Frontiers of the Plantation: The Aesthetics of Racial Capitalism
A Lecture by Dr. Aaron Carico
Location: Stanhope Hall 101
Date/Time: 04/15/13 at 12:00 pm - 04/15/13 at 1:20 pm
This event is free, open to the public, and lunch will be served. Space is limited to 20 participants. RSVP to Jennifer Loessy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 609.258.3216 to reserve your seat!
What are the times and spaces proper to the plantation? When and where does slavery’s institution inhabit the American project? This talk reconstructs the conjoined histories of Western frontier and Southern plantation after 1865 and into the early twentieth century. It argues that the plantation—as idea, as practice—survived and even thrived after formal abolition because it reconciled transformations in American political economy (the rise of the modern corporation, the growth of financialization) with the enduring exigencies of racial capitalism. Centering on a re-reading of Owen Wister’s "The Virginian" (1902), the novel that canonized the genre of the Western, it uncovers the residues of slavery that Wister’s text enfolds. At stake is an understanding of how the conjunction of frontier and plantation reassembles and reproduces, again and again, forms of white autonomy and authority, both concrete and abstract, economic and aesthetic. This talk boldly reconceives the temporalities and geographies secreted by the plantation in America, as it ventures between the seventeenth century and the twentieth, across the spaces of “the South” and of “the West,” and from the modern corporation to the modernist poem.
During his time at CAAS, Aaron continues to develop his book project, “The Free Plantation: Slavery’s Institution in America, 1865-1940.” The project excavates the plantation’s lasting structures in American law, culture, and political economy, which withstood slavery’s formal abolition. Through an array of historically situated readings anchored in a diverse archive of legal decisions, economic theories, and ex-slave testimonies, as well as novels, performances, and paintings, “The Free Plantation” reveals the plantation’s endurance not just as a specific territorial formation, but also in the very configurations that have shaped modern America, from systems of credit to the figure of the cowboy. This interdisciplinary work exposes the plantation’s affiliations as promiscuous and far-flung in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, implicating the United States in its entirety rather than any single national region.
Aaron’s work has been supported by grants from the Gilder Lehrman Center, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Duke University, among others. His essay “Freedom as Accumulation” will be included in a forthcoming anthology titled Plantation Modernity, and, along with Dara Orenstein, he is co-editing “The Fictions of Finance,” a special edition of the Radical History Review that examines the rhetorical and the operational dimensions of finance capitalism.
Department: Center for African American Studies