Skip to content
The Kitchen in the Cabinet ((First Prize))
Submitted by Fatima Begum, Lauren Dorsey, and Cynthia Lucas, Dartmouth College.
The Kitchen in the Cabinet is a digital exhibition that investigates the intimate ties among food, natural science, imperialism, and slavery in the early modern period through the stories of centuries-old food artifacts. Food is ephemeral. Despite their perishable nature, these objects survived to the present by being preserved in scientific collections such as natural history museums.
The history of natural history and the history of food have largely been studied as separate histories. But many natural things in the early modern period were, at their core, consumable. Given its perishable nature, historical studies of food’s material culture tend to focus on recipes, cookbooks, food vessels, utensils, and menus—physical artifacts other than food itself. Yet some past foodstuffs survived against the odds, mostly by being conserved in natural history collections. This exhibition tells the individual stories of those objects. Some of the items include a specimen of breadfruit, intended to cheaply provision enslaved individuals in the eighteenth-century Caribbean; a block of dehydrated “portable soup,” the likes of which fed sailors and helped stave off scurvy on circumnavigations of the globe; and burnt fragments of persimmon seeds from George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, one of the few foods on the
plantation to be eaten by both the enslavers and the enslaved. While the exhibition targets specialists in food studies and the history of science, it also engages a number of contemporary issues, ranging from the continued exploitation and cruel labor conditions in today’s food industry.
The Early Caribbean Digital Archive (ECDA): Carnival as an Act of Rebellion ((Third Prize))
Submitted by Savita Maharaj, Northeastern University
The Early Caribbean Digital Archive (ECDA) “is an open-access collection of pre-twentieth-century Caribbean texts, maps, and images” that seeks to remix the archives through the use of digital tools and centralize enslaved and free African, Afro-creole, and Indigenous peoples in the Caribbean. As a research assistant for the ECDA, I cultivated a digital exhibit, a collection of primary texts that provides a new point of entry into the archives. My exhibit revolves around Caribbean Carnival —a festival of freedom performed in the face of European enslavement that has its roots in the pre-emancipation ritual of Cannes Brulees (sugarcane burning) — and its ties to rebellion against enslavement in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Through this work I explored what rebellion meant in the context of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and how the different components of Carnival–rituals, masking, song, and dance–are all part of Afro-Caribbean culture, a culture colonizers lacked the insider knowledge necessary to fully understand or participate in. This poster explores how by
applying postcolonial and decolonial frameworks to these colonial texts, such as Mrs. Carmichael’s journal, they can be used to understand this insider versus outsider perspective manifested in these celebrations, the lack of cultural literacy colonizers, had towards Afro-Caribbean culture, and how rooted traces of resilience and rebellion are in maintaining one’s culture. By looking at the technologies of resistance and opposition from the past, we can learn and develop them for the future, working towards understanding cultural resistance as a form of celebration, embodiment, and life.
Embedded Slave Narratives: The Search for Personhood in Pre-Twentieth Century Travel Literature ((Honorable Mention))
Submitted by Hannah Kim, Northeastern University
“Embedded Slave Narratives” investigates the literary history of enslaved Caribbean peoples found within pre-twentieth century media. The investigation uses texts from various sources found on the Early Caribbean Digital Archive. Particular to the embedded nature of these narratives, they are rarely fleshed out— often, they are snippets written by white outsiders. Transcribing these stories requires deeper engagement than copying the written words. Two major issues arise when engaging with these texts: the determination of what a narrative must contain, and the process of adding context to embellish the narrative without obscuring it. This poster focuses on a narrative found in Domestic Manners and Social Condition of the White, Coloured, and Negro Population of the West Indies. Volumes 1 and 2 (1833). Using transcription, as well as further archival research from sources such as the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery, “Embedded Slave Narratives” attempts to recover stories of enslaved peoples and establish a procedure for engaging with these types of histories that affords them the respect and academic rigor they deserve.
An Overview of the Misguided Perception of Expertise in Medicine in the Early Caribbean ((Second Prize))
Submitted by Natalie Hackman, Northeastern University
This poster is showcasing an exhibit for the Early Caribbean Digital Archive. The aim of the poster is to explore a brief overview of the misguided perception of expertise in medicine in the early Caribbean. During the period of the Atlantic Slave Trade, European physicians traveled to the West Indies to serve on plantations, bringing their common medical practices with them. However, given the stark contrast between the European climate and that of the Caribbean, the diseases that were able to manifest and fester in tropical conditions were largely unfamiliar. European physicians often struggled to produce a cure or even an approach towards treatment of these tropical diseases given this gap in their medical knowledge. In contrast to European physicians, enslaved peoples were more familiar with these ‘tropical’ diseases and had developed methods for cure and prevention. For example, after watching his plantation’s surgeon struggle with treating patients stricken with yaws, physician A.J. Alexander decided to enlist an enslaved doctor to observe if the doctor’s methods would differ. The enslaved doctor’s patients recovered overnight, suggesting a better understanding of yaws. However, given the view of enslaved individuals as inferior in society, their traditional medical practices were often belittled and disregarded. For instance, childbirth in Africa was a communal female activity involving the presence of midwives. After the introduction of European discourse in the West Indies, these childbirth practices became regarded as primitive and inefficient to the plantation complex. The aim of this poster is to answer two scholarly questions; did the tendency for physicians to cater to the desires of plantation owners influence the best medical practices towards enslaved individuals in the early Caribbean? and Was the understanding of tropical diseases by enslaved individuals considered in European medicine?