Henry Snow, Rutgers University
Advisory Council Fellow
“Making Revolutions: Labor and Power at the Atlantic Dockside, 1740-1840”
“Making Revolutions” reveals the role local conflicts in Atlantic ports played in three global transformations during the Age of Revolutions- revolution, abolition, and mechanization. This project examines these changes through trans-local histories of three ports: the proto-industrial shipbuilding center Portsmouth, the colonial naval repair facility at English Harbour, in Antigua, and the commercial slave trading town of Newport, in Rhode Island. Port labor was critical to the work of empire, and in these communities, abstract political questions manifested as concrete political conflicts, from confrontations between naval administrators and iron-smuggling women to clashes between plantation slaveholders and enslaved butchers aiding in marronage. Common people in ports defended traditional liberties and produced new ideas of freedom in the late eighteenth century, while elites who sought to reform empire and commerce for their own ends had to respond to these challenges from below. This project narrates the resulting power struggles through petitions, diaries, correspondence, and other records alongside reconstructions of port environments and labor. Dockside conflicts helped redefine political economy in the British Atlantic- they gave us the infamous “Panopticon,” helped produce modern policing, contributed to the creation of industrial work discipline, and influenced the legal abolition of slavery and its aftermath. Through personal and community perspectives in port communities, “Making Revolutions” traces the emergence of the nineteenth century world of labor and empire from the eighteenth century Atlantic.