TOP YOUNG HISTORIANS
Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman
74: John Wood Sweet, 11-19-07
Teaching Position: Associate Professor, Department of History, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Area of Research: Early American history, the dynamics of colonialism and on the interplay of religious cultures
Education: Ph.D., History, Princeton University, 1995
Major Publications: Sweet is the author of Bodies Politic: Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830, “Early America: History, Context, Culture,” series editors Jack P. Greene and J. R. Pole (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), whicg was a Finalist for the Frederick Douglass Book Prize, 2004. and the co-editor with Robert A. Appelbaum of Envisioning an English Empire: Jamestown and the Making of a North Atlantic World, “Early American Studies,” series editors Daniel K. Richter and Kathleen Brown (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005).
Sweet is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including: “Venture Smith and Black Protest in the Early Republic,” in New England Slavery and the Slave Trade, ed. Ira Berlin and Joanne Melish (University of Virginia Press, forthcoming), and “More than Tears: The Ordeal of Abolition in Revolutionary New England,” Explorations in Early American History, vol. 5 (2001), 118-172.
Awards: Sweet is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Belk Fellow, Institute for Arts and Humanities, UNC Chapel Hill, Spring 2007;
National Endowment for the Humanities (6 months) and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Post-Doctoral (4 months) Research Fellowships, The John Carter Brown Library, Brown University, 2003-2004 ;
Barra Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, McNeil Center for Early American Studies, University of Pennsylvania, 1999-2000;
Mellon Scholar in African-American Studies, Institute for Global Studies in Power, Culture, and History, The Johns Hopkins University. 1995-1996;
Research and Study Assignment, UNC Chapel Hill, Spring 2008;
Franklin Research Grant, American Philosophical Society, summer 2007;
Faculty Research Award, Center for African Studies, University of North Carolina, summer 2007;
University Research Council, Faculty Research Award, summer 2007 ($1,500);
Spray-Randleigh Summer Research Grant, UNC Chapel Hill, 2006 ;
. Finalist, Frederick Douglass Book Prize, Gilder-Lehrman Center, Yale University, for Bodies Politic. Junior Faculty Research Award, UNC, 2005;
Research Grant, University Research Council, UNC;
Andrew W. Mellon Research Fellowship, Massachusetts Historical Society (August 2003 and May 2005);
New Course Development Grant, Program in Sexuality Studies, UNC;
Colonial Society of Massachusetts Fellow, New England Regional Fellowship Consortium, June-July 2003;
Paul Cuffe Memorial Fellowship in African American Maritime History, Munson Institute, Mystic Seaport, May 2003;
1996-2003 Faculty Grant-in-Aid, The Catholic University of America, 2003, 2002, 2001, 1998, 1996;
2002 Library Research Fellowship, American Philosophical Society, June 2002;
Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship, Library Company of Philadelphia, July 2002, June 1991;
First Prize for the Best Essay in Early American Studies published in 1999 or 2000, Colonial Society of Pennsylvania, 2001;
Littleton-Griswold Grant in Legal History, American Historical Association, 2001, 1996;
2000 Philips Fund Grant in Native American Ethnohistory, American Philosophical Society;
David Library of the American Revolution, research fellow, May 2000;
Research Fellowship, Ingenuity and Enterprise Center, R. I. Historical Society, 1996 ;
Visiting Fellowship, John Nicholas Brown Center, Brown University; 1994-1995, also, summer 1996;
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Post-Enrollment Fellowship, 1993-1994 ;
Princeton University Fellowship, 1988-1993;
Formerly Assistant Professor, Department of History, The Catholic University of America (1996-2003), Visiting Instructor, Department of History, University of California, Davis, Summer 1998, and Lecturer, History Department, Princeton University, Spring 1995.
Sweet is also a member of the Editorial Board for Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal (University of Pennsylvania Press).
Sweet was Project Director for “Complete Editions of the Rhode Island Censuses of 1774 and 1782: Letterpress and Electronic Versions,” R.I. Committee for the Humanities and the John Nicholas Brown Center, June-December 1996.
Over the past several years, research for a book about the “lost worlds” of Venture Smith–an African-born man who spent most of his life in eighteenth-century New England–has taken me to a variety of strange and wonderful places. Attempting to expand my horizons as an Early American historian has led me into situations where I verge rapidly from awe and delight to utter disorientation–and worse. On my first trip to West Africa, I made a beeline for Anomabu, a small village on the coast of Ghana, which Smith describes in his Narrative as the place where his coffle arrived at the shore and where he was held for sale in a “castle.” I had visions of visiting the fort, breathing in the dark, damp air of the men’s dungeon, and stepping out through the Door of No Return into the blinding sun and crashing surf. Standing there, with the wet sand between my toes, halfway around the world from my home, I thought, would be about as close as I was ever likely to get to recreating a moment of Venture Smith’s experience.
So, when I arrived at my lodging about a mile from the village, I eagerly set out along the palm-fringed ribbon of white sand beach. As I got closer, children appeared, crying out cheerfully, some of them offering a few words of English, and one of them pausing to squat on the beach and take a dump. I walked on-now, minding my step-attempting to act friendly and not too grossed out by the shit-strewn beach. Soon, the eighteenth-century fort came into view, a grey stone hulk rising out of the haze and the waves, surrounded by busy fishermen working on their long, colorful canoes and hauling huge nets in from the sea. Trying not to get in the way, I stepped gingerly through the tangle of lines (and the chickens and goats) and then waded out onto some rocks in the surf to get a better view of the fort. I was attempting to balance on the wet rocks, keep my camera dry, and take in the view-when I noticed that the people on shore were hollering. At me. And not just the expected cries of obiri and “white man!” Something I was doing had them horrified. I put down the camera, but the clamor continued. As I waded back towards the fort, a young man explained–through a mixture of eloquent gestures and broken English-that I had been treading all over the village’s sacred rocks. Fortunately, it seemed likely that the spirits would be placated by a small offering. I wasn’t about to give up the expensive new sandals he was admiring, so I paid up in cash, put the matter behind me, and forged on to the fort. Soon, I actually was standing in the men’s dungeon, breathing in the dark, dank air, fingering the rusty bolt in the floor where chains were attached, and trying not to disrupt the bats dangling from the barrel-vaulted ceiling. I took in the romance of the moment, feeling that I had arrived somewhere important.
And yet, as I later learned, Venture Smith never did enter that dank dungeon, nor walk through those thick whitewashed walls into the crashing surf. The fort that now stands at Anomabu was built fifteen years after he commenced his middle passage-and the previous fort had been demolished ten years earlier. So, when Venture Smith passed through there was no “castle” there at all. This realization led to another kind of journey, a journey through archives on three continents that has revealed, among other things, that even when the fort wasn’t there, the sacred rocks had been: objects of recurrent tensions among English slave-traders, local leaders, and villagers. Indeed, those sacred rocks, which I didn’t recognize even when I was standing on top of them, have come to seem emblematic of the story I want to recover about colonialism and the nature of modern globalization. Thus, I’ve learned (once again!) that what turns out to be most revealing is often not what I expect to find, but what I stumble across along the way. Soon, I’ll be back in Anomabu. This time I’ll have a more meaningful offering for the rock spirits.
By John Wood Sweet
- “The American North emerged in the early years of the Republic as a region that would be free but not equal. In large part, the North came together in opposition to the South as the nation divided over the politics of slavery and western conquests. But this conflict has obscured underlying similarities that derived from a shared legacy of colonialism.”… “In many ways, America came to present itself as a white nation when it was, and had been from the start, diverse, hybrid, and multiracial. Behind the fantasy of America as a white nation is another set of agendas, assumptions, and struggles.”… “Resistance to missionary endeavors stemmed from one of the basic problems of imperial ideology, a paradox familiar from other times and places: the danger of the white men’s burden, or the mission civiliatrice, was that the process of civilizing colonized peoples might, in the end, succeed.” — John Wood Sweet in “Bodies Politic Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830”
About John Wood Sweet
- “Superb . . . A useful addition to the literature about people of color in [New England] . . . The major strength of Bodies Politic is that it is based on extensive archival research and a wide reading of secondary literature on Africans and Native Americans. It also presents a significant challenge to hegemonic interpretations that are finally beginning to be addressed by colonial historians . . . Sweet’s yeomanlike work should find a receptive audience among historians, graduate students, and intellectually sophisticated members of the reading public.” — Vernon J. Williams, Jr., History: Reviews of New Books reviewing “Bodies Politic Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830”
- “This superb study explores the origins of that ironic definition of democracy as ‘universal freedom and racial inequality’ . . . Sophisticated and engaging . . . Highly recommended.” — Choice reviewing “Bodies Politic Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830”
- “A fascinating picture of the interactions between English settlers, African slaves, and Native Americans in New England during the colonial era and early Republic.” — Catherine Molineux, Common-Place reviewing “Bodies Politic Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830”
- “It is difficult to imagine that anyone interested in the ways race was produced and articulated in early America and woven into every fiber of the national fabric would not depend upon and be grateful for Sweet’s work.” — Rebecca Blevins Faery, New England Quarterly reviewing “Bodies Politic Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830”
- “An ambitious and persuasive account of the ways that the political inclusion of some groups and not others connected the colonial era through the Revolution to the early American republic.” — Serena Zabin, Journal of American History reviewing “Bodies Politic Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830”
- “At once detailed and sweeping, social and political, archival and synthetic . . . This book is the best application yet to early American history of postcolonial theory.” — Bruce Dain, American Historical Review reviewing “Bodies Politic Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830”
- “Sweet’s brilliant micro-history of the tangled web of race relations in the North dynamically juxtaposes Native American, African American and Anglo-American experiences through a series of case studies.” — Alan Rice, Journal of American Studies reviewing “Bodies Politic Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830”
- “Sweet’s regional history points us away from northern exceptionalism and toward a more honest appraisal of colonialism and its legacies as a national phenomenon . . . Bodies Politic truly is the best ‘multicultural’ history of early New England yet to appear not least because of Sweet’s refusal to equate race and culture.” — David Waldstreicher, Reviews in American History reviewing “Bodies Politic Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830”
- “He emphasizes that the public was never simply Euro-American, and that categories for, and uses of, racial identity emerged out of complicated socio-cultural negotiations and changed with time and personal background. Bodies Politic is remarkably successful in grounding these assertions in detailed, well-told reconstructions of individual lives and community events.” — Joshua Piker, History Compass reviewing “Bodies Politic Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830”
- “Bodies Politic is brilliant and eloquent-a refreshingly original analysis of how the legacy of colonialism shaped the emergence of a democratic nation.” — Christine Leigh Heyrman University of Delaware and author of Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt reviewing “Bodies Politic Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830”
- “This book recasts our vision of early New England. Informed by the insights of post-colonial theory and based on prodigious archival research, it offers a bracing challenge to the current historiography of early America. In the wake of Bodies Politic, it will be impossible to think of New England as a place unmarked by difference and exempt from the nation’s original sins of slavery and racism.” — Robert Gross, University of Connecticut reviewing “Bodies Politic Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830”
- “John Sweet presents New England as it was: a multiracial and thoroughly conflicted scene. Sex and humor play leading roles in this fine, fresh depiction of the most American of American regions.” — Nell Irvin Painter, Princeton University reviewing “Bodies Politic Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830”
- “In subtle and ingenious ways, Bodies Politic recovers the textures of real people doing real things-of African Americans, Native Americans, and Euro-Americans interacting to create the racial formation of the early nineteenth-century North.” — Daniel K. Richter, University of Pennsylvania reviewing “Bodies Politic Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830”
- “Ambitious, detailed, and provocative, this is the best multicultural history of early New England I have read.” — Joseph A. Conforti, University of Southern Maine reviewing “Bodies Politic Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830”
“Sweet offers scholars a capacious history of race in the North and a primer for thinking about the relationship between ‘cultures’ and identities . . . Bodies Politic is deeply researched and richly detailed.” — Catherine Kelly, William and Mary Quarterly reviewing “Bodies Politic Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830”
- “Superb . . . A useful addition to the literature about people of color in [New England] . . . The major strength of Bodies Politic is that it is based on extensive archival research and a wide reading of secondary literature on Africans and Native Americans.” — History: Reviews of New Books reviewing “Bodies Politic Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830”
- “His classes are not easy but if you want to get better at writing & research he’s your best choice. You get what you put in if you show effort he will push you to get better. Overall he knows the subject & offers excellent feedback on your writing. He also has a good sense of humor and knows how to keep your attention.”… “Great Professor knows his subject, class was fun.” — Anonymous Students
Posted on Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 5:47 PM