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Runaway Pathfinders and American Exploration

  • 27 Apr 2023
  • 2:30 PM - 3:45 PM
  • Join Zoom Meeting Meeting ID: 941 7859 0006 Passcode: Up72g8 Join by SIP Join by H.323 (US West) (US East) (China)

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Runaway Pathfinders and American Exploration

Dr. Cameron Strang 

Many runaway slaves in the antebellum United States ventured into distant lands with the intent of acquiring knowledge about the places and peoples they encountered. These pathfinders pursued exploration primarily as an intellectual strategy for liberating themselves and their kin.

Yet, while some fugitives did seek and report discoveries, they also faced distinct challenges. Rather than being part of national or international communities with wide access to geographical knowledge, enslaved people emerged from relatively isolated communities where slavers deliberately kept them in ignorance.

Fugitives also had to traverse and investigate a carceral landscape in which the nation’s legal system mandated their arrest, and most of the population stood to profit from their capture.  Rather than boast publicly about the knowledge they acquired, fugitives usually kept information about new routes and allies a closely guarded secret.

Such idiosyncrasies did not make fugitives’ journeys of discovery something other than true exploration.  Instead, this talk argues, they allow us to question what we think we know about the performers, practices, and goals of American exploration on the whole.

Cameron B. Strang is an associate professor of history at the University of Nevada, Reno, who studies early America and the history of science. His first book, Frontiers of Science: Imperialism and Natural Knowledge in the Gulf South Borderlands, 1500-1850 (winner of the Summerlee Book Prize and the Michael V.R. Thomason Book Award), was published in 2018.  His articles include essays in The William and Mary Quarterly and The Journal of American History.  He is co-editor of a special edition of Early American Studies on the environment in early America. He also co-edited HOSLAC: The History of Science in Latin America and the Caribbean. He is currently working on a new history of American exploration.

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