historical Review, 22, no. 02 (2017): 555-56. https://doi.org/10.1093/ahr/122.2.555
Review: Pirates, Merchants, Settlers, and Slaves. Colonial America and the Indo-Atlantic World, International Review of Social History 61, no. 02 (2016): 333-36. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0020859016000286
“The Mountains of Detroit.” Invited Contributor, UM Arts of Citizenship
“Agricultural Work,” “Seasonal Rhythms of Life,” and “Cotton Plantations” in Slavery in America, ed. Orville Vernon Burton, (Detroit: Gale, 2007).
Digital Humanities Projects
Senior Editor/Scholar-in-Residence/Author of +80 Entries
2019 Spring “The Common Wind & Slavery’s Archive,” Plenary Panel
OIEAHC, University of Pittsburgh
2019 Spring “The Baptism of Indian Warner: ‘Hereditary Heathenism’ at Imperial Crossroads”
OIEAHC, University of Pittsburgh
2019 Spring “A Global History of Runaways: Knowledge and Transimperial Desertion in the Leeward Archipelago”
LAWCHA, Durham, North Carolina
2019 Spring “Race, Class and Gender in the Barbuda Rebellions of the 1740s”
ACH Annual Conference, Curaçao
2017 Fall “Health and Rebellion in Antigua, c. 1736”
ASWAD, Seville, SP.
2016 Fall “Imperial Indifference and Islander Culture in the Leeward Archipelago”
EEASA Biannual Conference, Paris-Diderot/Sorbonne, Paris, FR
2016 Summer “Slave Narratives” Nominated Fellow, Gilder-Lehrman Institute
Yale University, New Haven, CT
2016 Spring “Enslaved Deserters in the Leeward Islands” Invited Participant
University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
2015 Fall “Between the Mountains and the Sea”
Runaways: Desertion and Mobility in Global Labor History, c. 1650-1850 Conference
International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam, NL
2015 Spring “Moral Economies & Sacred Memories: The Creation of the Antigua Conspiracy of 1736”
CAAR Annual Conference,
Liverpool Hope, UK
2015 Spring “A ‘Pernicious Consequence’: Imperial Rivalry and ‘Negro’ Struggle in the Leeward Islands, 1688-1748”
The World of Jenkins’ Ear Conference
Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
2013 Fall “The Antigua Conspiracy of 1736 and the Moral Economy of the Gods”
Sugar & Beyond Conference, Brown University
2013 Spring “Frank Travels: Afro-Cosmopolitanism in the British Leewards”
ACH Annual Conference
San Ignacio, Belize
Recent Public Scholarship & Community Outreach
2015 Fall “Racism in America: A History in Three Acts”
Invited Lecture, What is Race? Seminar Series
2015 Spring “Why Now? A Roundtable on #yamecansé and #icantbreathe”
Invited Speaker, Johns Hopkins University
2015 Spring Civil Rights: Past/Present/Future
Creator, Goucher Theme Semester