We Are Not American!: Teaching and Learning the 19th Century from Hawai’i

There’s a problem with teaching 19th-century American literature in Hawai’i. The problem arises from the fact that during the 19th century, Hawai’i was not, and, according to many Kanaka Maoli still is not, part of America. In 1893, the US overthrew the Hawaiian Kingdom and its sovereign Queen Lili’uokalani, and in 1898 illegally annexed the Hawaiian islands, despite massive resistance from Hawaiian people. Hawai’i’s specific history is a particularly glaring and relatively recent example of the colonial situation under which 19th-century American literature is taught throughout the U.S.: it is all taught on stolen land. Hawai’i’s history and location, and how this place makes it impossible to forget about colonialism, present an opportunity for thinking about the challenges and paradoxes of teaching 19th-century American literature both in the islands and throughout the territories now known as the US. How might the problem of teaching this curriculum-mandated field of literary studies in an explicitly colonized place offer possibilities for teaching and writing with 19th-century American literature more broadly? How might contemplating this question from Hawai’i offer ways to think through how teachers and scholars on the continent could account for the distinct histories of the people Native to the lands on which they teach? And how might it help teachers both in Hawai’i and on the continent frame C19 Am Lit explicitly as literature of colonization? 

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Inauguration 2021: a Roundtable

As Joe Biden’s inauguration looms, we at Insurrect! have turned our attention to transitions, both democratic and antidemocratic, in United States history. Over the last few months, the world has witnessed the attempted judicial overthrow of a presidential election and the breaching of the U.S. Capitol by a white supremacist mob. With these events in mind, we asked three early career scholars: In light of this year’s regime change, how have you been thinking about transfers of power in your own scholarship? 

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The Organizer’s Mind of Martin Delany

In October 1876, Martin Delany, the Black abolitionist later called the father of Black nationalism, endorsed Democratic Party candidate Wade Hampton for Governor from a platform in South Carolina. Black people in the crowd booed him from the stage. Very few would follow Delany’s defection to the Democrats that election. Hundreds would be killed by Democrat mobs as they tried to vote against Hampton, the ex-Confederate General who had been among the nation’s wealthiest slaveholders. Hampton’s victory would usher in a “Redeemer” government to end Reconstruction in the Blackest state in the Union. 

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Cartographic Justice: From Omission to Illumination of America’s Black Communities

I was struck one workday by a 1878 map I picked up entitled Gray’s New Map of Hampton, depicting Hampton, Virginia, in the decade after the Civil War (Fig. 1). The image shows the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, then an agricultural and teachers’ college for Black students, now known as Hampton University. The city’s Black population is referenced through “colored” institutions like cemeteries and churches, but individual names of homes or buildings are only labeled for white businessmen, such as George Dixon’s oyster house visible by the Hampton Creek steamboat landing.

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A letter from the Managing Editors: Introducing our Launch Fundraiser

Today, anti-racist and anti-imperialist writing about early American history is under threat from austerity, executive orders, and historical erasure. Universities are exploiting the economic crisis to continue slashing budgets, the academic job market has collapsed entirely, and U.S. white nationalist mythmaking continues to hold sway within a violent police state and a chaotic election season. As early-career scholars facing these dire circumstances, we founded Insurrect! to honor the ongoing resistance to settler violence, slavery, and imperialism in the colonial Americas. Our goal is to publish the writing of contingent and independent scholars, graduate students, archivists, and library and museum workers who do not have a voice in academia. Insurrect! is not just for academics, but for a public eager for radical change in historical writing.

In the final two weeks of October 2020, the Managing Editors of Insurrect! are holding a Launch Fundraiser so that we can compensate our writers and content editors. The content published by Insurrect! is made possible entirely by graduate students and contingent academic workers; compensating our writers and editors is therefore of the utmost importance to us. 

We are asking for your financial support so that we can continue to publish writing that confronts the histories, institutions, and narratives that perpetuate violence and inequality in our present.  

Our goal is to raise $10,500 to cover Insurrect!’s operating funds for the first quarter of our duration as a publication. This amount will enable us to continue publishing through February 2021, with fair rates for our writers and content editors, as well as support for upkeep and management. The work of the Managing Editors currently remains voluntary and uncompensated. Your donations to Insurrect!’s Patreon and Paypal accounts go directly to paying Insurrect!’s contributing authors and content editors. 

Join our Insurrect! community by making a monthly commitment or a one-time donation:


We appreciate your support.

In solidarity,
Insurrect!’s Managing Editors

Dessalines’s America: A Decolonial Critique

Image: Jean-Jacques Dessalines, “Liberté ou la Mort,” [Haitian Declaration of Independence], 1 January 1804, MFQ 1/184, The National Archives of the United Kingdom. Source: https://haitidoi.com/ Julia Gaffield PhD

After declaring independence from the French on January 1, 1804, Governor General for life Jean-Jacques Dessalines defended the new nation of Haiti in an Atlantic world determined to refuse its claims to antislavery and anticolonial sovereignty. Speaking to the Haitian people – and addressing anxious onlookers in the Atlantic world – on April 28, 1804, Dessalines proclaimed “Yes, I have saved my country; I have avenged America.” The object of his vengeance was clear: the remaining colonists on the island, whom he had ordered killed in the early months of 1804. Yet the beneficiary of his vengeance, the “America” for whom Dessalines exacted a “terrible but just” retribution, was multivalent and complex. Dessalines’s “America” was a transhistorical concept that bridged past, present, and future to encompass the violent colonization and resistance of Indigenous and Black people. By exploring the richness of Dessalines’s foundational anticolonial utterance here, we gain a better understanding of Haiti and its place in studies of America’s long nineteenth century. Ultimately, Dessalines’s “America” helps scholars decolonize the idea of “America” and an overly US-centric concept of American Studies. 

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Reflections on the Crisis at Hand: a Roundtable, Part 2

In part two of our roundtable, we start with a question posed by Efren Lopez: How might we funnel the labor and resources of the university, the museum, or any institution in which we work towards the Black Lives Matter movement, abolition, or insurrection more broadly? And what futures do you envision for these institutions that would make them fertile seedbeds for the sort of garden Bradley Craig describes—something capable of fostering “sustainability, care, and pleasure?”

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Reflections on the Crisis at Hand: a Roundtable, Part 1

Insurrect! is a new digital space for radical thinking in Early American Studies. Our first roundtable features early career researchers who are attuned to colonialism as an ongoing system of power, and whose work spans disciplines of study as well as geographies outside of nationalist borders. In response to the upheavals of 2020, the editorial team thought it only fitting to begin our roundtable by asking this question: How has this moment of anti-colonial uprisings and demonstrations by Black Lives Matter and Indigenous activists shifted your work in early American studies—either as a researcher, an educator, a curator, a public historian, or an activist?

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Toppling Colston, Centering Black Lives

There is an empty plinth in Bristol. It sits within a stone’s throw of the Cenotaph (Bristol’s monument to its First and Second World War dead), a plaque commemorating the Burma Campaign of 1941-1945, a statue of the conservative Irishman and imperialist Edmund Burke, and an Indian restaurant named 4500 Miles from Delhi. The plinth, until very recently, held its own public signifier of Britain’s former empire: the slave trader and Royal African Company (RAC) employee, Edward Colston. The plaza lies in the shadow of Colston Tower, and a heavy traffic of lorries and commuters follows the curve of Colston Avenue around it. The fact that Black Lives Matter activists had to hoist Colston into Bristol’s harbor for the link between this local ‘philanthropist’ and the state-supported dispossession, sale, or violent death of 1.3 million Africans to be widely acknowledged is a curious feature of Britain’s simultaneous remembering and obliviating of the enormous wealth generated from its investment and perpetuation of Atlantic slavery and the slave trade. However, not only considerations of wealth or institutions are missing from both common memory and how the statue’s fall has been discussed – Black people’s histories and presents are all too often obscured behind recitations of Colston’s biography or a focus on the institutions to which he belonged. 

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American Private Schools as Monuments to Racism

Summer 2020 has seen Black Lives Matter and Indigenous rights activists toppling countless statues commemorating racism and racists both in the Americas and around the world. Not all monuments to the past are cast in bronze, however. From the names of our streets to the layout of our neighborhoods to the schools our children attend, memorializations of slavery and segregation surround us in the United States. American private schools, especially, have long functioned to reinforce class and racial hierarchies, and themselves act as monuments to racism and segregation.

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