This site offers materials for teaching and research in the field of Black Atlantic studies. Written and maintained by Alasdair Pettinger, it consists of short essays, mini anthologies, reprinted hard-to-find primary texts, bibliographies, links to other related online resources. The blog will include news items, sidelong observations, and more personal glimpses of work in progress. Or, more likely, work not progressing very much at all.
In one way or another, the different sections all engage with issues raised by the movement of people, goods and ideas in the vast networks of intercontinental exchange first established during the transatlantic slave trade of the 16th to 19th Centuries, extended and further transformed during the period of Abolition and Decolonization and beyond.
The editor’s own interests are largely literary and historical, and focus on connections between Europe (mainly Britain and France), the Caribbean (especially Haiti) and the United States. The materials here reflect these preoccupations, although exceptions will be freely admitted.
The first four sections to be developed are:
- Douglass in Scotland: on the visit of the famed abolitionist in 1846 – a resource that was originally created for Channel 4’s Black History Map, now defunct but archived here.
- Jim Crow in Britain: case studies of racial segregation crossing the Atlantic in the 1840s and 1940s – developed for the AMATAS project led by the University of Central Lancashire.
- V*d*: major texts on vaudoux and voodoo from the late 18th century to the early 20th, taken from French, British, North American and Haitian sources.
- Always Elsewhere: details of the editor’s now out-of-print anthology, published in 1998.
In preparation are sections that chart the use of the Moses / Exodus motif and document the history of the slogan Liberty or Death. Somewhere down the line there will be a Zora Neale Hurston Alphabet. And – because of the controversy that surrounds it – some thoughts the idea of the ‘Black Atlantic’ itself.
Finally, why bulldozia? The word does not seem to be listed in any dictionary. Recently I discovered that it could be a transliteration of the Russian word бульдожья (bulʹdozhʹya) for bulldog. But long ago I knew it appears twice in Zora Neale Hurston’s first novel, Jonah’s Gourd Vine (1934). Her young protagonist, John Pearson, complains about his shiftless domineering father:
‘Mama, better tell Ned tuh leave me be. Tell ‘im tuh stop his bulldozia. Ah done heered ‘im lyin’ tuh Mist’ Shelby makin’ out Ah don’t do nothin’ – hard ez Ah works.’1
Later, John is given some advice on his first day at a lumber camp:
‘Mens on dese camps is full uh bulldocia ’til dey smell uh good size fist. Den dey dwindles down tuh nelly nothin’.’2
Hurston was a great collector of Southern folk-lore,but she was not above making things up from time to time.
It is possible that it was highly localized expression that has since fallen into disuse and so has barely entered the written record. But it is more likely that Hurston – who took delight in calling herself ‘Queen of the Niggerati‘ – coined it herself as a kind of portmanteau word, combining bullshit and braggadocio.
Its revival is long overdue.
- Zora Neale Hurston, Jonah’s Gourd Vine  (London: Virago, 1987), p.80.
- Ibid., p. 104. The word bulldozin(g) also appears in the song ‘The Mule on de Mount’, included in the sketch ‘Railroad Camp’ in her revue Cold Keener (1930), reprinted in Zora Neale Hurston, Collected Plays, edited by Jean Lee Cole and Charles Mitchell (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008), p118; and in the appendix to Zora Neale Hurston, Mules and Men  (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978), p275. You can listen to Hurston singing this song here.