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Thursday Dec. 3 1 p.m. - 2 p.m.

Runaway Ecologies with ACMRS Short-Term Resident Gabriel de Avilez Rocha


Runaway Ecologies: Rethinking Empire, Insurgency and Nature in the Early Atlantic

In the first decades of the sixteenth-century Caribbean, scores of Taíno and African people experiencing enslavement and other forms of dispossession managed against steep odds to establish autonomous settlements at a remove from colonial Spanish enclaves. Over the same period, in West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, enslaved Africans of diverse origins on the Portuguese-claimed island of São Tomé devised individual and collective pathways of liberation beyond their conditions of bondage. In response, enslavers and colonial officials in both settings implemented measures of counterinsurgency while employing Iberian discourses of nature that depicted the strongholds of runaways as “wild” and inaccessible spaces.

How might the historic role of fugitive collectives appear in a different light if we consider the ways in which runaways played a part in shaping contact-era island environments? More broadly, how does weighing the impact of initiatives of escape from enslavement on both sides of the Atlantic at an early critical juncture of colonization alter our understanding of the relationship between empire, insurgency and nature?

In pursuing such questions, this talk develops the concept of “runaway ecologies”: environments in which self-emancipated collectives fortified their autonomy by capitalizing on, among other ecological shifts ensuing from colonization, the proliferation of feral creatures such as hogs and bovines. Drawing from administrative, legal and literary records, Rocha argues that early modern Portuguese and Spanish strategies of counterinsurgency and their attendant discourses of nature offer evidence of the formative impact of runaways on the contours of early Iberian Atlantic colonization, paving the way for future struggles for liberation on both sides of the ocean.

This event is free and digital. Registration is required to attend. You will receive a secure livestream link to the email you registered with on the day of the event.

We will have live closed captioning throughout the event.

About Gabriel de Avilez Rocha

Gabriel de Avilez Rocha is the Vasco da Gama assistant professor of history and Portuguese and Brazilian studies at Brown University. His research centers on the social and environmental histories of colonialism and slavery in the early Atlantic world. Under contract with University Pennsylvania Press, his book manuscript, “The Atlantic Acceleration: Making Empire from the Global Commons,” examines how popular struggles over shared ecologies shaped the Iberian Atlantic colonial circuit during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. His articles and essays have appeared in the Colonial Latin American Review, Early American Studies, Early Modern Black Diaspora Studies: A Critical Anthology, and other volumes and publications.

Headshot of Gabriel de Avilez Rocha


For More Information Contact:

Leah Newsom
Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies