Date of Degree

9-2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Earth & Environmental Sciences

Advisor

Ruth Wilson Gilmore

Committee Members

Cindi Katz

Robyn Spencer

Sharad Chari

Christina Heatherton

Subject Categories

Africana Studies | Human Geography | Other International and Area Studies

Keywords

Black internationalism, Black geographies, oceanic humanities, social reproduction, abolition geographies, transnational solidarity

Abstract

This dissertation examines the shipboard writings, transnational solidarities and vernacular cultures, and spaces of social reproduction among Black and other subaltern seafarers and maritime travelers in the first decades of the twentieth century. I draw upon oral histories, literature, poetry, memoirs, and the archives of leftist political organizations and British colonial officials. Through a practice of close reading across textual genres and transnational spaces, my dissertation develops oceanic groundings as: (1) a constellation of iterative and intentional acts of political learning through the movements of ordinary people, (2) a pedagogical project of listening to and learning from the shifting grounds that maritime workers moved through that challenges totalizing narratives of pathology and premature death, and (3) an errant archival practice that intellectually wanders, strolls, and journeys across genres and repositories listening for the depth and churn of freedom struggles.

I develop oceanic groundings as an analytic across three empirical chapters. Chapter 1 explores anti-colonial intimacies and processes of grounded learning through the Communist International. Where previous studies have explored the politics of Afro-Asian solidarity and intellectual exchanges during the interwar period, the chapter focuses specifically on how activists shared stories and strategies of building movement capacity through maritime circuits. Chapter 2 follows the oral histories of a group of musicians of Cape Verdean and Caribbean descent who made a life in the multiracial Cardiff docklands. The chapter considers the multiple ways that their music, political consciousness, and place-making practices developed through and against the rhythms of the South Wales coal shipping industry. Chapter 3 journeys with Black women radicals Claudia Jones and Eslanda Robeson. The chapter asks how thinking with the materialities and vernacular cultures of the sea beyond maritime labor can enliven alternative histories and imaginations of the oceanic. My hope is that thinking with the intellectual and material crosscurrents of maritime workers and travelers in the early twentieth century can help us to think differently about the stories that we have heard and told about the unfinished struggle for Black freedom—stories about the people whose movements made “the movement” possible, the routes and reverberations of political consciousness, and the places where workers with seemingly insurmountable differences of ideology and identity made common cause, however ephemerally, in the struggle for collective liberation.

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