Winner of the Merle Curti Award
Winner of the James A. Rawley Prize
Winner of the Louis Gottschalk Prize
Longlisted for the Cundill Prize
“Vincent Brown makes the dead talk. With his deep learning and powerful historical imagination, he calls upon the departed to explain the living. The Reaper’s Garden stretches the historical canvas and forces readers to think afresh. It is a major contribution to the history of Atlantic slavery.”—Ira Berlin
From the author of Tacky’s Revolt, a landmark study of life and death in colonial Jamaica at the zenith of the British slave empire.
What did people make of death in the world of Atlantic slavery? In The Reaper’s Garden, Vincent Brown asks this question about Jamaica, the staggeringly profitable hub of the British Empire in America—and a human catastrophe. Popularly known as the grave of the Europeans, it was just as deadly for Africans and their descendants. Yet among the survivors, the dead remained both a vital presence and a social force.
In this compelling and evocative story of a world in flux, Brown shows that death was as generative as it was destructive. From the eighteenth-century zenith of British colonial slavery to its demise in the 1830s, the Grim Reaper cultivated essential aspects of social life in Jamaica—belonging and status, dreams for the future, and commemorations of the past. Surveying a haunted landscape, Brown unfolds the letters of anxious colonists; listens in on wakes, eulogies, and solemn incantations; peers into crypts and coffins, and finds the very spirit of human struggle in slavery. Masters and enslaved, fortune seekers and spiritual healers, rebels and rulers, all summoned the dead to further their desires and ambitions. In this turbulent transatlantic world, Brown argues, “mortuary politics” played a consequential role in determining the course of history.
Insightful and powerfully affecting, The Reaper’s Garden promises to enrich our understanding of the ways that death shaped political life in the world of Atlantic slavery and beyond.
Brown’s study ought to be read by scholars and students of Caribbean history as well as specialists of the black diaspora and the Atlantic World.
Engrossing… Brown’s major concern is the cultural significance of death in a land marked by high mortality. Here, his account is compelling and highly original. He is especially interested in how both whites and blacks used death to control the strange environment they found themselves in.
Vincent Brown makes the dead talk. With his deep learning and powerful historical imagination, he calls upon the departed to explain the living. The Reaper’s Garden stretches the historical canvas and forces readers to think afresh. It is a major contribution to the history of Atlantic slavery.
In this riveting and remarkable book, Vincent Brown carries us to the epicenter of the experience of slavery. He shows us how, in plantation Jamaica and along the Atlantic currents that shaped it, the worlds of the living and the dead were always tightly intertwined.
A magisterial and brilliant account of the politics of death in the world of Atlantic slavery. We experience in vivid detail the role of the dead in the relationships, aspirations, and politics of the living. If the ghost of slavery haunts us in the present, as Brown reminds us, it is because our freedom dreams are tethered to those of the enslaved.
The Reaper’s Garden is a truly luminous book that will establish Vincent Brown’s reputation as a brilliant interpreter of the African diaspora.
An elegant and powerful study of the ways that all of Jamaica’s people—poor and rich, slave and free, black and white—lived in the constant shadow of death in England’s richest and most important colony. A profound exploration of the meanings of death and the dead for the living.
- 2009, Winner of the James A. Rawley Prize
- 2009, Winner of the Merle Curti Award
- 2009, Winner of the Louis Gottschalk Prize
- 2009, Joint winner of the Merle Curti Award
- 368 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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