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March 4, 2021 60 min

In 1693, the young German barber-surgeon Johann Peter Oettinger joined a slave trading venture for the second time.

In the employ of the Brandenburg African Company, Oettinger sailed with his shipmates from Europe to the African coast where they procured their captive human cargo, took the middle passage to the West Indies, and exchanged their enslaved people in the colonies for a variety of goods. Along the way, Oettinger encountered a mix of European, African, and colonial peoples who traded or were traded, across borders, often regardless of nationality.

We know about Oettinger’s involvement because he kept a journal. His two stints aboard slave trading vessels were part of a 14-year period as a journeyman in Europe and the Atlantic world, a life he recorded on scraps of paper that he eventual fashioned into a proper diary.

Oettinger’s voyage marked the high-point of German-speaking peoples' participation in the transatlantic slave trade in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Through his words we can see how that trade shaped lives far beyond the ocean’s borders. It is a portrait of an early modern world becoming modern.

On today’s show, Jim Ambuske talks with Dr. Craig Koslofsky and Dr. Roberto Zaugg, the two historians who discovered Oettinger’s long forgotten journal buried in the Berlin archives

Koslofsky and Zaugg are the co-editors and translators of A German Barber-Surgeon in the Atlantic Slave Trade: The Seventeenth-Century Journal of Johann Peter Oettinger (University of Virginia Press, 2021).

This is part one of a two-part series about Oettinger’s life and journal. On today’s episode, we explore Oettinger’s European and Atlantic worlds, and his 1693 slave-trading voyage. In two weeks, we’ll talk about the journal as an artifact, one that has a remarkable history in its own right, and how Koslosfsky and Zaugg stumbled across it.

Our friends at UVA Press are offering a 40% discount on this published edition of Oettinger’s journal. If you’d like your own copy, use discount code 10BARBER on the press's website

About Our Guests:

Craig Koslofsky, Ph.D, is Professor of History and Germanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Roberto Zaugg, Ph.D., is is Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

About Our Host: 

Jim Ambuske, Ph.D., leads the Center for Digital History at the Washington Library. A historian of the American Revolution, Scotland, and the British Atlantic World, Ambuske graduated from the University of Virginia in 2016. He is a former Farmer Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Virginia Law Library. At UVA Law, Ambuske co-directed the 1828 Catalogue Project and the Scottish Court of Session Project.  He is currently at work on a book about emigration from Scotland in the era of the American Revolution as well as a chapter on Scottish loyalism during the American Revolution for a volume to be published by the University of Edinburgh Press.

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