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Occult Plebian Powers: Conjure, Communism and the Transnational History of the United States Civil War

Occult Plebian Powers: Conjure, Communism and the Transnational History of the United States Civil War

Speaker: Andrew Zimmerman

Respondent: Rick Halpern

October 24, 2019

1:00-3:00pm | MW 130

All are welcome | Lunch will be provided

Occult-Plebeian-Powers.jpgMost histories of the Civil War of 1861-65 assume that the Union drew on exclusively United States political traditions to overthrow slavery and thus perfect a freedom supposed to have inhered in the nation from the beginning.  Andrew Zimmerman will highlight instead the role played by two occult plebian powers, neither bounded by the nation: African American Conjure and European American Communism.  During the Civil War enslaved rebels drawing on Afro-Atlantic religions (Conjure, or Hoodoo, and Vodou/Voodoo), often in tacit alliance with German American communists in the Union Army, forced emancipation on an unwilling Union leadership and helped defeat the Confederacy during the American Civil War. These occult plebian traditions of Conjure and Communism are part of the intellectual and military history of what W.E.B. DuBois described as the “General Strike” of enslaved workers. While the Lincoln administration and top Union generals fought to restore the status quo antebellum, slavery and all, enslaved African Americans and German emigres overthrew slavery and helped defeat the Confederacy through what Carl von Clausewitz termed “war by means of popular uprisings.”

 

Andrew Zimmerman is professor of history at the George Washington University. He is the author of Anthropology and Antihumanism in Imperial Germany (Chicago, 2001) and Alabama in Africa: Booker T. Washington, the German Empire, and the Globalization of the New South (Princeton, 2010). He has also edited Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Civil War in the United States (International Publishers, 2016). He is currently writing a history of the US Civil War as a transnational revolution titled “A Very Dangerous Element.”