Journal Article

“The Blackness of Darkness” Mammoth Cave and the racialization of the underground

Cohen, L.L.

Record Number:
5310
Year:
2021
Journal:
History of the Present: A Journal of Critical History
Pages:
2-22
Volume:
11
Abstract:
abstract This article considers Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave as an unexpected site for nineteenth-century theorizations of racialized Blackness. Mammoth Cave became a major tourist attraction in the 1840s, generating a host of guidebooks, travel accounts, magazine illustrations, panoramas, newspaper articles, and fiction. Crucial to its fame was the fact that the guides who led visitors through the cave were enslaved men. This article argues that white writers responded to the guides’ knowledge of the cave by reframing it as affinity. In doing so, they transformed Mammoth Cave’s subterranean darkness into a manifestation of racialized Blackness. But the writers’ racialization of Mammoth Cave also had a tendency to slip out of their control. As they associated its spatial darkness with racialized Blackness, the literal underground of Mammoth Cave flickered into an underground that was more than literal—a mysterious Black formation, of unguessed dimensions and certain danger, beneath the world as they knew it. Finally, the article asks what we can glean from the literature of Mammoth Cave about the body of Black thought it sought to disavow: the alternative relations between race and the underground that the guides theorized through their own subterranean explorations. keywords underground, racialization, slavery, Mammoth Cave, Stephen Bishop
Times Cited:
1
Relevent Species:
Related Records:
Davidson, R. (1840)
An excursion to the Mammoth Cave and the Barrens of Kentucky,with some notices of the early settlement of the state
DeKay, J.E. (1842)
Zoology of New York or the New York Fauna; comprising detailed descriptions of all the animals hitherto observed within the state of New York, with brief notices of those occasionally found near its borders, and accompanied by appropriate illustrations.
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Description of a blind-fish from a cave in Kentucky
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Ueber den blinden Fisch der Mammuth-Hohle in Kentucky, mit Bemerkungen ueber einige undere in dieser Hohle lebenden Thiere
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Notice of the blind-fish, crayfish and insects from the Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
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Beschreibung einiger neuer in der Mammuth-Hohle in Kentucky aufgefundenes Gattungen von Gliederthieren
Tellkampf, T.G. (1845)
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Agassiz, J.L.R. (1847)
Plan for an investigation of the embryology, anatomy and effect of light on the blind-fish of the Mammoth Cave, Amblyopsis spelaeus
Wyman, J. (1850)
On the blind-fish of the Mammoth Cave
Wyman, J. (1851)
Account of dissections of the blind fishes (Amblyopsis spelaeus) from the Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
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Agassiz, J.L.R. (1851)
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Recent researches of Prof. Agassiz
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Cohen, L.L. (2021)
“The Blackness of Darkness” Mammoth Cave and the racialization of the underground
Niemiller, M.L., Helf, K. and Toomey, R.S. (2021)
Mammoth Cave: A hotspot of subterranean biodiversity in the United States