Gerard Aching

Retired W. E. B. DuBois Professor in the Humanities


Gerard Aching is professor of Africana and Romance Studies. He specializes in 19th- and 20th-century Caribbean literatures and intellectual histories, theories of modernism and modernity in Latin America, and the relation of literature, philosophy, and slavery in the Caribbean. He is the author of The Politics of Spanish American Modernismo: By Exquisite Design (Cambridge, 1997), Masking and Power: Carnival and Popular Culture in the Caribbean (Minnesota, 2002), and Freedom from Liberation: Slavery, Sentiment, and Literature in Cuba (Indiana, 2015). Aching’s current research and teaching focus on subjectivity in slave narratives, slavery and philosophy, sugar production in the development of the modern transatlantic world, processes of gendered racialization in the Plantationocene, and the Underground Railroad. His collaborative Underground Railroad Research Project, which entails field work and community engagement in Central and Western New York, informs his new book project, The Promise of Rebirth: A Contemporary Approach to the Underground Railroad.

Professor Aching has been the recipient of a Howard Foundation Fellowship (1999) and a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (2003). He is co-principal investigator of the Rural Humanities Initiative (2019-2023), which is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and is a 2021 recipient of the College of Arts & Sciences’ New Frontier Grant for the Underground Railroad Research Project. Aching served as director of the Africana Studies and Research Center (2012-2015) as well as Provost’s Fellow for Public Engagement (2017-2019). He is currently a Faculty Fellow at the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.

Languages Spoken:
English, French, and Spanish

Research Focus

  1. A single-authored monograph that examines the Underground Railroad as a clandestine network, fomented as civil disobedience especially after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, that challenged conceptions of absolute freedom and enslavement. Continuing my engagement with notions of freedom that I undertook in Freedom from Liberation (2015), The Promise of Rebirth: A Contemporary Approach to the Underground Railroad embraces the findings of a current archaeological excavation at a documented Underground Railroad station, the St. James AME Zion Church in Ithaca, New York, in order to inform my ongoing discussion of freedom and enslavement. In its self-conscious attention to documentation and to the relationship between field work and a speculative approach to experiences of traveling on the Underground Railroad, the study critically explores how we determine, assess, and assign facts and objects related to these experiences in the humanities and the sciences.
  2. Plantations have long been documented and understood as sites of technological experimentation and violent, frequently genocidal labor practices. In a new project, I examine the widespread practice of partus sequitur ventrem—the law that determined that the child of an enslaved woman would assume her condition of bondage—for its role as dehumanizing human speciation and in anti-black racialization in Plantation America.


Selected Publications:

Freedom from Liberation: Slavery, Sentiment, and Literature in Cuba (Indiana University Press, 2015)

"No Need for Apology: Fanon's Untimely Critique of Political Consciousness." South Atlantic Quarterly. 112:23-38. 2013

"The 'Right to Opacity' and World Literature." 1616: Anuario de Literatura Comparada. 2. 2012

"The Slave's Work: Reading Slavery Through Hegel's Master-Slave Dialectic." PMLA. 127:912-917. 2012

"The Temporalities of Modernity in Spanish American Modernismo." The Oxford Handbook of Global Modernisms. 109-128. 2012



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