Date of Award

1-1-2011

Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Department

History

First Advisor

Daniel C. Littlefield

Abstract

This thesis triangulates ritual, memory, and Atlantic studies to argue that the popular custom of 'jumping the broom' has received minimal attention in the historiography of slavery, rural Europe, and the rural South. In using ritual theory, this thesis demonstrates that the function of the broomstick ceremony served as both a narrative of dominance and resistance, and by delving deeply into the worldviews of the populations that used it we can ascertain their methods of creative expression that subverted elite dominance. In a similar vein, elites deployed ritualization to distinguish their own status from populations who used this form of marriage. The use of memory reveals how cultures change and adapt to generational gaps. This thesis argues that detachment from the past causes recreation of rituals and ceremonies that hold meaning for reconnecting to the past, but these rituals are at times resurrected with dubious meanings intended to meet a certain need within the community. The Atlantic paradigm places the broomstick into a transnational lens, comparing the experiences of the African Americans, Celts, Gypsies and Anglo-Saxons that used it, and how all groups involved hold a shared cultural expression centralized around broomstick ceremonies that has not been articulated in past historiography.

This thesis seeks to separate the history of the broomstick marriage from memory by tracking its use from the eighteenth century United Kingdom to modern African American culture. The broomstick wedding has recently been appropriated by various groups seeking Afrocentric, Pan-African, or Pan-Celtic associations. Using novels, newspapers, contemporary images, journals, narratives, oral histories, travel accounts, and folklore this thesis disrupts the popular tendency to "claim" the ritual as a one-dimensional practice reserved for a single group of practitioners. Using quantitative data and a diverse source base, this study analyzes the ritual's diversity in performance and its change over time. Assessing the broomstick wedding as an important entity unto itself reveals the importance of looking deeper into understudied dimensions of the Atlantic World to more fully ascertain cultural transmissions and exchanges among groups that, while dissimilar, hold important similarities in their historical experiences.

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