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The Black Atlantic

Famously defined by historian Paul Gilroy in 1993, the Black Atlantic exists as a thoroughly modern space that merges and defies the limits of what it means to be African, Caribbean, American, and European. Transoceanic connections between cultures and languages come together to form a uniquely hybrid identity that characterizes many parts of the Western Hemisphere.

The Black Atlantic has become a key area of focus at Vanderbilt, with faculty research and teaching on the movement and struggles of African-descended peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean. Efforts to uncover the rich legacy of these groups include: archaeological excavation, the digitization of slave records, researching gender issues, and exploring the genetic ancestry of Caribbean peoples. Haiti is particular area of focus for CLAS in this field; as seen through the establishment of Haitian Creole courses, Haiti-centered events, and the promotion of a growing faculty focus on the country’s history and literature.



  • Creole 1101/5101; 1102/5102; 2201/5201; 2202/5202
  • English 3674- Caribbean Literature
  • AADS 218- Blacks in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • AADS 3248- Atlantic African Slave Trade
  • History 1385W- Disease and Disorder in the Atlantic World
  • History 2570/5570- Caribbean History, 1492-1983
  • History 8610- Atlantic World History, 15th-19th Century
  • History 8600- Comparative Slavery in the Colonial Americas

Research Projects

Community Outreach 

Both on and off the Vanderbilt campus, CLAS provides opportunities for K-12 teachers and the community to engage with the Black Atlantic. CLAS holds an annual Haiti Week in February, partnering with other departments, schools, and student organizations across campus. Haiti Week recognizes Vanderbilt’s commitment to Haiti and breadth of scholars working there, as well as Vanderbilt’s Haitian Creole language course.

Haiti Week 2020 programming included the kick-off event “Cooking and Kreyòl” as well as presentations by Brandon Byrd (Vanderbilt History), Megan Myers (Iowa State University), and keynote presentation by Marlene Daut (University of Virginia). An evening screening and discussion of the documentary Fatal Assistance with Nathan Dize (Vanderbilt French) wrapped up the week-long program.

In fall 2019, CLAS celebrated International Creole Day with a presentation by guest scholar Bertin M. Louis, Jr. (University of Kentucky). Haiti Week 2019 featured an evening “Cooking and Kreyòl” class, a presentation by Ibi Zoboi, award-winning author of American Street, a day-long teacher workshop “Teaching Haiti and Emigration with American Street”, a presentation and book launch with Patrick Bellegarde-Smith (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), and a panel discussion with Zoboi, Bellegarde-Smith, and Vanderbilt faculty Tiffany Patterson and Brandon Byrd.

A highlight of Haiti Week 2018, CLAS hosted renowned Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat, who spoke at both the Downtown Public Library and the John Seigenthaler Center at the First Amendment Center. Other Haiti Week events included the 2018 Black Atlantic Lecture “White Southern Identity and the Haitian Revolution” featuring Madison Smartt Bell and a discussion panel, “Ki kote n ale? (Where do we go from here?): Haitian Immigration and the End of TPS,” and a professional development workshop for K-16 educators and teachers-in-training: “Exploring Haiti through the works of Edwidge Danticat.”

Also in February 2018, CLAS Director Ted Fischer moderated the public lecture and interview “Paul Farmer and Haiti” with Partners in Health co-founder Paul Farmer. The event was a collaboration between CLAS, Vanderbilt’s Office of Health Sciences Education, the Center for Medicine, Health and Society, and Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health.

In 2017, CLAS teamed up with Vanderbilt’s Institute for Global Health for Haiti Week, featuring a university-wide Global Health Case Competition which challenged multi-disciplinary student teams to develop solutions for improving surgical capacity in Haiti. Other Haiti Week 2017 events included academic presentations, a Haitian cooking class, and an introductory lesson to Kreyòl.

Learn more about past Haiti Weeks in our CLAS Newsletters!

CLAS also supports related programming at the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, including the Circum-Atlantic Studies Seminar. This group explores interdisciplinary scholarship, focusing on at least two of the following regions—Africa, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, and North America—and some aspect of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, colonialism, and/or postcolonialism.

K-12 Teacher Workshops

The CLAS outreach program offers K-12 teacher workshops to introduce and enhance knowledge of the Black Atlantic for primary and secondary schools in Tennessee and across the country. Recent workshops include:

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