Ajay Kumar Batra
I study the connected histories of chattel slavery, emancipation, and abolition in the late-18th- and 19th-century United States and British West Indies. My dissertation, "The Making of Abolition in the Archives of Atlantic Slavery, 1785–1865," examines literary and archival texts from this period in order to elaborate the heterodox visions of freedom and abolition that enslaved and formerly enslaved people generated in their writings and in their everyday lives. Through careful attention to how these texts disclose traces of ways of being that are unbound by the liberal conception of freedom as self-possession, I recast abolition as the experimental province of those who were enslaved, showing that they did not merely await or demand slavery’s formal end, but rather took into their own hands the challenge of eradicating its enabling conditions by sustaining worlds apart from them. Complementary areas of study include Africana religious history, the history of race and caste, colonialism and postcolonialism, and prison abolition.
For the 2019–20 academic year, I am a Hamer dissertation fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies.
“Reading with Conviction: Abraham Johnstone and the Poetics of the Dead End.” Forthcoming in Early American Literature 55.2 (2020).
"Gallows Respectability," intro to The Address of Abraham Johnstone, a Black Man (1797), in "13 for 13," special issue, Common-Place 17.3 (2017).
Review of Nathan Perl-Rosenthal, Citizen Sailors: Becoming American in the Age of Revolution (Belknap, 2015). Journal of American Studies 51.4 (2017): 1277–1280.
Review of Robeson Taj Frazier, The East Is Black: Cold War China in the Black Radical Imagination (Duke UP, 2014). Amerasia Journal 42.2 (2016): 195–198.