introduction
Lowell Gudmundson & Justin Wolfe
lricans
The remarkable flowering of scholarship on the history of Af-
and their descendants in the Americas produced since
the Second World War has been one of the most fruitful developments of
historical and sociological knowledge worldwide. The great majority of
that scholarship has focused on nations and areas where African-descent
populations are both recognized as such today and comprise the majority
population either regionally or nationally. The islands of the Caribbean,
the United States, and Brazil have been the preferred setting for this ex-
traordinary expansion of knowledge and remain so for scholars today.
On the margins, both geographically and conceptually, of that emerging
Black Atlantic framework can be found the Hispanic mainland Caribbean
nations from Mexico through Central America and Panama, to Colom-
bia and Venezuela. Here one finds little recognition, in either popular or
scholarly terms, of the region’s dominant role in the earliest colonial slave
trade or of the fact that people of African descent constituted the majority
of nonindigenous populations long thereafter. Similarly, despite (or per-
haps because of ) the centrality of these people and imageries of blackness
in the later development of national identities and historical conscious-
ness, these same nation-states have often countenanced widespread prac-
tices of social, political, and regional exclusion of blacks. These histories
should trouble our analyses of race and diaspora. This region is not an
anomaly or a marginal case, but rather the setting of historical trajectories
that necessarily challenge both empirical and theoretical scholarship. Re-
search on the isthmus must be seen as more than additive—the inclusion
of forgotten peoples and histories; it has been transformative. Histories of
slavery, segregation, and racism in the mainland Hispanic Caribbean un-
derpinned the emergence of new ideals of freedom, equality, democracy,
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