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Ghosts of the Atlantic: Trauma, Disease and Murder in the Seafaring World of Slavery

Date: February 7, 2013
Time: 6:00 PM - 7:00 PM

Registration and Refreshments from 5:30 p.m.; Lecture at 6 p.m.


Sowande' Mustakeem, PhD, Washington University in St. Louis

Sponsored by: Section on the History of Medicine and Public Health

Location: The New York Academy of Medicine, 1216 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street, New York, NY 10029

On June, 15, 1791, sailor John Cranston gave testimony before a federal grand jury to assist in deciding the legal fate of Rhode Island slave trader James D'Wolf, who was accused of throwing an enslaved African female overboard while traveling from West Africa to the Caribbean aboard the slave ship Polly. Rather telling is the way in which the Middle Passage becomes foregrounded through the story of a notorious American slave trader responsible for and intricately connected to the murder of a bondwoman afflicted with smallpox. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was plagued by the constant transmission of bacteria and disease. By playing out within the central social space of the Atlantic Ocean, however, this case offers a useful window into maritime slavery and, more importantly, into how entangled factors of race, class, masculinity and power became manifested through the fear of a woman''s diseased body that was believed to pose both a medical burden and a financial threat against future slave sales once the ship had landed.

About the Speaker(s)

Sowande' Mukstakeem received her PhD in Comparative Black History in May 2008 from Michigan State University.  She then accepted a two-year Andrew Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellowship in History along with a jointly appointed tenure track position in History and African & African American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, where she is currently on the faculty. Much of her research and teaching interests focus on comparative slavery, gender, violence, the social history of medicine and studies of the Atlantic/African Diaspora. She is currenty working on a book manuscript which conducts a social history of the Middle Passage by examining critical factors of gender, health and power aboard British and American slave vessels during the leal era of the 18th century Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Sowande' has received several national fellowships and has published a number of book chapters and scholarly articles, including her most recent publication entitled "'She Must Go Overboard & Shall Go Overboard': Diseased Bodies and the Spectacle of Murder at Sea," on which her talk is based. It centers on the experience and subsequent mistreatment of a black woman ailing from smallpox aboard an 18th century American slave ship.


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Cost: Free, but advance registration is required
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