University of Iowa

Caribbean, Diaspora, and Atlantic Studies

The Caribbean, Diaspora, and Atlantic Studies Program is an interdisciplinary group of faculty and graduate students interested in the Caribbean region and Brazil. Following Sidney Mintz’s insightful definition of the Caribbean as a socio-cultural area, we focus on three main linguistic/cultural zones: the Francophone, Anglophone, and Hispanic Caribbean, including Brazil. Drawing on Antonio Benítez Rojo’s notion of “the repeating island,” we study the Caribbean as a multi-layered, multi-ethnic society resulting from a complex set of factors--the sugar plantation, European colonization, and transatlantic slavery. From this basic premise, we trace the routes of a cultural triangle joining Africa, Europe, and the Americas in criss-crossing journeys and transnational cultural flows.

Our program is distinctive in its emphasis on music and the performing arts. Our members cultivate the rich legacy of Afro-Cuban folklore, chant, and dance, study carnival performances, play steel drum music--efforts that foster Benítez Rojo’s definition of the Caribbean as a culture of performance. Bridging the social sciences and the humanities, CDA faculty undertake projects in many aspects of Caribbean cultural studies, including visual culture, religious practices, comparative approaches to literature and arts, Afro-American architecture, and Afro-Brazilian cultural expression.

We are also interested in gaining a deeper understanding of Caribbean history. Seeing the Caribbean as a site where European mercantilist practices were contested, we study the transatlantic links joining plantation economies in Cuba and Brazil to the Southern United States. The emergence and expansion of the Atlantic economy and the establishments of trade routes from Africa to the New World constitute an on-going area of inquiry. Later in the history of colonization, we study the resistance to sugar as a recurrent trope in Caribbean history, and the role played by anti-slavery narrative in emerging national identities. Particular areas of interest include sugar and abolition in the Spanish Antilles and the impact of U.S. occupation in the region. Through discourses of antillanité, creolité, and transculturation, African cultural presences and practices are traced in diverse points of contact, from the insular Caribbean to Venezuela and Brazil.

Beyond geographical limits, we also focus on Caribbean migration as a global phenomena, placing particular emphasis on demographic flows to the Americas. Over the long twentieth-century, we are interested in the type of diasporic communities established in response to contested processes of nation-formation and political conflict in the region. We are also interested in reshuffling the concept of diaspora to include new theoretical paradigms that account for the massive deployment of Caribbean populations to diverse corners of the world. CDA faculty and doctoral students focus also on inter-Caribbean migration and how this internal diaspora fosters the notion of transnationalism. New directions include the impact of Asian migration to the region as well as the revival and retrieval of indigenous cultures.