Yale History professor Edward Rugemer presented a draft of a chapter from his upcoming book to Georgetown faculty and Ph. D students Monday during the Georgetown Workshop in 19th Century U.S. History.
“We try to bring people to campus who are doing innovative work in 19th century American history to have a conversation about what they’re thinking,” said associate professor and director of graduate studies in the history department Adam Rothman, who runs the workshop along with associate history professor Chandra Manning. “There aren’t too many forums for this sort of thing.”
Though the book, “The Politics of Slavery Transformed: The Impact of Abolitionism and the Haitian Revolution in Jamaica and South Carolina,” is still in its early drafting stages, Rugemer expects to publish it in 2015.
The workshop focused on the seventh chapter, which analyzed the strong similarities between slavery in South Carolina and Jamaica. Both regions were “colonies of a colony,” had powerful enemies and were on similar economic tracks, Rugemer said. The differences between the two regions explain the different processes and paths of change within them.
“South Carolina’s ability to use a gag rule allowed them to maintain an argument based on political economy, whereas the Jamaicans were forced into a moral debate,” Rugemer said. “Carolinians wanted to be able to open up the slave trade and stop when they wanted to do it, and they had always done that. There is no moral rationality in that. America as an independent nation was better suited to address slavery.”
Rugemer, also author of “The Problem of Emancipation: the Caribbean Roots of the American Civil War,” said that he wanted to integrate plantation politics with national politics.
“The way I’ve organized the chapters is to organize them around comparable events of comparable developments,” Rugemer said. “It’s possible to go in-depth in these moments of crisis.”
Students noted that Rugemer was successful in balancing his specific subject with the bigger historical picture.
“Comparative history is great, but I think one of the things that can get lost is the larger national story,” Brian Taylor, a third year PhD student, said. “I think the balance here is good.”
Other students, however, said that the narrowness of Rugemer’s focus on South Carolina impeded the work.
April Yoder, a third year PhD student, said that the discussion was more involved than she’d seen in others.
“They challenged him more directly than I’ve seen on other ones,” Yoder said.
Chad Frasier, a first year PhD candidate, said that the discussion was a valuable experience.
“The product that is brought [in the workshops] is usually in some early stage of development,” Frasier said. “As PhD students, I think it’s valuable for us to see that even experienced researchers go through this process.”
Overall, participants felt that the workshop was a success.
“It was very helpful; I got a lot of good feedback,” Rugemer said.