Office Hours with… Nicholas Jones
In his research, Nicholas Jones explores questions related to Black diasporic identity in early modern Iberia and the Ibero-Atlantic world. Put another way, he says, his scholarship reveals a blueprint for past rebellion by Black Africans and their descendants living on Europe’s western edge during the pre-Enlightenment era.
By reimagining the lives of these people and revealing their stories, Jones says, he has been able to challenge historic misconceptions about their experiences — and reveal a fuller understanding of their lives, their identities, and their global presence.
Jones, author of the prize-winning book “Staging Habla de Negros: Radical Performances of the African Diaspora in Early Modern Spain,” joined the Department of Spanish and Portuguese in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences last fall. We caught up with him for the latest edition of Office Hours, a Q&A series that introduces new members of the Yale faculty to the broader university community.
|Assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese
|Black diasporic identity in early modern Iberia and the Ibero-Atlantic world
|University of California, Davis
|Started at Yale
How would you describe your scholarly research interests?
As a scholar whose work remains firmly rooted in both Africana studies and early modern Iberian studies, I enlist the strategies, methodologies, and insights of Black studies into the service of early modern studies and vice versa. I re-imagine the lives of early African diasporic people via the global circulation of material goods, visual culture, and ideological valences represented in archival documents and literature from West-Central Africa, Iberia, and the Americas. And to that effect, my body of work pushes back on the misconception that the enslavement and subordination of Black Africans in the early modern Iberian world stripped them of all their culture and heritage.
To achieve and to illustrate this conviction, I not only center early diasporic African lives —enslaved and free — but also excavate and tell their stories that have been buried, misunderstood, or otherwise discarded as insignificant to literary canons and historical narratives. What motivates my research and sustains my love for solving the mysteries surrounding the contradictorily complex Black lives in pre-Enlightenment Iberia manifests in the methodology of close reading, the analysis of material and visual cultures, and the arguing for the primacy of politics — customary, intellectual, and juridical — in mediating the earliest contacts between sub-Saharan Africans and Europeans.
What do you want people to understand more about the Black diaspora in Renaissance Europe, particularly in Iberia?
By the time I started my undergraduate studies at Haverford College and then graduate school at New York University, I was tired of always hearing people talk about Black people only coming from Latin America or from this side of the Atlantic. What I do now as an academic and professor is to really expose students, colleagues, and readers to different narratives about African-descended people. There are Black people in Europe, and quite frankly everywhere across the globe.
Last semester was your first as a professor at Yale. What did you enjoy most about it?
The students, hands down! Classroom activities and discussions are always so intellectually stimulating. I’m always amazed at how much I grow with them and learn new things from their insights and lived experiences.