HSS Workshop: Multitudinous Natures, Universal Bodies, and the Ontologies of the Early Modern Black Atlantic

Pablo Gomez, Univeristy of Wisconsin-Madison

Monday, April 3, 2017 - 3:30pm

University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)

337 Cohen Hall

In this paper, I examine evidence coming from early modern European, African and American locales to reflect on the possibilities offered by a materialist approach to broaden our understanding of the development of widely adopted and robust intellectual models about bodies and nature in the early modern Black Atlantic. In existent histories of the early modern world, African Atlantic spaces do not appear as places for the production of "real" knowledge about nature. Instead, historians portray them as areas for the generation of practices, culture, materials and bodies to be studied with the "objective" tools of science or the social sciences. As an answer to these historiographical limitations, the paper presents evidence related to the emergence in the sixteenth and seventeenth century of recognizable and widely shared models for thinking about experiential matters, fungibility, risk, and quantification of human bodies and taxonomies of nature that first appeared in slave trading circuits and African diasporic spaces. These developments occurred in intellectual spaces that are ill-fitted for accommodation in existent narratives, about the emergence of "modern" Western ideas about universal bodies and nature. Through unsuspected linkages, they challenge the homogeneity of Western historicism and a metaphysics born out of historical processes bases on the notion of a universalizing nature, and a dualist ontology that separates nature and culture.