When asked about how he arrived at his project "Enlightened Institutions: Science, Sugar, and Plantation Slavery in the Atlantic World, 1640-1787," Eric Otremba laughs, tells you that it was a long journey, and recommends that you grab a coffee.
When Eric joined the Department of History's doctoral program--after first being a high school teacher in Belize, then earning a Master's at Marquette University--he knew precisely what he would research: slavery in the Caribbean as an extension of the British Empire, with the aim of comparing it to slavery practices in Virginia. Now in his 5th year, Eric's dissertation explores Barbadian slavery as an institution of modernity--one that evolved alongside (and within) Enlightenment philosophies and ideas about science and technology. Eric makes the controversial claim that prior to 1750, when Enlightenment thinking came to include ideas about liberty and universal human rights, slavery was popularly understood as a rational system perfectly in keeping with modern ideas about productivity and social ordering. Thus, he works against the dominant historiography that positions the Enlightenment as the beginning of a modern world in which slavery can have no place.
Eric's understanding of how modernity and technoscience evolved in eighteenth-century slave systems took shape while working with Professor J. B. Shank and while attending Theorizing Early Modern Studies seminars. Suddenly, his research seemed to be interrogating the very idea of modernity and an Enlightened eighteenth century; the evolution (as opposed to invention) of knowledge and technology became central to what he saw in the slave codes of the Caribbean, especially in Barbados. Both Eric and his project have found a home in the Department of History. He points to the support of faculty like Russ Menard, whose in-depth knowledge of Barbados has proved invaluable, and to the wealth of resources, like the Center for Early Modern History's Union Pacific summer research grant that made possible conducting important archival work in Barbados.
As his research evolves and his dissertation comes into focus, Eric finds himself more appreciative of the opportunities afforded him by the University of Minnesota. And as he
contemplates the completion of his project--and the remainder of research left to be done--it is with excitement and contentment at working within an intellectual community that really understands and supports him.