MCEAS Fellow Profile: Tayzhaun Glover


MCEAS Fellow Profile: Tayzhaun Glover

Tayzhaun Glover, Dunn Dissertation Fellow at the McNeil Center and Ph.D. candidate at Duke University, is a historian and qualitative researcher. His dissertation "Freedom on the Horizon: Transmarine Marronage and the Abolition of Slavery in Dominica, Martinique, and St. Lucia, 1824-1848" explores the cross-imperial movement of enslaved French men and women in the wake of Great Britain’s abolition of slavery and seeks to reconstruct their conceptions of refuge and freedom. We spoke with Glover about his dissertation, his interest in qualitative research, and the factors along the way that have influenced his love of history.

Q: How did you become interested in your dissertation topic?

Glover: In my first summer of graduate school, I took an exploratory research trip to St. Lucia. While I was there, I connected with Jolien Harmsen, who is a co-author of A History of St. Lucia. She took me up to Moule à Chique, which is a beautiful spot in Vieux Fort where you get a scenic view of the coastline and the sea. As we stood a few hundred feet above sea level, she pointed out across the sea to St. Vincent. I was fascinated by all of the stories she told me about generations of folks moving between the two countries on small boats for all sorts of reasons. Fast forward a few months, I found a narrative in a digitized colonial newspaper collection about a small group of apprenticed laborers escaping from St. Lucia to St. Vincent in a canoe in 1836. I was immediately reminded of my time with Harmsen at Moule à Chique and I tried to imagine what this group may have thought when they saw St. Vincent on the horizon. What constellation of factors brought them together in that canoe? What did they hope to find in St. Vincent? I continued digging through the newspapers for a few months and I uncovered a large story about non-British fugitive slaves using the sea to secure freedom in British colonies across the Caribbean in the wake of emancipation in the British empire. Over the years, my project evolved into a narrower study of this moment in Dominica, Martinique, and St. Lucia.

Q: Who are the three scholars who most influenced your own work?

Glover: Julius Scott, Ernesto Bassi, Georges Mauvois. I discovered Scott’s The Common Wind in a working group on slavery at a time when I was trying to understand how the fugitives I had been reading about in colonial newspapers were learning about emancipation in British colonies. His framework gave me exactly what I needed to begin thinking through the networks of plantation slaves, free people of color, and seamen who would have carried news about liberty in British colonies that was vital to their escapes. Yet, I still had so many questions about the logistics of their escapes, the most pressing being: how did they do it? A few months after reading The Common Wind, my advisor recommended that I read Bassi’s Aqueous Territories. That book introduced me to an approach to these kinds of questions that borrowed from the fields of history and geography. His work was vital to understanding how historical subjects transformed political geographies into subjective worlds that they navigated using mental maps and I often find myself returning to the question: How did my historical subjects think about where they were going and how did they pull it off? Scott and Bassi’s work, along with that of many others, built a foundation that prepared me to engage with the gem that is Mauvois’ Les Marrons de la Mer. Mauvois’ unfinished work on Martinique’s fugitive slaves escaping to Dominica and St. Lucia in the age of emancipation has been a guide of sorts for understanding how to locate fugitivity in the archive and how to situate it within a historical context that effectively narrates the impact that the antislavery movement had on the French colonies. My project has become an analytical and methodological mix of the works of these scholars to whom I am truly grateful.

Q: If you could see or visit any historical artifact or site, what would it be and why?

Glover: There are so many, but the Great Pyramids of Giza are at the top of my list. I had a childhood obsession with ancient Egypt fueled by the Magic Tree House, a small book about Egyptian mythology that I bought at the Scholastic book fair in maybe third grade, and the book Egyptology by Dugald Steer that was the journal of a fictional Egyptologist who was trying to find the lost tomb of Osiris. I just had to know everything there was to know about ancient Egypt. While most kids my age were watching cartoons, I was tuning into the History Channel to watch Dr. Zahi Hawass’ documentaries about pyramids, mummies, and new archaeological finds. My interests have expanded a lot as I’ve gotten older, but there is a part of me that absolutely must visit Egypt. At this point, it is the only way to make my inner child happy.

Q: What is the primary source you’ve most enjoyed using in your research?

Glover: Maps! My favorite are these nineteenth-century topographic maps of Martinique that I found at Archives Nationales d’Outre-Mer in Aix-en-Provence, France. I have been compiling a lot of data that I have been collecting about French fugitives from court cases, newspapers, and correspondences into spreadsheets and I am finding that these topographic maps have been incredibly useful in helping me to visualize that data. I’m in the stage of identifying patterns of slave flight from specific towns and estates and a good number of the particular estates that I’m interested in are labelled on these maps. This has made the analytical work very exciting when I am thinking through the ways that the estates’ proximity to one another, the natural features of the land surrounding them, and their access to the sea made transmarine escapes possible. It is a level of detective work that has been very fruitful and makes the long hours I spend reading nineteenth-century handwriting worth it. I’m excited to see the ways that reading these sources together will add texture to my work.

Q: What are you most enjoying about your Fellowship at the McNeil Center?

Glover: The camaraderie amongst the fellows! We are all supportive of each other’s work and are excited to see one another grow as scholars and thinkers. All of our projects are situated somewhere in the realm of early American studies, but there is so much diversity in fields and themes across our projects that I find myself learning something new every time I talk to someone about their project or read someone’s work. The semester has just begun, and we already have some working group meetings scheduled. I just feel very honored and excited to share space with my fellow fellows this year!

Tayzhaun Glover is the Richard S. Dunn Dissertation Fellow at the McNeil Center and a Ph.D. candidate at Duke University. Glover earned his B.A. in Africana Studies/Anthropology and French from Franklin & Marshall College and his M.A. in History from Duke University. To learn more about Glover’s work, view his dissertation summary.