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Kevin Dawson: “History Below the Waterline – Enslaved Salvage Divers Harvesting Seaports’ Hinter-Seas, c.1540-1840”

November 7, 2018 @ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm  |  Humanities 1, Room 210


Kevin Dawson’s scholarship examines how enslaved Africans carried swimming, surfing, canoe-making, and canoeing skills to the Americas where they informed slave culture and were exploited by slaveholders. “History Below the Waterline” considers how enslaved Africans employed as salvage divers transformed shipwrecks, especially sunken Spanish treasure ships, into hinter-seas of economic production. Scholars typically situate seaports between hinterlands and overseas markets, assuming economies pivoted around rural production. This talk shifts our intellectual focus seaward to consider how enslaved aquanauts’ African-based expertise enabled them to harvest hinter-seas to produce capital that helped finance terrestrial production throughout the English Empire.

Kevin Dawson grew up surfing, swimming, and freediving in south Los Angeles County, all of which profoundly informed his scholarship. He received a BA from California State University, Fullerton and was awarded his PhD from the University of South Carolina in 2005, where his advisor was Dan Littlefield. Dawson’s scholarship and teaching focus on the African diaspora and Atlantic History from roughly 1444, when the Portuguese first sailed into Sub-Saharan Africa to 1888, when Brazil became the last country in the New World to abolish slavery.

He has conducted research throughout the continental US, Hawai‘i, the Caribbean, and West Africa and has published articles in the Journal of American History and Journal of Social History, as well as several chapters in edited volumes. His book Undercurrents of Power: Aquatic Culture in the Africa Diaspora was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2018.

The Center for Cultural Studies hosts a weekly Wednesday colloquium featuring work by faculty and visitors. The sessions consist of a 40-45 minute presentation followed by discussion. We gather at noon, with presentations beginning at 12:15 PM. Participants are encouraged to bring their own lunches; the Center provides coffee, tea, and cookies.

All Center for Cultural Studies events are free and open to the public. Staff assistance is provided by the Humanities Institute.


November 7, 2018
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm


Humanities 1, Room 210
1156 high st
Santa cruz, CA 95060 United States
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