African Kings and Black Slaves

Please join us on April 8th, at 5pm, for a book presentation by Herman Bennett, professor of History at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York (CUNY).

The talk, based on his most recent book, African Kings and Black Slaves: Sovereignty and Dispossession in the Early Modern Atlantic (UPenn, 2018), will be at the Social Sciences Tea Room. A small reception will follow, during which a representative of  Seminary Co-op will be selling the book.

In African Kings and Black Slaves, Bennett mines the historical archives of Europe and Africa to reinterpret the first century of sustained African-European interaction. These encounters were not simple economic transactions. Rather, according to Bennett, they involved clashing understandings of diplomacy, sovereignty, and politics. Bennett unearths the ways in which Africa’s kings required Iberian traders to participate in elaborate diplomatic rituals, establish treaties, and negotiate trade practices with autonomous territories. And he shows how Iberians based their interpretations of African sovereignty on medieval European political precepts grounded in Roman civil and canon law. In the eyes of Iberians, the extent to which Africa’s polities conformed to these norms played a significant role in determining who was, and who was not, a sovereign people—a judgment that shaped who could legitimately be enslaved.

Through an examination of early modern African-European encounters, African Kings and Black Slaves offers a reappraisal of the dominant depiction of these exchanges as being solely mediated through the slave trade and racial difference. By asking in what manner did Europeans and Africans configure sovereignty, polities, and subject status, Bennett offers a new depiction of the diasporic identities that had implications for slaves’ experiences in the Americas.

Herman Bennett is a renowned scholar on the history of the African diaspora, with a particular focus on Latin American history. He is author of Colonial Blackness: A History of Afro-Mexico and Africans in Colonial Mexico: Absolutism, Christianity and Afro-Creole Consciousness, 1570-1640. Earlier on that day, at 12:30pm, professor Bennett will be joining us for a conversation about Frank Tannenbaum’s ideas on slavery systems in the Americas. 




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