Some Preliminary Reflections on Reconceptualizing Cultural Histories of the Atlantic World, Digitally and Interculturally

After our veritable feast of Atlantic World history scholarship these last two days, as well as our productive opening conversation and many informal discussions, where do we stand? Here are some initial (“sketchy,” as it were) reflections.

  • How do we contribute new frameworks and conceptual approaches to Atlantic World, trans-oceanic, transnational, and global history?

Flows, Circulations, Hubs, Displacements, Reconfigurations, and…Portals? 

With both the Transatlantic Cultures platform and the Atlantic World Forum, we return repeatedly to the question of conceptualizing the Atlantic World as a place of flows and circulations. To be sure, we do not wish to erase the power wielded by centers over peripheries, the continued legacies of various imperialisms, but we also want to become more aware of how those dynamics played out in less predictable ways in the empirical record of the Atlantic World. To do so, cultural history, broadly conceived, is productive because cultural forms and interactions offer spaces and practices of potent if decentralized processes of making—and especially of remaking.

Indeed, building on a comment by Anaïs Flétchet, I too noticed that this remaking often appeared when one of our presenters tracked the movement of Atlantic World participants through various displacements, movements, and relocations. It is often distance, whether forced or voluntary or some combination of the two, which helps to create place-based cultural, institutional, economic, and political formations. We see this when Gilberto Gil (as Anaïs studies) or Alan Lomax (as I study) resettled in what Marcos names as a “hub” (rather than a center) of the Atlantic World: London. We hear it in listening to the stories of how the Old Klezmorim become new—and then, in a way, old again—in Jean-Sébastien Noël‘s research. It appears when we glimpse the people of St. Kitts transferring some, but not all, aspects of the West African significance of one plant (Dracaena) onto another one (Cordyline) that seems similar in look, but in fact arrived in St. Kitts from Tahiti thanks to the British Empire, as Michael Sheridan studies. It becomes manifest too, even in disguised costumes, in the appropriations of Shakespeare in the Masque rituals of Mardi Gras on the island of Carriacou, as Dan Brayton studies. We notice the importance of displacement and relocation in the move to Liberia by Middlebury graduate and Rutland, Vermont, native Martin Freeman, as Will Hart describes it. We see it, as Michele Greet teaches us, in the ways in which the very definition of modernist Latin American visual art is shaped by the experiences of Latin American artists and their networks of dealers, salons, socializing, and more across the Atlantic in Paris (another hub to be sure). It emerges again, as Gabriela Pellegrino shows, in the commercial publishing practices of W.M. Martin and his Book of Knowledge as assembled and reassembled in various permutations around the Pan-American world. We grasp the significance of institutional re-situation (almost translation) in the use of Pan-American cultural exchange to try to shape US public opinion, as Richard Cándida Smith investigates. The importance of displacement, reconfiguration, and distance appears again in the Methodist photographs taken by missionaries and assembled, in frustratingly disorganized form, into albums back at the main offices of the Methodist church, as Didier Aubert shows us. And it is present, as Daniel Silva is analyzing, in the story of fitness culture as a way of inculcating, at an almost invisible yet also profoundly corporeal level, a national, normative sense of what it means to be “Brazilian.” Here it is partly the distance between the ideologies and the bodies onto and into which these ideologies gets placed (where they are quite literally made muscular) that allows them to function.

These stories are all marked not only by flows and circulations, but also by key displacements that, like portals, remake the peoples, cultures, economics, social forms, and political formations of the Atlantic World by causing them to pass through transformations. In other words, one way to get a sense of place in this history is precisely through movement; one way to look toward specific histories is by, in an odd way, looking askance at them. The periphery, as we have long known, turns out to be core to the story. Place emerges from displacement. Culture provides a way to glimpse how in circulations and flows larger struggles, contestations, negotiations, reconfigurations have occurred. Therefore, perhaps like flows, circulations, and hubs, portals might become another productive keyword for this project.

Flows, Circulations, Hubs, Displacements, Reconfigurations, Portals, and…Currents?: Getting Decentralized and Connected at the Same Time

Additionally, one tension I believe we noticed (articulated by Gabriela) in these projects is that we must balance our interest in multiplicity without creating complete fragmentation. How might we use the layered, multidimensional qualities of the digital platforms to present the overlaps and the gaps among the many frameworks for Atlantic World study (transatlantic, circum-Atlantic, Black Atlantic, hemispheric, Pan-American, colonial and postcolonial, diasporic, etc.)? At the same time, how do we create coherent, connected history? Perhaps the metaphor of currents, taken from the movements of water in the Atlantic itself (Gulf Streams, etc.) might help us better consider and historicize two opposing thematics: sometimes there are what Lara Putnam, borrowing from Kamau Braithwaite, calls the “submarine unities of Atlantic history” that rest beneath the “above-water fragments”; at the same time, we also seek to complicate the assertions of above-world unities that hide the great diversity of stories within Atlantic World circulations and flows. If we can trace the ironies of these seeming contradictions effectively perhaps that is a path to better historicization and crystallization of this very large, dare I say oceanic, story.

From Structure and Agency, Domination and Resistance to Other Frameworks?

A final observation: as Richard Cándida Smith noted that he learned in his study of Pan-American cultural exchange, and as Didier Aubert also suggested in his work on the photography by Methodist missionaries in places such as Chile, and indeed lurking in much of our research is a different framework for thinking about power and culture. Rather than privilege ideology alone as a shaping force, we noticed in cultural forms the complicated interactions between institutional forces in the economic and civil spheres (publishing, academic and professional associations, religious organizations and practices, art world dealers and salons, public holiday traditions, etc.) and ideological urges (nation-state formation, capitalism, socialism) and aesthetic gestures (music, visual art, vernacular expression). This is not completely different from existing frameworks we use as historians, such as structure and agency or domination and resistance (or hegemony and counter-hegemony in the Gramscian sense), but it does point to a slightly different way of considering (borrowing again from Richard) the pragmatics of Atlantic World cultural histories, the ways in which culture and power, continuity and disruption, emerge from concrete and specific situations rather than the actual lived experience of the Atlantic World arising from abstract forces. With everything from Paul Gilroy’s Black Atlantic “practical philosophy” to the “transmodernity” that Walter Mignolo examines to other seemingly abstract dimensions of Atlantic World history, these research projects on the Atlantic World, brought into a shared digital platform and space, have the potential to reveal both the very particular instantiations of larger forces and show how the larger forces only arise from the particular empirical examples. In short, here is a way to, as Bill Hart put it, responding to the work of Lara Putnam, create better duets between microhistories and epic histories—as he put it, to grasp the interactions between “the Small and the Mighty.”

Michael Kramer

Transatlantic Cartographies of Popular Music in the Americas – Full Text

Marcos Napolitano, Department of History, University of São Paulo (USP)


Popular music is frequently analyzed through national ‘musical genres,’ consecrated through specific aesthetic and socio-cultural conventions, and usually formed over various decades. It is enough to think of the most traditional music genres in the Americas, such as samba, jazz, rumba, bolero, and tango, for our cultural memory to relate them to their country of ‘origin:’ Brazil, United States, Cuba, Mexico, and Argentina, respectively. Not by chance, the history of these large musical genres is confused with the process of modernization and cultural massification of the countries in which they originated.

Is it possible to construct another cartography of popular music in the Americas?

For this purpose, I tried to think a cartography centered on intersected musical exchanges between Europe, the Americas, and Africa, responsible for the formation of the principal national musical matrices in the Americas.


The circulation of various musical sonorities in the Americas, or between the Americas, Africa, and Europe is older than the colonization of the continent. This not imply see the pre-colonial American music as ‘autochthone’ or ‘static’ in the time and space. Amerindians had complex networks of cultural exchanges, especially in the Andean and Mesoamerican macro-regions, as well as in the Atlantic and Pacific coastal regions, in the Pampas, and in the confines of the Artic and Patagonia.  It would be more appropriate to state that colonization instituted other patterns and materials of cultural transfers, with the result that European and African music established a previously unknown form of hybrid timbre and rhythm, a phenomenon from which popular music in various American countries originated. This paper will focus on the exchanges that emerged at the end of the eighteenth century and during the nineteenth and twentieth. It was these exchanges which molded a dynamic and mutable musical cartography, but with identifiable patterns and agencies of various ethnic and social groups, which molded the matrices of musical genres.

As a general rule, it can be stated that between the eighteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, exchanges between intellectualized mediators (travelers, artists, writers) and mass populational displacements, whether of enslaved Africans or emigrating Europeans, were central in the affirmation of these musical exchanges and in the assimilation of the musical genres which we call ‘matrices’ in local and national contexts.

From the middle of the twentieth century onwards the circulation of cultural products with a radiophonic, phonographic, or audiovisual nature, produced under the seal of mass culture, transmitted by electronic media, within a structure of a mercantilized cultural consumption, came to be the principal format of musical diffusion between countries, even though the physical movement of mediators and populations was still significant. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, digital media and products, distributed or formatted by large multinational corporations, assumed the principal protagonism in this system of cultural and musical exchanges. In other words, we start from the premise that experiences of musical exchanges in the twenty-first century, in principle, depend less on the physical movements of anonymous or authorial cultural agents than the experiences of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that these physical movements functioned in the twentieth century and at the beginning of the twenty-first, constituting particular experiences and specific musical forms, even if little visible in the musical market in this digital age.

On the other hand, in relation to the historical phase when population movements were determinant in the constitution of transcultural musical experiences, we cannot underestimate the circulation of printed material and the action of cultural institutions linked to the national elites being formed, as elements which instituted the musical cartography of the Americas.

Also in the eighteenth century, modinha and lundu, considered by a large part of Brazilian musical historiography as the ‘matrix genres,’ are examples of this complex network of migrations of people and printed material between Africa and Brazil, Brazil and Portugal, the Iberian Peninsula and the Americas, including printed songbooks (SLIDE DE EXEMPLO).

In the middle of the nineteenth century, a new genre of dance would leave Central Europe, cross the Atlantic and cause a furor in the Americas: the polka. It is worth noting that the waltz, one of the matrices of paired ballroom dancing, had already reached the Americas, becoming favored in the aristocratic ballrooms of the new continent through its assimilation in the Viennese courts and the English aristocracy at the beginning of the nineteenth century. However, the ‘polka fever’ appears to have been wide-ranging and quite influential on American musical matrices.


It is no exaggeration to say that, in the matrices of popular music formed in various countries along the Atlantic coast of the continent from the beginning of the twentieth century, the African element was primordial. The combination of the African cultural elements (including musical elements) in their various ethnicities with other European ethnicities and American ‘autochthones’ varied from region to region.

The exception to this African preponderance was the vast Mesoamerican and Andean zone, where the music of the Amerindian base was predominant: carnavalito, taquirari, huayno. These traditional Amerindian dances, alongside other dances and genres with important Iberian and African influences (zamacueca, cueca chilena, zamba, vals peruano), were important in the formation of the popular musical heritage of the Andean and Pacific region, a focus outside the scope of this article. These genres present in the vast South American hinterland, and formed the musical foundation of the Latin American Nueva Canción, with a strong political meaning, one of the matrices of the protest song continent.


The increased slave traffic in the first half of the nineteenth century, above all in Brazil and Cuba, had a profound impact on American musical life. Between the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century, this process of the creation of Afro-American music appears to have become more identifiable and delineated, in terms of aesthetics and culture. As well as the Cuban-Iberian habanera and the African cell rhythmic of tresillo, both the fundamental conventional matrix for various types of music from the Americas, there emerged musical configurations which can be conventionally grouped according to genre: spirituals (first found in 1860), jongo from South-Central Brazil, candombe from the River Plate region (both identified by writers at the beginning of the nineteenth century). (SLIDE DE EXEMPLO MUSICAL E ICONOGRÁFICO)

Although the African music practiced in the Americas was not the object of careful notation in the nineteenth century and disappeared from sheet music and phonograms until the beginning of the twentieth, it was present in the daily life of society, albeit in an oblique and repressed manner. It was generically called by the press and travelling writes as batuque. While there is no sheet music, there is abundant documentation in the form of reports and iconography which allows researchers analyze types of instruments, their genealogies, the way they were played, and their social function (SLIDE DE EXEMPLO ICONOGRÁFICO).

However, the changes in the treatment of the ‘African question,’ in various American colonies or even in the national countries, often repressed the sonorities which remembered the African continent, above all in relation to the timbres of percussion (SLIDE DOCUMENTO Negro Act). On this point, we can remark that is a strong line of Afro-American musical expressions which do not have the ‘batuque’ or beat of drums and percussion at the center of their expressivity. For example, the various work songs practiced above all on the plantations, as well as ladainhas (kyrielles) and songs of a religious nature, had a fundamental role as musical matrices of various modern genres, such as spirituals and blues in the United States.


In this process, many musical matrices were being forgotten, assimilated, diluted, or reiterated, forming the modern cartography of popular American music in the first half of the twentieth century. Ancestral forms, such as habanera, modinha, and lundu, practically disappeared from the musical map of the twentieth century. Others such as Brazilian choro and maxixe underwent alternative periods of revival and ostracism, becoming incorporated into the generic field of samba, the principal national Brazilian genre during the twentieth century. The Argentinian tango, delineated as a type of dance and song around 1920, became mainstream music in the region of Buenos Aires, at the same time that candombe underwent a process of ghettoization which was only questioned in the 1980s. In the Caribbean, rumba (Cuba), mambo (Cuba), cha-cha-cha, calypso (Trinidad), merengue (Dominica), amongst others, constituted the base of dance music in the region, widely diffused from the middle of the twentieth century by the phonographic industry in the United States.  In the latter country, from the proto-jazz of New Orleans, such as cakewalk and ragtime, and the blues of the Mississippi Delta, there emerged an entire line of modern popular music, such as jazz itself, fox-trot, bebop, swing, rhythm ’n blues and rock ’n roll. Alongside the songs of operettas, European dances, and Music Hall, it constituted the base of the US record industry, which spread widely around the world.

Finally, it is worth remembering that the musical migrations which are at the base of American music did not occur on a one-way street. Due to the strength of the record industry, (especially, but not only, in the US), in the second half of the twentieth century it underwent a reverse movement. Popular American music (above all in the United States) crossed the Atlantic back to Africa and Europe, pollinating the continent above all with US (pop, soul, and jazz), Jamaican, and Cuban music, but also Brazilian musical genres. In addition, we cannot forget that much before this, ballroom dances from the Americas, such as fox-trot, Charleston, tango, and maxixe, were very successful in Europe, especially in Paris and in Berlin during the Weimar Republic.

As cartography, this text is only a provocation, an invitation to dive in, a ‘journey’ through the musical territory of the Americas, one of the most instigating products of the cultural history of the Transatlantic.


“Old Klezmorim”. Musical circulations and migrations of professional musicians between Europe and the United States of America.

Jean-Sébastien Noël, University of La Rochelle, France.


My research focuses on a history of old klezmorim, from the late 19th century to the late 1950s within the Atlantic space. If the term « klezmorim » (wandering musicians), built on two yiddish words meaning « musical instrument », has been used since the late Middle Ages, the notion of klezmer music is much more recent. It was forged by Soviet musicologist Moshe Beregovsky in 1938. This notion, describing a repertoire rather than musical sociabilities, was a milestone of the klezmer revivalism of the 1970s in North America and in Argentina.Many studies have been written on the first generations of immigrated klezmorim (by musicologists Mark Slobin, Walter Zev Feldman) but this project’s purpose is to write a page of the trans-Atlantic history of a socioprofessional group emigrating from Eastern and Central Europe in waves between the late 19th century and the 1950s to resettle in the United States of America, in Canada or in Argentina. These people brought with them their values, their feelings of social belonging, their musical abilities but they had to adapt quickly to new societies which were themselves going through a process of modernisation.

The « Roaring twenties » represent a real milestone in this history because of the development (and first crisis) of the recording industry and the rise of the radio era. In this context, if these musicians’ Jewishness was a key element in their social position, they cannot be entirely defined by it.

            Klezmeray is the term for describing the professional organization of European klezmorim. Musicians used to play into typical ensemble called kapelyesor kompanyes. Klezmeray functionned as a corporative organization. Nevertheless, their social position was paradoxical : both socially unconsidered (badly observant) and cultural mediators betweens differents groups in Ashkeanzy sociabilities : hassidimand orthodox Jews, atheist groups (bundists, left wing zionists). They were often hired by non-Jewish patrons (christian families, wealthy peasantry and landed gentry) and shared playing technics and repertoires with non-Jewish musicians, especially with Gipsy musicians. So, klezmeray was a coherent professional organisation, rooted in Ashkenazy traditions but European klezmorimwere obviously connected to other sociocultural groups.


Every criterion of this generic definition should of course be adapted to the different spaces and places of music performance and production. Chronology is obviously a significant aspect of our analysis, as the evolution of the sources shows. So we can determine a first decisive turn in the material history of klezmorim, distinguishing a proto-historical period (oral tradition) and a historical period (time of written and recorded music). If during the proto-historical period, oral tradition prevailed, the rise of photography has made it possible for researchers to document the life of klezmorim bands in a more precise way.

Even though the American recordings of the 20s by the Columbia or Victor firms were much more widely distributed, the first records by klezmorim were made in European studios. They’re very interesting to listen to and analyse. Most of the musicians back then belonged to great klezmer families : the Gold, the Petersbursky, the Shpilman (I mentioned a few seconds ago). If they played traditional wedding dances and nigunim (hassidic melodies), they also recorded tangos performed in Warsaw’s cabarets. These European recordings already tell the story of a transatlantic countertransfer : this repertoire of yiddish tangos from Warsaw, Berlin or Vienna was to be a strong source of inspiration for the Buenos Aires tango players and composers in the next decades.


This phono-discographical turn implied anew professional status for professional musicians (with contracts, fees, copyright system). The revolution of recording studios, especially after 1925 (when the microphone became more and more popular), studio musicians get the opportunity to multiply takes, paying attention to the way they played. One of the consequences of this turn is the fixation of styles and technics on the records. Furthermore, home phonograph and domestic radio created new listening habits. Domestic context substituted the social contexts of listening music (weddings, theater, synagogue). Development of radiobroadcasting during the 1920s corresponds to the appearence of first radio musical programs, first in a religious context (liturgical musical programs of conservative Judaism just before the holy days of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah) and then yiddish radio shows with entertainment music in which klezmorim were hired.

In this context, klezmorimgained a new legitimacy and socioeconomic statues. They diversified their professional activites, playing in Yiddish Theater orchestras, entertainment ensembles (cabarets, café-concert, hotels), played or even composed movies’ soundtracks and scores. A period of big change for traditional klezmeray, the 1920s corresponds to a new marketing paradigm. As musicologist Joshua S. Walden noticed, the length of 78rpm records (3 to 4 minutes) implied commercial choices among repertoires, musical directors looking for a bankable hit. These evolutions also had social impacts : after World War II, a new generation of American-born musicians progressively forget the European traditions. In America, from the early 1930s, the consequence is an aweakening of the musical role of associations of immigrated Jews, the landsmanshaftn, an aweakening of the traditional system of solidarity : then, Jewish musicians belonged to Trade Unions.  

During the 1920s and the 30s, klezmorim diversified their activities, as musicians and/or as composers. There stories highlight the complexity of the adaptation process of these European klezmorim: in Europe and in America, the experience of the economy of entertainment, the stakes of the recording industry and of the radiobroadcasting deeply transformed their traditional sociabilities (and by that I mean social ties and relations). In this perspective, the Atlantic experience has to be thought of as a moment of deep redefinition resulting from the exposure to new values, new standards and new trends.




I am an associate professor in contemporary history in La Rochelle University (France), I work on a cultural history of music in the Atlantic space and I am interested in the impact of musical repertoires, archives and practices on memorial processes. In my PhD, I studied how mourning and rememorizing pogroms and the genocide in the Ashkenazy sociabilities, was expressed through music from the late 19thcentury to the 1980s (Eastern and Central Europe, United States of America). My first book is the edited version of this work : Le silence s’essouffle. Mort, deuil et mémoire chez les compositeurs ashkénazes. Europe centrale et orientale, États-Unis(Nancy, PUN, 2016).

I develop my current research in two main directions, inspired by the Sound Studies dynamics. On the one hand, I focus on a transatlantic history of klezmorim, these Ashkenazy families of musicians who migrated from Europe to North and South America, as well as Palestine then Israel, between the 1860s and the 1950s. On the other hand, I work on the networks of avant-gardes composers, especially those that played a role in the International Contemporary Art Festival of Royan (1964-1977) and in the International Contemporary Art Meetings of La Rochelle (1973-1984).

I am a member of the editorial board of the Transatlantic Culturesproject (Transatlantic Cultures. A Digital Platform for Transatlantic Cultural History. 1700 to now).


Selected publications since 2015 


NOËL, Jean-Sébastien, « Le silence s’essouffle ». Mort, deuil et mémoire chez les compositeurs ashkénazes. Europe centrale et orientale, États-Unis (1880-1980), Nancy, PUN – Éditions Universitaires de Lorraine, 2016.     

Chapters in collective books and handbooks

  • FLECHET, Anaïs, NOËL, Jean-Sébastien, « Chéreau soundscapes. Musiques, silences et sons dans les longs métrages de Patrice Chéreau », in LEVY, Marie-Françoise, GOETSCHEL, Pascale, TSIKOUNAS, Miriam, Chéreau en son temps, Paris, Éditions de la Sorbonne, 2018, pp.271-292. [à paraître]
  • NOËL, Jean-Sébastien, « 1975-1991 – Cultures, médias et pouvoirs dans un monde en cours d’intégration », inFRANCFORT, Didier, EL GAMMAL, Jean (dir.), Culture, médias, pouvoirs aux États-Unis et en Europe occidentale, 1945-1991, Paris, Ellipses éditions, 2018, pp. 55-69.
  • NOËL, Jean-Sébastien, « Musique(s) : réseaux, circulations et médiatisations (fin des années 1940-fin des années 1970) », inFRANCFORT, Didier, EL GAMMAL, Jean (dir.), Culture, médias, pouvoirs aux États-Unis et en Europe occidentale, 1945-1991, Paris, Ellipses éditions, 2018, pp. 145-158.
  • NOËL, Jean-Sébastien, « Le vidéo-clip, objet d’histoire culturelle et médiatique », inFRANCFORT, Didier, EL GAMMAL, Jean (dir.), Culture, médias, pouvoirs aux États-Unis et en Europe occidentale, 1945-1991, Paris, Ellipses éditions, 2018, pp. 261-266.
  • NOËL, Jean-Sébastien, « La Radical Jewish Culture : une forme esthétique, politique et communautaire du revivalisme des musiques juives traditionnelles », in TARTAKOWSKY, Ewa, DIMENSTEIN, Marcelo (dir.), Juifs d’Europe. Identités plurielles et mixité, Tours, PUFR, 2017, pp.167-178.
  • FLECHET, Anaïs, NOËL, Jean-Sébastien, « Du cinéma au théâtre : la musique dans l’œuvre de Patrice Chéreau. Entretien avec Eric Neveux », in LEVY, Marie-Françoise et TSIKOUNAS, Myriam (dir.), Patrice Chéreau à l’œuvre, Rennes, Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2016, pp. 289-291. FLECHET, Anaïs, NOËL, Jean-Sébastien, « Musiche du guerra e musiche della guerra », in Aglan, Alya, Franck, Robert, dir., La guerra mondo. 1937-1947. Tomo secondo, Torino, Giulio Einaudi editore, 2016, pp. 1685-1723.
  • FLECHET, Anaïs, NOËL, Jean-Sébastien, « Musiques de guerre, musiques de la guerre », inAglan, Alya, Franck, Robert, dir., 1937-1947. La Guerre Monde, tome 2, Paris, Gallimard, 2015, pp. 2150-2197.
  • NOËL, Jean-Sébastien, « Musiques israéliennes ou musiques juives ? Processus d’identifications et mobilités musicales », inFléchet, Anaïs, Lévy, Marie-Françoise, dir., Littératures et musiques dans lamondialisation, XXe-XXIe siècles, Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 2015.

Please Sign Recording Consent Form – Documenting the Symposium

We ask participants in the symposium to please sign the Middlebury consent form for recording the event. This allows us to document the symposium for potential use in the first digital roundtable on concepts in Atlantic World history or for any subsequent forums. If you have any questions about the form, please contact Michael Kramer, director of the AWF project.

Embodying Modernity: Fitness Culture, Global Power, and Brazilian Nationalism

Embodying Modernity: Fitness Culture, Global Power, and Brazilian Nationalism approaches fitness culture in relation to the discourses and structures of Empire, paying particular attention to the roles of these in the development of Brazilian nationhood. Though focusing significantly on Brazil, the project theorizes fitness culture as part of global mass culture and the globally circulating imperial signifiers pertaining to bodies and personhood. I thus aim to trace the imperial meanings and orders of power conveyed through “fit” bodies and their different configurations regarding muscularity, beauty, strength, and health within mainstream visual media and national and global public spheres. By interrogating a wide range of national and global visual media products pertaining to fit bodies and subjects including eugenics pamphlets, fitness magazines, television programs, film, and social media profiles of celebrities, Embodying Modernity locates the imperial discourses of race, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability, and labor that underpin the construction and staging of fit/normative bodies and exercise practice. In doing so, I develop a theory of modern corporality across periods and global discourses of domination that have undergirded colonialism, eugenics, industrialism, urban renewal, the myth of racial democracy, and late capitalism that continue to inform Brazilian nationalism and global participation in fitness culture. Although moving across periods and spaces, the project pays significant attention to the visual representations of corporality and their imperial signifiers in contemporary media.

Daniel F. Silva is Assistant Professor of Portuguese at Middlebury College where he is also a fellow at the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity and a contributing member of the International and Global Studies Program. His work encompasses the global legacies of empire, critical race and ethnic studies, and gender and sexuality studies in the context of the “Lusophone world” and beyond. He is the author of Embodying Modernity: Fitness Culture, Global Power, and Brazilian Nationalism (under review); Anti-Empire: Decolonial Interventions in Lusophone Literatures (Liverpool University Press, 2018); and Subjectivity and the Reproduction of Imperial Power: Empire’s Individuals (Routledge, 2015). He is also the co-editor of Imperial Crossings: Writings on Race, Identity, and Power in the Lusophone World (Liverpool University Press, under contract); Decolonial Destinies: The Post-Independence Literatures of Lusophone Africa (Anthem Press, under contract); Emerging Dialogues on Machado de Assis (Palgrave, 2016); and Lima Barreto: New Critical Perspectives (Lexington Books, 2013). He is co-editor of the book series, Anthem Studies in Race, Power, and Society with Anthem Press; and has published scholarship in Hispania, Chasqui, and Transmodernity.

Transatlantic Encounters: Latin American Artists in Paris between the Wars

Book synopsis:

Paris was the artistic capital of the world in the 1920s and ’30s, providing a home and community for the French and international avant-garde, whose experiments laid the groundwork for artistic production throughout the rest of the century. Latin American artists contributed to and reinterpreted nearly every major modernist movement that took place in the creative center of Paris between World War I and World War II, including Cubism (Diego Rivera), Surrealism (Antonio Berni and Roberto Matta), and Constructivism (Joaquín Torres-García). Yet their participation in the Paris art scene has remained largely overlooked until now. This vibrant book examines their collective role, surveying the work of both household names and an extraordinary array of lesser-known artists. Author Michele Greet illuminates the significant ways in which Latin American expatriates helped establish modernism and, conversely, how a Parisian environment influenced the development of Latin American artistic identity. These artists, hailing from former Spanish and Portuguese colonies, encountered expectations of primitivism from their European audiences, and their diverse responses to such biased perceptions—ranging from rejection to embrace to selective reinterpretation of European tendencies—yielded a rich variety of formal innovation. Magnificently illustrated and conveying with clarity a nuanced portrait of modernism, Transatlantic Encounters also engages in a wider discussion of the relationship between displacement, identity formation, and artistic production. 

Michele Greet is Associate Professor of modern Latin American art at George Mason University and Director of the Art History program. She is also president of the Association for Latin American Art. She is the author of Transatlantic Encounters: Latin American Artists in Paris between the Wars, 1918-1939 (Yale University Press: 2018) and Beyond National Identity: Pictorial Indigenism as a Modernist Strategy in Andean Art, 1920-1960 (Penn State University Press: 2009). She is co-editor, with Gina McDaniel Tarver, of the anthology Art Museums of Latin America: Structuring Representation (Routledge: 2018). She has lectured widely on modern Latin American art and published articles in national and international journals including Papers of Surrealism, Journal for Surrealism and the Americas, Artelogie, and Journal of Curatorial Studies. She has also written exhibition catalogue essays for El Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes (Mexico City), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and El Museo del Barrio.

Link to project website (maps and database):

Transatlantic Cartographies of Popular Music in the Americas

Dr. Marcos Napolitano (History Dept. – Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil)

Popular music is frequently analyzed through national ‘musical genres,’ consecrated through specific aesthetic and socio-cultural conventions, and usually formed over various decades. It is enough to think of the most traditional music genres in the Americas, such as samba, jazz, rumba, bolero, and tango, for our cultural memory to relate them to their country of ‘origin:’ Brazil, United States, Cuba, Mexico, and Argentina, respectively. For some time, the historiography of music has been problematizing this approach based on a national focus, but in social memory and mass culture, the identification between musical genres and certain national identities is still very strong. Not by chance, the history of these large musical genres is confused with the process of modernization and cultural massification of the countries in which they originated.
Is it possible to construct another cartography of popular music of the Americas?
This plurality of connections and hybridisms, multidirectional and polyphonic, does not impede us from trying to map these historic processes and suggesting parameters of analysis, even at the risk of some generalizations to be verified and problematized in future research. This is one of the objectives of this cartography, centered on intersected musical exchanges between Europe, the Americas, and Africa, responsible for the formation of the principal musical matrices in the Americas.


Marcos Napolitano is PhD in Social History at Universidade de São Paulo, where currently teach Brazilian history. He was full professor at Universidade Federal do Paraná (1994-2004) and visiting-professor at IHEAL, Université Paris III -Nouvelle Sorbonne (2009). He has published a number of books and articles on contemporary Brasilian History, with focus in political and cultural aspects, including:

“Seguindo a canção: engajamento político e cultural na Música Popular Brasileira” (Annablume, FAPESP, 2001, 389 p.),

“1964: história do regime militar brasileiro” (Contexto, 2014, 364 p.),

“Musique populaire et dictature militaire au Brésil : dynamiques contestataires et logiques de marché (1964-1985). Nuevo Mundo-Mundos Nuevos, v. 2015, p. 1-20, 2015 (with Anais Flechet);

“Political activists, playboys and hippies: musical movements and symbolic representations of Brazilian youths in the 1960s”. In: Pablo Vila. (Org.). Music and Youth Culture in Latin America. 1ed.Oxford / New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, v. 1, p. 204-224 ;

“The era of song festivals: a fundamental moment in Musica Popular Brasileira (MPB), 1966-1968”. In: Anaïs Fléchet; Pascale Goetschel; Patricia Hidiroglou; Sophie Jacotot; Caroline Moine; Julie Verlaine. (Org.). Une histoire des festivals xxe-xxie siècle. 1ed.Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2013, v. 1, p. 79-88.;

“The Brazilian Military Regime (1964-1985)”. In: William Beezley. (Org.). Oxford Research Enciclopedia of Latin American History. 1ed.New York City: Oxford University Press, 2018, v. 1, p. 1-29.


Sheridan — Cameroon to St Vincent

In brief, I’m doing institutional ethnobotany, which is how different societies organize social relations like property rights around particular plant species. My case studies are in Tanzania, Cameroon, Papua New Guinea, Tahiti, and St. Vincent.  The St. Vincent leg is about how the meanings of the property rights plant in West Africa (Dracaena) got applied to a Oceanic plant (Cordyline) after the British empire’s botanical explorers brought the Oceanic species to the Caribbean, where it got adopted by sugar plantations as a land marker. After the end of slavery and the shift toward St. Vincent having an independent smallholder peasantry, Cordyline became the sine qua non of property rights in a way that is really strikingly similar to the uses/meanings of Dracaena in West Africa. Part of my St Vincent case study is about the Spiritual Baptist church, which uses Cordyline (the Oceanic species from Tahiti) in their astral travel rituals that go to “Africaland,” where they learn skills and gain social status that they lack in their mundane St Vincentian lives. That is, the story I’m telling is about how an Oceanic species acquired a distinctly African social life in colonial St. Vincent, and what it means today.

My literature search for Dracaena in Africa yielded some references in the African diaspora to the Americas (Sheridan 2008: 505), but fieldwork revealed that sources had misidentified Cordyline fruticosa as Dracaena. This is unsurprising, since it was only in the 1980s that geneticists resolved a longstanding taxonomical dispute about these plants (Ehrlich 1989; Griffiths 1992: 96, 718). Both genera have the botanical affordances of vegetative propagation, terminal inflorescence, and robustness. A red cultivar of Cordyline, ranging from bright pink to purplish maroon depending on light, moisture, and season, is used throughout the Eastern Caribbean on property boundaries, but in St. Vincent this plant is particularly ‘polymarcating’ and privileged. Vincentians plant the “red dragon” on the corners of houses, gardens, and graves for both tenurial and metaphysical security. It prevents evil spirits (“jumbies”) from afflicting the members of a household, makes a spirit “stick” in its grave, and generally signifies peace and protection. Mothers bathe their babies with water and Cordyline leaves to cool a fever and prevent spirits from “playing with the baby.” Several elderly interviewees reported waving stalks of Cordyline like flags at St. Vincent’s independence celebrations in 1979.

The most complex ideological expression of this boundary plant is in the Spiritual Baptist Church. Cordyline guides members on their spiritual journeys to “Africa-land.” In a vision questing ritual called “mourning,” churchgoers seclude themselves for seven to nine days of intense prayer, all the while holding a Cordyline leaf in their right hands, until they begin a spiritual journey. The “red dragon” leads a traveler to Zion Hill, where she climbs up to the boundary of heaven, marked by a Cordyline hedge. There she acquires some skill or knowledge (such as how to do a particular African dance), and then flies back to her body. She carries a bouquet of Cordyline and a lit white candle while recounting her journey to the boundary of heaven, and is then entitled to wear a “leaf of the dragon” in her turban-like headtie at all church functions. The agency of Cordyline as an non-human actant in the Vincentian network of land use, social organization, and ideas makes it a particularly effective guide in a quest for personal power and agency. Cordyline occupies the same three entangled niches (economic, social-political, and ideological) in Vincentian society that Dracaena does in tropical Africa. It is, along with breadfruit and plantain, nearly ubiquitous in the island’s landscape. It literally roots the basic facts of land ownership in the landscape, represents appropriate and orderly social relationships, and stands at the boundary of life and death in both cemeteries and at the edge of heaven.

What are we to make of these parallel multispecies assemblages of boundary plant polymarcation? The most challenging aspect of Cordyline as a Caribbean boundary plant is that it is not indigenous to the area. It is from Southeast Asia, Melanesia, and Polynesia (where it is commonly known as the Ti plant), and was introduced to the New World by European explorers and botanists in the late eighteenth century. It appears in the 1806 catalogue for the St. Vincent Botanic Garden as Dracaena ferrea (Guilding 1825: 41), and over the course of the nineteenth century Cordyline became a popular boundary marker throughout the region on plantations and the “provision grounds” where slaves (and, after 1838, an emergent peasantry) grew food (Brassey 1885: 236; Carney and Rosamo 2009: 132; Kingsley 1871: 377). In 1917, the use of Cordyline was formalized as a legally valid marker in St. Vincent’s Boundary Settlement Act (St. Vincent 1966, vol. III: 2219). This tallies with the oral histories I collected about nineteenth and early twentieth century plantation landscapes, where both perimeters and internal boundaries consisted of Cordyline. The pattern that emerges from this patchy evidence is that Cordyline was a botanical technology for monomarcating imperial property relations which free smallholders adopted as a polymarcating means of producing place, society, and counterhegemonic subjectivity. Did the nineteenth-century Afro-Vincentians interpret the social and metaphysical meanings of red Cordyline in the context of West African green Dracaena? As of 1817, St. Vincent had one of the highest proportions of Africa-born slaves in the region, about 39 percent (Young 1993: 46), so it is possible that they applied African meanings to this Oceanic species (much like they did with pan-tropical trees such as the silk cotton tree, Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn., Sheller 2007). Other than color, the plants appear similar to a layman’s eyes, with blade-like leaves atop long thin stalks, and both are remarkably hardy plants that take root easily from cuttings (the major physiological difference is that Dracaena has roots, whereas Cordyline grows from a rhizome). In any case, Vincentians now consider Cordyline an emphatically African plant, and this demonstrates the spatial creativity of their hybrid creole culture within an exploitative mode of production on the margins of empire. It may also represent a medium of resistance in the “contested space” of the plantation.

Keynote: William B. Hart, The Past as the Small and the Mighty


The Past as the Small and the Mighty: One American Historian’s Perspective on Atlantic-World History

Dr. William B. Hart, History Department, Middlebury College

American historians have begun to merge two seemingly disparate approaches to the study of the American past: “microhistory,” the study of seemingly “small” things – e.g., an individual, a community, an event – intended to probe and illuminate to great detail not just the entity under study but also larger historical forces that impacted that entity; and “Atlantic-world history,” the study of “mighty” spatial, geographical, and temporal currents that reveal historical processes on a near global scale.  This talk, focused on the American Colonization Society, a nineteenth-century reactionary reform movement that involved racially purifying American society, will show that we cannot fully understand colonization without adopting both microhistorical and Atlantic-world perspectives.  The former reveals local attitudes toward race, nation, and identity, informed by Africa’s persistently haunting hold on the white American imagination.


Prof. Bill Hart earned his PhD in American Civilization at Brown University and has been a faculty member of the History Department at Middlebury College since 1993.  Prof. Hart’s scholarly specialization is race, religion, and identity on the American frontier, with a special emphasis on Indian-Black relations. Over the years, he has taught a broad range of history courses, from “The Atlantic World, 1400 – 1900,” “Revolutionary America,” and “African-American History.” In Spring 2015, Prof. Hart curated the photo exhibition, “Many Thousand Gone: Portraits of the African-American Experience, 1840–1968,” at the Middlebury College Museum of Art. He has also held a number of fellowships, including most recently a Friends’ of the Princeton Library Research Grant (2016).  Prof. Hart has also been an on-camera spokesperson and adviser for a number of documentaries, including “Black Indians: An American Story” (2001), and the PBS series, “The War that Made America” (2006). He is currently writing a biography of Martin Freeman, the second black graduate of Middlebury College (1849), who became the first black college president in the nation (Avery College, Pittsburgh, PA, 1856–1863), and a faculty member at and President of Liberia College (1889), Monrovia, Liberia.


Kramer, Alan Lomax’s Transatlantic Journey: From Regionalist to Globalist

Research topic:

Better understanding Alan Lomax as a transatlantic figure in order to ask new questions about both his significance within the study of folk music and to better understand the connections between transatlantic cultural study and ideas of internationalism as the so-called US Pax Americana emerged out of WWII. Also how technologies, from radio to the digital computer itself, figured in this story.


Lomax in the US South 1930s

  • field recording trips with father John Lomax for Library of Congress
  • Important relationships with Zora Neale Hurston and Mary Elizabeth Barnacle, among others
  • works in New Deal media efforts, cultural front, WWII media efforts, trying to use radio as a 2-way communications medium, notions of cultural democracy within anti-fascist ideology broadly conceived
  • very much a 1930s “regionalist”
  • first writings are in travelogue style, with dialect
  • radical politics at Harvard, perhaps even earlier around Austin, Texas?
  • recording African Americas at Parchman and other prisons
  • Huddie Leadbetter

Key trips to the Caribbean late 1930s/early 1940s

  • these field recording trips may be very crucial to Lomax’s changing sense of folksong beyond the US
  • the role of the Caribbean in transatlantic cultural history: how do we continue to historicize this area in relation to new conceptualizations of circulations and flows? How does it relate to legacies and continued force of colonialism, to Gilroy’s Black Atlantic scholarship, to Joseph Roach’s circum-atlantic framework, to other scholarly framings?
  • How does that framework relate to ideas and politics and economics of liberal internationalism emerging in the US during and after WWII from its earlier so-called isolationism (in fact already an imperial power, and a colonial entity its entire history)? But…internationalism as a 1930s/40s development (think United Nations) in its cultural forms as a modernist movement keenly interested in certain configurations of tradition.

To London and UK field recording trips in early 1950s

  • in part due to anti-communist Red Scare in USA
  • BBC radio
  • Field recording trips around Ireland, Scotland, England and competition with other folklorists

Spanish and Italian field recording trips in mid and late 1950s

  • Ideas of a global song style comparative anthropological approach begin to emerge more fully, Lomax as a transnational figure
  • What did it mean to be moving through rural areas as an American folklorist in immediate years after WWII? Lomax thought he was hearing the last vestiges of an older European folk culture (a typical folkloric imagining), but how much had the influence of transnational cultural circulations reached in the mid 1950s?

Back to US in 1959.

  • development of computational “cantometrics” global folk song style project in early 1960s-2002.
  • the influence of Ray Birdwhistell and kinesics concepts from linguistics: communication happens through far more than simply meaning of language, all the other cues. The key idea for Lomax: song style (not just the words, but the whole mode of expression of a song) is actually quite repetitive and stable and collectively shaped, so potentially contains information about long stretches of cultural formation and meaning. Also Margaret Mead‘s influence.
  • Later field trips to West Africa and deep interest in African music and culture.
  • leads to the Global Jukebox project, CD-Rom and then, posthumously, a website.