Paul D. Naish, Slavery and Silence: Latin America and the U.S. Slave Debate

Paul D. Naish, Slavery and Silence: Latin America and the U.S. Slave Debate, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017.

In the thirty-five years before the Civil War, it became increasingly difficult for Americans outside the world of politics to have frank and open discussions about the institution of slavery, as divisive sectionalism and heated ideological rhetoric circumscribed public debate. To talk about slavery was to explore—or deny—its obvious shortcomings, its inhumanity, its contradictions. To celebrate it required explaining away the nation’s proclaimed belief in equality and its public promise of rights for all, while to condemn it was to insult people who might be related by ties of blood, friendship, or business, and perhaps even to threaten the very economy and political stability of the nation.

For this reason, Paul D. Naish argues, Americans displaced their most provocative criticisms and darkest fears about the institution onto Latin America. Naish bolsters this seemingly counterintuitive argument with a compelling focus on realms of public expression that have drawn sparse attention in previous scholarship on this era. In novels, diaries, correspondence, and scientific writings, he contends, the heat and bluster of the political arena was muted, and discussions of slavery staged in these venues often turned their attention south of the Rio Grande.

At once familiar and foreign, Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, and the independent republics of Spanish America provided rhetorical landscapes about which everyday citizens could speak, through both outright comparisons or implicit metaphors, what might otherwise be unsayable when talking about slavery at home. At a time of ominous sectional fracture, Americans of many persuasions—Northerners and Southerners, Whigs and Democrats, scholars secure in their libraries and settlers vulnerable on the Mexican frontier—found unity in their disparagement of Latin America. This displacement of anxiety helped create a superficial feeling of nationalism as the country careened toward disunity of the most violent, politically charged, and consequential sort.

“Naish is a superb writer, communicating complex ideas with a clear focus, and his engagement with historical texts is thorough and compelling. With all that has been written on issues of race and political identity in the first half of the nineteenth century, he has much to say that is fresh and revealing.”—Andrew Burstein, Louisiana State University

“Paul D. Naish’s sensitive, lively, careful study takes two subjects we might think we know all about—the politics of slavery and U.S. visions of Latin America—and shows their unappreciated relationship. Our understanding of both topics are enhanced without making the fate of slavery or of U.S.-Latin-American relations inevitable. An eloquent, important book from a scholar who will be greatly missed.”—David Waldstreicher, author of Slavery’s Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification

“By exploring how antebellum Americans imagined Latin American slavery, Naish sheds new and interdisciplinary light on how they understood slavery at home. Eloquent, surprising, and haunting, this book shows that Americans frequently turned their attention south of the border to air anxieties about human bondage, ones that seemed otherwise too dangerous to discuss.”—Caitlin Fitz, Northwestern University

Paul D. Naish (1960-2016) taught reading and writing, social science, and liberal arts courses at Guttman Community College of the City University of New York.


Mesa redonda ¿Precedentes de la Era Trump? Tráficos, flujos e intercambios en la historia de la relación México-Estados Unidos (México, 14 de junio de 2017)

Miércoles 14 de junio de 2017
10:00 horas

Relanzamiento de la base de datos Dos siglos de relaciones México-Estados Unidos

Una bibliohemerografía sobre la relación bilateral en permanente actualización, muy útil y de acceso libre.

11:00 horas

Mesa redonda ¿Precedentes de la Era Trump? Tráficos, flujos e intercambios en la historia de la relación México-Estados Unidos

Comentaristas: Erika Pani y Leonardo Curzio

Esclavos, fugitivos y colonos: los afroamericanos en las relaciones México-Estados Unidos, 1824-1865
Gerardo Gurza

Ganado, armas y cautivos. Tráfico y comercio ilícito en la frontera norte de México, 1848–1882
Marcela Terrazas y Basante

Un breve idilio. Afinidades ideológicas entre el New Deal y el cardenismo
Andreu Espasa

Proteccionismo estadounidense y productos mexicanos. Una reseña de políticas y argumentos en el siglo XX
Paolo Riguzzi

¿Qué hacer frente a Trump? Debilidades y fortalezas de una nueva negociación
Patricia de los Ríos

Salón de Actos
Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas
Circuito Mtro. Mario de la Cueva, Zona cultural
Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, Ciudad de México
56-22-75-16 y 56-22-75-27 ext. 2
difiih @

Gerardo Gurza Lavalle, Virginia y la reforma de la esclavitud, 1800-1865. Los límites del progreso en una sociedad esclavista.

Gurza Lavalle, Gerardo. Virginia y la reforma de la esclavitud, 1800-1865. Los límites del progreso en una sociedad esclavista. México: Instituto de Investigaciones Doctor José María Luis Mora, 2016.

Al avanzar el siglo XIX, los propietarios de esclavos del sur de Estados Unidos sintieron necesidad creciente de legitimar su sistema social. Se trataba, en parte, de una reacción ante las críticas de los abolicionistas del norte, quienes habían ganado notoriedad y aumentado la estridencia de sus ataques a partir de 1830. Sin embargo, en esta búsqueda de legitimidad influyeron con igual fuerza las dudas internas sobre la compatibilidad de la esclavitud con el progreso económico y social, y las inquietudes morales que inspiraban los rasgos más brutales de la servidumbre, tales como la frecuente ruptura de familias que causaba el comercio de esclavos, y el castigo físico excesivo. El impacto social y cultural de las iglesias evangélicas galvanizó estas preocupaciones e impulsó el surgimiento de iniciativas para reformar la esclavitud y hacerla menos violenta y menos cuestionable desde el punto de vista moral. En el presente estudio se analiza el desarrollo de estas iniciativas de reforma desde sus inicios hasta 1865, año en que el triunfo de la Unión en la guerra civil trajo consigo el fin de la esclavitud. Virginia representa un caso revelador para el análisis de este proceso, no sólo por haber sido el estado con el mayor número de esclavos en todo el país, sino también porque, debido a sus características geográficas y a su gran diversidad interna, en Virginia tuvieron lugar intensos debates sobre el futuro de la esclavitud, y sobre la posibilidad de atemperar los atributos más deplorables de dicho régimen de explotación.

Karl Jacoby, The Strange Career of William Ellis. The Texas Slave who Became a Mexican Millionaire.

Jacoby, Karl. The Strange Career of William Ellis. The Texas Slave who Became a Mexican Millionaire. New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 2016.


A prize-winning historian tells a new story of the black experience in America through the life of a mysterious entrepreneur.

To his contemporaries in Gilded Age Manhattan, Guillermo Eliseo was a fantastically wealthy Mexican, the proud owner of a luxury apartment overlooking Central Park, a busy Wall Street office, and scores of mines and haciendas in Mexico. But for all his obvious riches and his elegant appearance, Eliseo was also the possessor of a devastating secret: he was not, in fact, from Mexico at all. Rather, he had begun life as a slave named William Ellis, born on a cotton plantation in southern Texas during the waning years of King Cotton.

After emancipation, Ellis, capitalizing on the Spanish he learned during his childhood along the Mexican border and his ambivalent appearance, engaged in a virtuoso act of reinvention. He crafted an alter ego, the Mexican Guillermo Eliseo, who was able to access many of the privileges denied to African Americans at the time: traveling in first-class train berths, staying in upscale hotels, and eating in the finest restaurants.

Eliseo’s success in crossing the color line, however, brought heightened scrutiny in its wake as he became the intimate of political and business leaders on both sides of the US-Mexico border. Ellis, unlike many passers, maintained a connection to his family and to black politics that also raised awkward questions about his racial status. Yet such was Ellis’s skill in manipulating his era’s racial codes, most of the whites he encountered continued to insist that he must be Hispanic even as Ellis became embroiled in scandals that hinted the man known as Guillermo Eliseo was not quite who he claimed to be.

The Strange Career of William Ellis reads like a novel but offers fresh insights on the history of the Reconstruction era, the US-Mexico border, and the abiding riddle of race. At a moment when the United States is deepening its connections with Latin America and recognizing that race is more than simply black or white, Ellis’s story could not be more timely or important.

Karl Jacoby is professor of History at Columbia University in the City of New York.

Praise for The Strange Career of William Ellis

“How is it that a black man named William Ellis, living in Reconstruction-era Texas, could transform himself into a Mexican magnate and conquer Wall Street, then disappear into history without a trace? Fortunately, Karl Jacoby has done the detective work to bring this intriguing larger-than-life figure back to life, challenging America’s fixed concepts of race, ethnicity and national identity. This fascinating history book reads like a novel.” — Margot Lee Shetterly, author of Hidden Figures

“William Ellis was a chameleon, a trickster, and a man determined to shape his own identity. With enormous skill, Karl Jacoby uncovers this tremendous subject, revealing Ellis’s lies, and crafting a powerful new narrative about the porous borders of class, race, and national identity in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American life. Deftly moving between the improbable details of Ellis’s biography and the larger political and cultural stories of the day, Jacoby demonstrates how one man’s life can help us understand the past in an entirely new way.” — Martha A. Sandweiss, professor of history, Princeton University, and author of Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line

“A masterpiece of border history. Jacoby has a biographer’s eye for detail and a detective’s talent for discovery, which he deftly uses to construct both the inner emotional life and larger social world of his subject. At once a history of the United States and of Mexico, Strange Career offers a truly transnational history of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century North America. Today, as borders are simultaneously being dissolved and hardened, Jacoby’s study of Ellis’s exceptional career is as timely as it is compelling.” — Greg Grandin, author of Empire of Necessity and Fordlandia

“Like all of his remarkable scholarship, Karl Jacoby’s The Strange Career of William Ellis takes an unexpected or little-known subject and, with great insight and imagination, uses it to shed new light on our larger past. He has excavated a life that began in obscurity and was ever being reinvented, and, in so doing, offers a deep understanding of the shifting boundaries of place, race, and social standing. An extraordinary story told with extraordinary skill.” — Steven Hahn, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Nation under Our Feet

“[E]legantly written.” — Vladimir Alexandrov, San Francisco Chronicle

“Fascinating… [an] important slice of American history.” — Karen M. Thomas, Dallas News

“[A] welcome and nuanced perspective to the racial history of the U.S. as well as a textured examination of the legacy of distrust between the United States and Mexico. …Ellis’ life is also a cracking good story, illustrated with intriguing photos and helpful maps topped off by an emotionally satisfying epilogue.” — Sara Martinez, Booklist