How do the living lie with the dead? Until the dehumanization of society by capitalism, all the living awaited the experience of the dead. It was their ultimate future. By themselves the living were incomplete. Thus living and dead were interdependent. Always.
Only a uniquely modern form of egotism has broken this interdependence. With disastrous results for the living, who now think of the dead as eliminated.
– John Berger, “12 Theses for an Economy of the Dead” (2008)
How were enslaved people conscripted into extractive and exploitative economic systems in life and death? How do white Eurocentric notions of death, mourning, and commemoration continue to hold power over sites of Black memory in Louisiana? Where are possibilities for resistance? What might reparations look like in an “economy of the dead?”
This talk will explore current conversations among historians of slavery around the material and immaterial legacies of enslaved people and their attendant sites of memory. Several examples from throughout Louisiana will be presented for critique, contemplation, and discussion in further detail.
Robin McDowell is Ph.D. Candidate in African and African American Studies at Harvard University. She holds an A.M in History from Harvard University, an M.F.A. in Design from the University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. in Fine Arts from The University of Pennsylvania. She is a History Design Studio Fellow at the Hutchins Center for African American Research and a former Gerald Gill Fellow at Tufts University Center for the Study of Race and Democracy. She is currently writing a dissertation on environmental histories of slavery and capitalism in 19th century Louisiana.