The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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UCI professor discusses slavery’s role on culture

Guest lecturer David Igler from the University of California, Irvine history department discussed “the hazy boundary between captivity and freedom” last Friday as part of the annual W.P. Whitsett lecture series.

Igler used narratives taken from a chapter of his book-in-progress to explain the history of hostages, slavery and other subjects.

Complete with a cliff-hanger involving Russian fur traders and a shipwreck on the coastline of what is now Washington, Igler went on to demolish what he called “the fantasy of autonomous sailors discovering idyllic lands,” with accounts written by the captains and sailors themselves, as well as spoken narratives collected from descendents of the indigenous peoples with whom they had contact.

Many of the ships’ crews that Igler found in his research were captives or indentured servants. In some cases, if the captives were captured or kidnapped by indigenous tribesmen while in the act of deserting or escaping the ship, the captives preferred to stay with their new captors rather than returning to their ship.

Igler also said that the indigenous tribes were also “actively engaged in their own versions of slave trading,” selling captives – often women – who were taken in raids from other tribes to the Europeans. This practice increased as the sea otter population, which had drawn the fur traders in the first place, was decimated and the tribes sought other “commodities” to trade.

The taking of captives and the exchange of hostages were “the conventions of cultural contact” throughout the region, said Igler.

When completed, Igler’s book will span a period from 1770s, the era of the likes of Captain Cook, to the late 1840s, when the California gold rush began. According to the event flyer, Igler is examining “the systematic connections between the areas of the future American Far West and the Island Pacific.”

Following a 10-minute question-and-answer session, professor Josh Sides, Whitsett Chair in California History, thanked those who made the lecture possible, including Sara Bauer who has represented the now-defunct W.P. Whitsett Foundation and the continuing Whitsett Endowment since 1992. Bauer, who was in attendance with her husband Bob, said she has attended all but one or two of the annual Whitsett lectures since their inception 22 years ago.

Graduating senior Ari Morguelan, 28, who will be pursuing a masters of arts degree in history come fall, said that he appreciated having the opportunity to sit in on a lecture by a professor from a University of California institution.

“It’s like getting a U.C. education for a Cal State price,” he said.

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