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Carroll Smith-Rosenberg

professor emerita, history, American culture and women's studies, U of Michigan

Carroll Smith-Rosenberg is the Mary Frances Berry Collegiate Professor of History, American Culture and Women's Studies, Emerita, University of Michigan. Her two best known books are: Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America and This Violent Empire: The Birth of an American National Identity. This Violent Empire traces US racism, violence and paranoia to the formation of the new American nation and the adoption of the Federal Constitution. While at the University of Michigan she founded and directed the University's Atlantic Studies Initiative, 1999-2008. The Atlantic Studies Initiative has three principal starting points: (1) that modernity, as we understand it, took form through Atlantic connections: the emergence of an imperial Europe; global capitalism, traced back to the beginnings of the Atlantic slave trade and plantation slave economies in "the New World;" the modern, mobile and fragmented subject; the novel, etc. etc. (2) that events in one part of the Atlantic are intricately connected to events in other parts of the Atlantic and (3) the North Atlantic cannot be understood in isolation from the South Atlantic of Africa, South America and the Caribbean. Her present book project, Atlantic Citizenship, traces the origins of modern citizenship to the Revolutionary Atlantic of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and sees it as the product of complex interactions among the four violent Atlantic events: The US, French, Haitian Revolutions and efforts in the 1790s to establish an Irish Republic. It asks how did these new republics constitute the modern citizen. What rights could the citizen claim and most critically, who could claim citizenship? Who had "the right to have rights?" It focuses on the complex triangulation of race, slavery and gender, using them to examine the contradictions and ambivalence lying at the heart of both citizenship and liberal thought more generally. The coexistence of slavery with Enlightenment liberal celebrations of the "transcendent and equal dignity of all persons" is only the most obvious example of such contradictions. A second lies even closer to the conundrum citizenship poses. Enlightenment thinkers celebrated the universal principles of man's equality and inalienable rights. But do these rights depend on membership in a republican body politic or, transcending the geopolitical state, do they reside in a person's inherent humanity? But what if states refuse to recognize a person's inalienable rights? Does "the people's" right to control who belongs to their body politic trump the claims to inalienable rights of those excluded? Popular sovereignty/ universal rights, twin concepts of the Enlightenment, counter one another. Atlantic Citizenship takes this conundrum back to its origins and asks what effect the Haitian Revolution had upon the development of citizenship in the "white Atlantic" -- not only the violence of the slave revolt itself but the very fact of an independent, self-governing black republic. Robin Blackburn claims that the Haitian Revolution instilled "a permanent panic" in the White Atlantic. Does that panic continue to inform exclusionary visions of citizenship in the US, Europe and Great Britain?