"To Go to Nature's Manufactory": The Material Ecology of Slavery in Antebellum Maryland
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This dissertation examines the environmental history of slavery in Maryland and attends specifically to the ways enslaved people’s relationship to their environment manifested in their everyday lives. In this project, I advance an ecological analysis that foregrounds networks of relation between slaves, slaveholders, soils, plants, animals, and cold weather. Grounding my analysis in the everyday world of slavery, my dissertation employs a framework I call material ecology, which utilizes object-oriented analysis as a means of thinking through, unpacking, and rendering the ecology of slavery in Maryland. Using this approach, I organize each of my chapters around a class of objects that materialize different ecological relations. As the points at which such relations converge, cast-iron plows, enslaved people’s shoes, slave-made charms, as well as stews and similar one-pot meals disclose distinctive interactions between the enslaved and their environment. From my analysis of the relationships that cohere around these objects, I argue that in antebellum Maryland slaves and slaveholders differently mobilized elements of their environment against one another in their multiform contests over power. Examining the ecological networks informing these contests illustrates the extent to which the environment in enslaved people’s lives was simultaneously antagonistic and empowering.