Constructing a Nation, Defining its People: The Formation and Preservation of Ethnic Identities

Saturday, February 7, 2015
11:30am – 12:45pm
Jones Hall 102
Moderated by: Dr. Rosanne Adderley, Department of History, Tulane University

Out of Blood, Let the Dance Begin: The Metaphor of Blood in Revolutionary Saint-Domingue
Sean Anderson, Lehigh University

While European slave societies placed much emphasis on blood’s purity in a racial sense, the enslaved also placed certain emphases on blood’s meanings in the Americas. Often concerned with European colonial perceptions such as the Spanish limpieza de sangre or the classification system of Moreau de Saint-Méry, much scholarly research has focused on European racial categories rather than specific African ideas and practices concerning blood. This paper will explain the role blood occupied in the Bois Caiman ceremony, which occurred in 1791 at the start of the Saint-Domingue insurgency. According to archival accounts, the ceremony was centered around an African blood-oath ritual. While blood-oath rituals are often interpreted by scholars as creating symbolic union between people and groups, this paper will examine how traditional African symbolic conceptions surrounding blood ritual were transformed by early insurgents. In Saint-Domingue, blood-oath ritual appeared traditional but acted socially and symbolically differently by both integrating various people while demarcating lines of difference among early insurgents. Further, in various contexts, such as at dances and in insurgent camps, blood as a metaphor for both unity and disunity emerges in the archival documents of late eighteenth-century Saint-Domingue, which exposes a rich world of African, European, and American confluence around the multivalent social metaphor of blood. Drawing on the works of diverse scholars such as James H. Sweet, Joan Dayan, Robin Law, and Michael Taussig, this paper will show that the Haitian metaphor of blood was deeper than studies on racial classification reveal. To that end, African cultural forms and symbolic meanings about blood will be examined within the diverse social context of Saint-Domingue to show how an emerging Haitian identity was crafted over the revolutionary period out of many trans-Atlantic symbolic currents.

Cajun Identity Formation during the 19th Century
Jessica DeJohn Bergen, University of Texas at El Paso

This paper will look at the Louisiana Acadians during the early nineteenth century. Following their 1755 deportation by the British Empire from present day Nova Scotia, most Acadians, as subjects of the French Empire, returned to France and/or settled in various regions the Spanish Empire in North America. Many of them relocated to southern Louisiana where they remained until the purchase of the Louisiana Territory by the American Empire. Despite this intriguing trans-imperial history, scholars interested in race, racialization, imperialism, and post-colonialism have largely overlooked the Acadians commonly refer to as Cajuns. This oversight stems from the present understanding of Acadians/Cajuns solely and simply as French or European, thus white; therefore, not a mixed-race or metis peoples. From the earliest settlement of Acadians in Nova Scotia to those of south Louisiana, Acadians/Cajuns have a mixed ancestry of Native American, African, French, and Spanish to name a few. This paper argues that at the nexus of Northern and Southern hemispheric empires, Louisiana Acadians/Cajuns formed alliances with communities that accommodated, resisted, and facilitated European imperialisms. I will discuss the ways that Louisiana Acadians/Cajuns were tied to the nation and the ways the state tied them to emerging constructions of race and nation. Moreover, I will explain what it meant to be Acadian/Cajun under French, Spanish, and U.S. imperial rule and how Acadians/Cajuns perceived themselves likewise. Over time conflicting nineteenth century racial and national ideas promoted discord and Louisiana Acadians/Cajuns sought to divorce themselves from the “other” through a relational process that frequently stressed their “whiteness.” Moreover, this analysis speaks to the ways that French speakers in Louisiana have claimed an Acadian past to racially legitimized a Cajun identity or whiten themselves.

Saint Domingue in Flames, 1791-1793: A Spanish Colonial Perspective of Violence, Spatiality, and Power
Jesús Ruiz, Tulane University