Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, History, Princeton University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2014
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Brown University
Reading about Freedom: Slavery, Literacy, and the Impact of the U.S. Civil War in Brazil (1850-1870)

My project examines the world of slave communication that made the American Civil War a part of black freedom struggles in Brazil during the second half of the nineteenth century. Relying especially on literate peers with access to newspapers, Brazilian slaves educated themselves about the U.S. Civil War and wove narratives of the conflict into the liberal critique of slavery that had started to sway the country. Black networks of information enabled slaves, freedmen, and maroons to imagine themselves as part of a larger community based not only on literal connections, but also on common experiences, assumptions, and cultural practices throughout the Atlantic. Focusing on slave rebellions in the provinces of Maranhão (1861), Minas Gerais (1864), and Pará (1865), I argue that the United States became an important part of the conceptual maps of slavery and freedom that Brazilian slaves and free blacks applied to navigate the country's political landscape in the decades prior to abolition in 1888. Black political activism adds a new dimension to the historiography about the impact of the Civil War in Brazil. Scholars have often studied the migration of Confederate planters to the country after defeat in the war - estimates range from eight to twenty thousand Southern migrants – but have paid little attention to the fact that the events unfolding in the United States covered the pages of Brazilian newspapers, and fuelled both congressional debates and conversations in slave quarters. My dissertation examines how the U.S. war shaped black abolitionism and contributed to the Brazilian government's decision to abolish slavery gradually in the 1870s.