HIST2F90: Money & Power in the Atlantic World

Winter Term - Short Assignment Options

You have three options, all are 1200-word essays, all are due by the end of the day February 16th.

Option 1: Debating the Trade in Enslaved Peoples, 1788

In the 1780s, for the first time, a campaign to end the trade in enslaved peoples made it to the British Parliament. It became the most controversial debate in Britain for several years. Though unsuccessful, in this round, it brought into sharp relief the barbaric conditions prevailing in the plantations of the West Indies and would, eventually, see Britain first end the trade (1807) and eventually outlaw slavery itself (1838). In this assignment, you'll compare two publications from that first national debate: two texts, both published in London in 1788, but offering very different views of the trade.

John Newton, Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade (London, 1788).

William Beckford, Remarks upon the situation of Negroes in Jamaica: impartially made from a local experience of nearly thirteen years in that island (London, 1788).

As in the first text analysis assignment, we want you to read them in a particular manner. We first want you to "pre-read" each work, using only their titles, publication information and your now developing general knowledge. Second we want you again to use text-mining software (Voyant) as a way to examine the patterns of topics and ideas present in each text: can these "pre-reads" allow you to hypothesize about these texts? To develop questions by which you might approach reading them? Then, finally, read the texts with an eye to both reading it critically and intelligently (as you alway would) but also to testing your hypotheses. Some hints for comparing texts in Voyant can be found here.

Text-mining software like Voyant allow us to "read" text in new and interesting ways. These tools count, organise, and visually represent writing. It allows one to read entire works, even multiple works, that can help us identify patterns of word use, key terms, themes, and even the organisation of ideas and arguments. 

Hint: I've given you a video showing you the basics of comparing two texts in Voyant, but you can also use Voyant on each of these texts, one-by-one, to get a handle on each before you move on to the comparison.

Pre-reading allows us to identify important features of these books. To be clear, we still need to read - the software only helps us spot patterns, not doing the actual reading - but it allows us to anticipate language, conceptual terms, associations of ideas, sections of the book where some ideas may be present.

Due 16 February, by the end of the day (1000-1200 words): Much the same as last time, but with two texts. Using the two texts and the knowledge and skills acquired in this course, using at least two tools from Voyant Tools to "pre-read" these texts, and discussing the texts in light of your pre-reading. Make sure that you include URLs to the output pages of the data analyses and tools that you are describing.

If using the URLs gives you trouble, I've made plain-text versions that are available here.

Because these are 18th-century texts, there are some oddities that require adjusting - see this very short video if you're encountering too many banal words like "the" and "and".

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Option 2 -  Let's talk methodology

Methodology isn't the sexiest of topics, but it's incredibly important. It's become even more important as historians seek innovative ways to understand historically marginalised peoples, such as the Indigenous peoples of the Americas and enslaved Africans brought to America. As we've begun to see in this course, historians' traditionally most important sources - textual documents - are rarely available for such people and so historians are compelled to seek other forms of evidence. This essay is a very good example of such innovative research. 

Read the following essay and write an essay (1000-1200 words) discussing the interdisciplinary approach of this study, in particular the very different types of evidence used. Your essay should do four things: (i) explain the authors' question/research aim, (ii) note the conclusions they draw, (iii) describe the different forms of evidence they use (and the displines from which it is drawn), and (iv) show how that evidence supports their conclusions. Due 16 February, by the end of the day (EDT).

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Option 3, Film review: "Belle" (Amma Asante, UK, 2013)

Using the knowledge and skills you've acquired in this course, review this historical film.

A fan of Bridgerton? The very popular British TV series completely reimagines the Regency Era Britain in a very contemporary style, most notably (or at least most ranted about on social media!) the racial "look" of that era. You might think I hate Bridgerton because I'm a historian and its use of history is shaky. Nope. I think it's fun, weird, but fun - and. moreover it makes no pretence of being historically accurate. It's playing with a genre. Some of you may have seen Quintin Tarrentino's "Django Unchanged". For me, it's the same thing: it's not trying to be "historically accurate - it's trying to tell an interesting story in an unconventional way, but still conveying a historical fact. An obvious comparison is Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln", a film that got all the details right, but portrayed the struggle over slavery as one fought out in Washington. Django showed clearly that slavery continued to exist because white men were prepared to resort to extreme violence to preserve their world. That, it seems to me, gets at a far greater historical truth than making sure the costumes are period accurate.  

While this is neither Bridgerton, nor Django,  it is both better (it does the historical accuracy part very well) and not as good (it's not as adventuresome). But it does, I think, a pretty good job of retelling a true story in a popular, accessible manner. It's a love story, and a history lesson, wrapped with a big Georgian bow.The film is framed as much as a romance as it is an account of colonial life, and some critics have certainly noted that the film seems a tad sugar-coated. Having said that, I'd say the director is genuinely trying to make the film as historically accurate as she can. We'll leave you to discuss how well she does that, but I think at minimum we can say that it offers a reasonable reimagining of a fascinating story. Were Black people rare in 18th-century Britain? They certainly weren't common, and perhaps even less so among the country's elite. But they were far from rare, even among the country's elite. A recent book by historian Daniel Livesay, Children of Uncertain Fortune Mixed-Race Jamaicans in Britain and the Atlantic Family, 1733-1833 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018) follows hundreds of children born to white planters and Caribbean women of colour (very often enslaved) who then crossed the Atlantic for education, business opportunities, or simply to escape the extreme prejudices of the colonial world. It answers one part of the Bridgerton question: did elite Black people live in Georgian Britain? Yes. Of course, he didn't set out to prove that point, but he does give ua a much richer account of racial complexities on the eastern side of Atlantic world.

The film is not, however, without controversy.  Many critics, for example, have pointed out that while broadly accurate - like many films this one begins “the historical events represented in this story are true” - the film has a highly idealised take on how we should understand that story. And you are now in a good place to assess that film. You've by now read some work on women, slavery, the enslaved, and on the emerging politics both for and against the slave trade. Using your new background, review the film as a historian. 

Using the material available to you - both the materials you read for our slavery lessons, and the sources included with this assignment - discuss this film’s interpretation of this true story as it connects to our course themes. The Ben Franklin's World podcast with Livesay included with this assignment, will prove especially helpful in thinking about how the film depicts race and family relationships in Georgian England. To be clear, you don’t need to get into all the intrigues of British politics and so on. That part of the story is told reasonably accurately; it simplifies the story, for sure, but that’s necessary in a film like this.

What I want you to focus on the film's more important representation: the relationship between Belle and the elite British world she finds herself in. Does the film offer a historically sound representation of such an Atlantic world life? Does it help us think about the world of slavery, race, and freedom in early modern Britain?

Watch the film during or after after we've completed our lesson on the practice of slavery. I want you to watch the film thinking with what we've learned about slavery, about women in colonial societies, about the enslaved (particularly women), and about the place of slavery in early modern Britain. None of our documents are about this person (though one is about a real-life event in the film). We've added some additional readings noted below, and expect you to incorporate them into your review. Our readings and discussions , plus these additional readings, should offer you a strong historical context from which to review this film.

You may find the following link helpful to provide you with the basic structure of a film review (it is a suggesstion, not a rubric), but remember, you are writing about the film as an historian. It may help to think of your audience as other historians as you reflect on the film..would you recommend it to them. As good historians, remember, when you cite knowledge you acquired in this course, you should cite the source as a good historian would.

"Belle", (dir. Amma Assante) Britain, 2014.

Primary sources:

Secondary sources:

Write an essay, 1000-1200 words, due 16 February, by the end of the day (EDT)


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