Her book is an unusual hybrid of memoir and longer-term history, and that unusual feature is exactly what makes it interesting for us in this course. It's a memoir. Unlike an autobiography - a book where someone tells the story of their own life (such a book says, these are the interesting things that I did) - a memoir writes about one's life, but not simply for telling that tale but as a way to address larger issues (such a book says these are my experiences and her are my thoughts on how that fits into these larger themes and issues). A famous recent example is the memoir by the feminist scholar Susan Faludi. The child of Jewish Hungarian refugees, Faludi writes not only of her life as a feminist, writer and mother, but also of being the immigrant child of Holocaust refugees and of reconnecting with her estranged father who had transitioned to being a woman in the second half of her life. Thus, her memoir is about her, as a feminist scholar, but also about the on-going scars of the Holocaust, about being a first-generation immigrant child, and about the politics of gender and identity - all major themes in late-20th, early 21st-century life.
Boon's book does something very similar, but the context she's reaching for is bigger and moreover older. What's particularly interesting for us is that connects to one of our major themes and she uses the tools of the historian to explore her questions. Boon's ancestry is complex, but the key features is that her direct ancestors were both slave-holders and enslaved peoples. Thus, when she examines her genealogy, exploring the archives in a search for identity, she encounters two dramatically different tales, and dramatically different ways about thinking about her self, her identity, her history. And to do so, she visits Dutch archives, exploring archival papers related to her families' lives in 18th and 19th-century Dutch Surinam. We've not examined the Dutch Empire in this course, though its worth noting that in terms of colonisation the Dutch were the fifth largest empire in the Americas. They were major players in both the slave trade and the plantation economy. Thus, the world Boon explores, the historical connections she's trying to understand and situate herself in, are very much of the same world we've been exploring in this course: trans-Atlantic empires, colonisation, the slave trade, the dispossession of Indigenous peoples, commercial and consumer growth, and the plantation economies. But, because this is a memoir, the big issue Boon is getting at, and which we'd like you think about in this exam, is how we continue to live with the legacies of slavery, colonisation, and the movements of peoples and economies in the Atlantic World. Few of us will have that kind of immediate and complex a relationship with these big stories (though, maybe you do?). But we live in a world that was in many ways built on the labour of enslaved peoples and on lands and resources dispossessed of Indigenous peoples. We do live in a world where many of us continue to live lives directly affected by and connected to that history.
Here at Brock, we do a land acknowledgement at most public events. We acknowledge "the land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples, many of whom continue to live and work here today". And we remind ourselves "that our great standard of living is directly related to the resources and friendship of Indigenous people". That's important - it's a reminder that we have a history and that our present is directly connected to that history. Your exam is not directly related to land acknowledgement. But that's the spirit in which we want you to approach this exam: thinking about how history has shaped our world - your world. This book offers us an opportunity to think about our identities and relationships to a world still very much shaped by the Atlantic world empires and their practices.
In this exam, we want you to read Boon's book, explain it in the best way you can, and then directly using your course readings (primary or secondary) develop a discussion of how history can help us understand our place in the modern west. Boon draws our attention particularly to slavery and the Dutch empire, and you should talk about slavery and the development of western capitalism as we've read about it in this course. But you should also draw in other elements that you think are important from our broader exploration of role of money and power in the Atlantic World.
How many course sources should you look use in answering this question? We'd say a minimum of ten, and that they should draw from at least five different lessons and that at least two of those lessons come from first term.
This is not an easy question. It will require you to think about the big picture of how our current world is a product of the early modern world and it expects that you can draw on specific pieces of evidence to help support your answer. It is part reflective essay (this is my world) and it's part history essay (this is my world and this is its history): Boon offers us ways to see how they're connected.
The gist of it: you've taken a course on the history of the Atlantic world. This book by Sonja Boon explores how her world (and in many ways our world) fit in that history. Your exam asks you to explore those connections - to apply what you learned in a history course to a current, "real world" situation.
1500 words, due 1 April, end of the day.
The good answer (1) summarises Boon's major themes and argument, (2) connects her themes and argument to significant historical topics we've covered in the course, and (3) uses concrete historical examples from the course to illustrate features of that bigger picture. Show us you learned about the past and can apply it to thinking about our world
Do you need footnotes and a bibliography? For course materials, no. Use informal references in your writing: "As Scott argues in her essay on the French Revolution [blah, blah, blah] ". If you cite sources outside the course, then yes, add proper Chicago-style references.
Should you do outside research, no.
Header image: Sugar plantation and factory, Dutch Surinam, ca 1852. Source: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam NL