Kevin Dawson

Office: COB 390

Phone: 209-756-4512


Research and Teaching Interests:

  • History of the Atlantic World.
  • Early American History.
  • African Diaspora.
  • African American History.


I am an associate professor of history at U.C. Merced.  I received my Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina in 2005.  I was a 2004-2005 Ford Dissertation Fellow and my article "Enslaved Swimmers and Divers in the Atlantic World” received the 2005 Louis Pelzer Memorial Award from the Organization of American Historians.   

 My publications include:

  • Undercurrents of Power: Aquatic Cultures in the African Diaspora (University of Pennsylvania Press: 2018).
  • “Enslaved Swimmers and Divers in the Atlantic World” in The Journal of American History (March 2006), which received the 2005 Louis Pelzer Memorial Award from the Organization of American Historians.
  • “Swimming, Surfing, and Underwater Diving in Early Modern Atlantic Africa and the African Diaspora,” Carina Ray and Jeremy Rich, eds., Navigating African Maritime History (Published by the Research in Maritime History book series, Memorial University of Newfoundland Press, 2009), 81-116.
  • “Enslaved Ship Pilots in the Age of Revolutions: Challenging Perceptions of Race and Slavery Between the Boundaries of Maritime and Terrestrial Bondage” in The Journal of Social History, (Fall, 2013).    

My research is situated at the historiographic crossroads of Atlantic history and the Africa diaspora and examines swimming, underwater diving, surfing, canoe-making, canoeing, and fishing, to consider how Atlantic Africans and members of the  African diaspora used water as a cultural space; expanding the terrain scholars of Atlantic history study by tens-of-thousands of miles  both above and below the water's surface.  I am currently finishing a manuscript tentatively titled Enslaved Water People in the Atlantic World, 1444-1888: The Cultural Meanings of Water, Swimming, Surfing, and Canoeing in Atlantic Africa and the African Diaspora.  This manuscript considers how saltwater captives transmitted their African maritime culture and skills to the Americas where they were recreated and creatively re-imagined to provide themselves with cultural anchors linking them to their homelands while informing the development of social and cultural bonds within their new multi-ethnic slave communities. 

enslaved_swimmers_divers_in_the_atantic_world.pdf1.54 MB
swimming_surfing_in_africa.pdf354.08 KB
enslaved_ship_pilots_in_the_age_of_revolutions.pdf8.2 MB