My dissertation examines the environmental history of slavery in antebellum Maryland and is particularly attentive to the ways enslaved people’s relationship to their environment manifested itself in their everyday lives. In this project I advance an ecological analysis that privileges various networks of relation between slaves, slaveholders, soils, plants, animals, and (cold) weather. Grounding my analysis in the everyday world of slavery, my dissertation establishes and employs a framework I call material ecology, which draws from material culture studies in that it utilizes object-oriented analysis as a means of thinking through, unpacking, and rendering the ecologies of slavery in which I am interested.
Utilizing this approach, I organize each of my chapters around a class of objects that materialize various ecological relations. As the points at which such relations converge, cast-iron plows, enslaved people’s shoes, slave-made charms, as well as stews and similar one-pot meals disclose distinctive interactions between the enslaved and their environment. From my analysis of the relationships that cohere around these objects, I argue that in antebellum Maryland both slaves and slaveholders mobilized elements of their environment against one another in their multiform contests over power. Examining the ecological networks involved in these contests illustrates the extent to which enslaved people’s relationship to the environment was simultaneously antagonistic and empowering.
Published "In Bondage When Cold was King: The Frigid Terrain of Slavery in Antebellum Maryland" in the Journal Slavery & Abolition