Foreword to the Brazilian Edition
Robert W. Slenes
This book is at the crossroads of vari ous paths in recent historiography.1 Wal-
ter Fraga followed the trails of experience and self- reflection blazed by slaves,
freed people, and masters, to understand conflicts and alliances in the Bahian
Recôncavo (the bay on which Salvador is located, and its immediate agri-
cultural hinterland) from the end of the nineteenth to the early twentieth
century. In so doing, he abolished the radical dissociation between “slavery”
and “freedom” which had led many scholars to see the end of bondage in 1888
as either the terminus of one historical road (and research agenda) or the
beginning of another; for it became clear that strategies, customs, and identi-
ties were worked out before emancipation shaped subsequent tensions be-
tween subalterns and their superiors. Indeed, the focus on actual lives, lived
and pondered, as a way to discover broader social logics, brought Professor
Fraga to the path of microhistory, an approach that seeks “God” (evidence of
larger pro cesses of change and continuity) in the intricacy of “detail.”2 This
option, in turn, took him to people’s names— that is, to the method of nomi-
native rec ord linkage—as a strategy for tracking persons over time in order
to trace individual and collective biographies. Crossroads of Freedom: Slaves
and Freed People in Bahia, Brazil, 1870–1910 is the point of encounter of these
diverse but converging paths.
To say this, however, only weakly defines the book’s qualities. The cross-
roads in this case are exceptionally charged with power—so much so that
it is difficult to do justice to Fraga’s method in a brief compass. How does
one explain, for instance, the magic of chapter 2, in which the author em-
ploys detailed police documents and an exceptionally rich trial rec ord to re-
construct the assassination, by slaves, of a priest- administrator on a sugar
plantation of the Carmelite Order in 1882? Fraga analyzes and contextualizes
the case so skillfully that it illuminates slave owners’ theater of dominion and
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