Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Earth & Environmental Sciences


Monica Varsanyi

Committee Members

Ruth Wilson Gilmore

Ramona Hernandez

Prathibha "Prithi" Kanakamedala

Katherine McKittrick

Subject Categories

Africana Studies | American Studies | Environmental Studies | History | Human Geography | Latin American History | Nature and Society Relations


Black Land, 1521 Christmas Rebellion, Hispaniola, Rebellion, Santo Domingo, Haiti


Plotting on the Plot in Hispaniola: A 16th Century Discontinuous Black Land Story and the Insistent Unsettling Crisis of the New World examines the 1521 “Christmas Rebellion,” which is the earliest documented, Black-led rebellion—or series of acts of Black-led liberation—on the island of Hispaniola. Taking root just twenty-nine years after Christopher Columbus set foot on the Caribbean island that would later become known as “La Española,” or Hispaniola, the Rebellion sowed the seeds for future, Black-led uprisings in the Americas. This early act of Black resistance co-formed the initial grounding of the Black Radical Tradition west of the Atlantic Basin, effectively creating what I call “Black Land.” I define Black Land as the composite of Black and indigenous rebel practices and activities with Black and land-informed rebel ecologies that resist settler capitalist modes of extraction, thereby creating a rebel ontology of insistence, which plots, discontinuously, for the liberation of the land and people. Methodologically, the dissertation engages in a critical, side-by-side reading of two accounts of the Christmas Rebellion––Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés’, written in 1535, and Diego Colón’s, written in 1522. I elaborate a crucial plot analysis of these accounts in order to consider the temporal, geographic, racial, economic, and sociopolitical context(s) of the rebellion and to witness an early Atlantic example of the oppositional posture and socio-ecological vision embedded in acts of Black liberation. My analysis is the first to consider Oviedo’s more well-known account alongside Colón’s, which was not only the first official response to the rebellion––having been written just eleven days after it occurred––but also was the first set of anti-black slave laws penned in the Americas. Of the very few scholars familiar with these slave laws, none have put them into conversation with more popular accounts of the 1521 rebellion or its wider historical, geographic, or Black radical contexts.

Speaking into this void, I argue that any study of nascent acts of Black radicalism in the Americas must explore the first colonial city of the New World, Santo Domingo. In the 16th century, Santo Domingo was the first port of entry for the African slave trade in the Americas. Along with other locales in the vicinity of the city, Santo Domingo serves as both the historical and physical site upon which what is arguably the Americas’ first manifestation of a “Black geography” comes into being. Further, I demonstrate that 16th century Hispaniola as a Black geography is important for understanding how late 15th and 16th-century Black productions of place ground not only the Haitian Revolution but all other and subsequent acts of Black radicalism that follow in the Ibero-Atlantic world and beyond. In analyzing the activities, habits, and socio-political practices of Black rebels in this 15th-16th century revolutionary Caribbean context, I cultivate a narrative plot previously available to us, one that foregrounds the land upon which this very Black geography is made. Plotting on the Plot blooms in the bundled stories, ecologies, and efforts of Black and Taino resistance as they relate to outright Black-instigated rebellion and the development of a rebel ecology that found its place in a Black Land.

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