Making and Unmaking Emancipation in Cuba and the United States: A Panel Discussion


In this panel discussion, moderated by Kellogg Faculty Fellow Karen Graubart, historian of the Iberian Atlantic world and colonial Latin America, scholars Adriana ChiraAisha Finch, and Zachary Sell discuss current work and speak to challenges and opportunities in connecting broad audiences to new scholarly findings in the study of transatlantic slavery.

A tour of Hesburgh Libraries’ Fall 2023 exhibition, Making and Unmaking Emancipation in Cuba and the United States, precedes the panel discussion. A reception will follow in the Hesburgh Libraries Scholars Lounge.

Free and open to the public; no tickets required.

Cosponsored with the Hesburgh Libraries.


Adriana Chira is Associate Professor of Atlantic World History at Emory University. She is a historian of property, law, race, and popular political mobilization within rural worlds of the South Atlantic that were shaped by slavery and its long-lasting legacies: Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Spanish Equatorial Guinea. Her first book, Patchwork Freedoms: Law, Slavery, and Race beyond Cuba’s Plantations, explores how enslaved and free people of African descent litigated for freedom, bodily and family integrity, and property in eastern Cuba, where the court system served as a crucible for an anti-slavery popular political consciousness during the nineteenth century. Currently she is working on a project that extends her interest in custom and property chronologically – focusing on how community norms continued to shape ownership practices in post-emancipation societies within the late Spanish Empire and its aftermath (1880s-1960s).

Aisha Finch is Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. A formally trained scholar of the African Diaspora, her research focuses on the study of slavery in Cuba and the Atlantic World, transnational Black feminism, and Black political movements and social life in the Caribbean, Latin America, and the US. She is the author of Rethinking Slave Rebellion in Cuba: La Escalera and the Insurgencies of 1841-1844, which received the Harriet Tubman Book Prize from the Schomburg Center’s Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery, and was a finalist for the Frederick Douglass Book Prize. Her current research focuses on comparative histories of Black women and the sacred, arguing that Black women in the rural Caribbean and the US South presented an insistent refusal to the violence of the plantation world, during and after slavery, through their knowledge and reimagination of the sacred.

Zachary Sell is Assistant Professor in the Department of Africana Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He is a historian of slavery with an emphasis upon colonialism and capitalism in the nineteenth century. Sell is the author of the award-winning Trouble of the World: Slavery and Empire in the Age of Capital, which examines how US slavery intersected with British colonial projects ranging from Australia, Belize, and India. He is also engaged in collaborative public humanities scholarship and was previously at Brown University’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice (CSSJ) where he coordinated a collaboration between Firelight Films and CSSJ in support of a PBS documentary film series on the Atlantic slave trade directed by Stanley Nelson.

Karen Graubart (moderator) is Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. A historian of colonial Latin America and the Iberian Atlantic, she examines the ways that disenfranchised peoples of all kinds experienced colonialism and enslavement and — using a mixture of tools from their colonized environment — made sense of the world. Graubart's most recent book, Republics of Difference: Religious and Racial Self-Governance in the Spanish Atlantic World, asks why it matters that Muslims, Jews, and non-Muslim West Africans in 15th century Seville, like Indigenous peoples in 16th and 17th century Lima, were granted limited self-governance in their internal affairs; and why it matters that Black subjects in the New World were largely not. Her new project, "Making Malambo: A History of Free Black Collectivity in Colonial Latin America," analyzes a collective petition filed by the free people of African descent in late sixteenth-century Panama, requesting an exemption from a new and onerous tax.

About the Exhibit

This exhibition explores the fraught, circuitous and unfinished course of emancipation over the nineteenth century in Cuba and the United States. People – enslaved individuals and outside observers, survivors and resistors, and activists and conspirators – made and unmade emancipation, a process that remains unfinished and unrealized.

This exhibit is curated by Rachel Bohlmann, American History Librarian and Curator, and Kellogg Faculty Fellow Erika Hosselkus, Latin American Studies Curator and Associate University Librarian. This and other exhibits within the Hesburgh Libraries are generously supported by the McBrien Special Collections Endowment.

All exhibits are free and open to the public during business hours.

Open to Undergraduates, Graduate Students, Faculty, Staff, Postdocs, Public, Alumni, & Friends.