Kate Ramsey is associate professor of Caribbean history at the University of Miami. Her first book, The Spirits and the Law: Vodou and Power in Haiti (Chicago, 2011), examines the history and legacies of penal and ecclesiastical laws against the Vodou religion in Haiti. It won the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians First Book Prize, the Elsa Goveia Book Prize from the Association of Caribbean Historians, the Haitian Studies Association Haiti Illumination Project Book Prize, and a Médaille Jean Price-Mars from the Faculté d’Ethnologie, Université d’État d’Haïti. Ramsey is co-editor with Louis Herns Marcelin of Transformative Visions: Works by Haitian Artists from the Permanent Collection (Lowe Art Museum, 2015). She has also published on mid-twentieth-century dance anthropology, focusing on choreographer Katherine Dunham’s research in the Caribbean, and the staging of folklore performance in Haiti. Ramsey’s current research is focused in two ways. One project studies how early writings about and laws against Afro-Caribbean spiritual practices were shaped by medical theories of mind-body interaction during the final decades of British Caribbean slavery. Her article “Powers of Imagination and Legal Regimes against ‘Obeah’ in the Late Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century British Caribbean" was published in Osiris 36 and awarded the 2022 Percy G. Adams Prize of the Southeastern American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. Ramsey is currently working, as well, on the history of Vodou objects confiscated by U.S. marines during the 1915-1934 occupation of Haiti, and thereafter donated or sold to anthropology, natural history, and military museums in the United States and beyond. Based on collaborative research with Rachel Beauvoir-Dominique, this project spotlights the interlinked histories of Afro-Caribbean religion, U.S. imperialism, and museum collecting during the early to mid-twentieth century. Ramsey serves on the Board of KOSANBA: A Scholarly Association for the Study of Haitian Vodou.
Toward the end of the eighteenth century, African-derived spiritual practices glossed as “obeah” came to be intensely associated with pathologies of the imagination, first by British Caribbean slaveholders, and then much more widely by others. This lecture focuses on how early writings about, and legal regimes against, Afro-Caribbean spirit work were shaped by theories of mind-body interaction during the final decades of British Caribbean slavery. Reciprocally, Ramsey discusses how such writings and laws informed theories of mental influence on bodily health during this period and thereafter.