GLC Book Talk: Blood on the River: A Chronicle of Mutiny and Freedom on the Wild Coast (New Press, 2020)
Marjoleine Kars (Professor of History, MIT) in conversation with David W. Blight (Sterling Professor of History and Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center, Yale University) about her book, Blood on the River: A Chronicle of Mutiny and Freedom on the Wild Coast (New Press, 2020), co-winner of the 2021 Frederick Douglass Book Prize.
In Blood on the River, Marjoleine Kars treats the 1763-64 rebellion of enslaved Africans in the Dutch colony of Berbice with striking originality. Employing little-used archival sources, she adds much more than particular details to what historians already know about the leader Coffij, his allies, and their bid for freedom from slavery and European domination. Through creative against-the-grain reading and subtle analysis of participant testimonies, she uncovers motives and aspirations to explain how a protest against harsh treatment became a social revolution and how, when the fighting reached a stalemate, Coffij felt emboldened to propose an equal division of the colony between the rebels and the Dutch. If, in the end, the resistance succumbed to internal rivalries, precarious relations with Indigenous communities, and an unforgiving natural environment, it also displayed the persistent desire of the rapacious Atlantic economy’s victims to control their own lives and pursue their own dreams. Imaginatively conceived and executed, Marjoleine Kars’s Blood on the River is a stunning achievement of historical research and writing.