• Portrait (head shot photo)
  • Yesenia Barragan
  • Assistant Professor of History
  • Degree: Ph.D., Columbia University
  • Specialty: Modern Latin America and Caribbean: Race, Slavery, and Emancipation in Afro-Latin America and African Diaspora
  • Email:
  • Office: 223A Van Dyck Hall
  • Phone: 848-932-8355





I am a historian of modern Latin America and the Caribbean. I specialize in the transnational histories of race, slavery, emancipation, and social movements in Afro-Latin America and the African diaspora in the Americas. I earned my Ph.D. in Latin American History from Columbia University, where I was a Ford Foundation Fellow, and my B.A. in Philosophy and History from Brown University, where I was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow and Beinecke Scholar.

I am the author of Freedom’s Captives: Slavery and Gradual Emancipation on the Colombian Black Pacific (Cambridge University Press, 2021). Freedom’s Captives is a narrative-driven, social, political, and geographical study of the gradual abolition of chattel slavery in the majority-black Colombian Pacific, the gold mining center of the former Spanish Empire. I call the thirty-one years—from the gradual abolition law’s enactment in 1821 to its destruction in 1852 with the final abolition of slavery—the time of “gradual emancipation rule” in the northern Andes. From the autonomous rainforests and gold mines of the Colombian Pacific, Freedom’s Captives rethinks the nineteenth century project of emancipation in Colombia and the Americas. I argue that although gradual emancipation rule was ostensibly designed to destroy slavery, paradoxically, speculating slaveholders in Colombia came to have an even greater stake in slavery. Gradual emancipation rule expanded opportunities for diverse stakeholders to partake in the owning and exploitation of young black people at cheaper prices and established new political rituals that reinforced the disciplining logic of the slaveholding order.

In 2014, I published my first book, Selling Our Death Masks: Cash-for-Gold in the Age of Austerity (Zero, 2014), a surrealist ethnography of cash-for-gold shops in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis based on fieldwork and archival investigations in Spain, Greece, and Colombia. Selling Our Death Masks was described by anthropologist Michael Taussig as a “fast-paced brilliant, and exceedingly original history of gold and its roller coastering life under contemporary capitalism.” I am currently embarked on two new book projects: A Country of Their Own: African Americans and the Promise of Antebellum Latin America and City of Women: Gender, Slavery, and Gradual Emancipation in Cartagena and the Colombian CaribbeanA Country of Their Own recasts Latin American and African American history by charting African American perspectives on Latin America in the antebellum period in addition to the migration of fugitive and free African Americans to the region in search of racial and social freedom. Focusing on the female-majority city of Cartagena during the gradual emancipation era, City of Women centers the everyday experiences and politics of women—free, enslaved, and slaveholding—in the Colombian Caribbean.

I am deeply committed to public historical work and engagement. I was previously a regular contributor to Black Perspectives, the leading online platform for public scholarship on global black thought, history, and culture established by the African American Intellectual History Society, and an opinion columnist for the major Latin American media outlet, Telesur. I am also the Principal Investigator of “The Free Womb Project,” a bilingual (English and Spanish-language) digital collection of gradual emancipation laws across the eighteenth and nineteenth century Atlantic World. I have also served as a Country of Origin Information Expert for asylum cases related to Colombia and welcome working with new clients. At Rutgers, I am the convener of the interdisciplinary Slavery + Freedom Studies Working Group and member of the Global South Workshop in the History Department.

I welcome questions and inquiries from graduate applicants in Latin American History and the History of Atlantic Cultures and the African Diaspora. I am especially delighted to work with graduate applicants who are interested in the history of Colombia, the Andes, Afro-Latin America, the African diaspora in the Americas, and slavery and emancipation in the Atlantic World.

Lastly but importantly, I am a first-generation daughter of poor/working-class immigrants from Latin America and a longtime activist involved in social and racial justice movements. I have mentored students in the First Generation Network and Mellon Mays Fellowship at Columbia University and Dartmouth College, where I previously taught, and work closely with undergraduate and PhD students at Rutgers through the Aresty Research Center and History Department.



  • The Afro-Latin American Experience
  • History Workshop: Slavery and Emancipation in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Modern Latin America/War and Politics in Latin America
  • History Seminar: Slavery and the Law in the Atlantic World
  • History and Asylum Law in the United States


  • Graduate History Colloquium: Readings in Modern Latin America




  • “Commerce in Children: Slavery, Gradual Emancipation, and The Free Womb Trade in Colombia,” The Americas 78, 2 (April 2021): 229-257
  • “Gendering Mastery: Female Slaveholders in the Colombian Pacific Lowlands,” Slavery & Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies 39, 1 (2018): 1-26
  • “‘To End 500 Years of Great Terror’: Struggles for Peace in the Afro-Colombian Pacific,” NACLA Report on the Americas, Issue 1: #BlackLivesMatter Across the Hemisphere 49 (2017): 56-63
  • “Slavery, Free Black Women, and the Politics of Place in Chocó, Colombia,” Revista de Estudios Colombianos 47 (enero-junio de 2016): 57-66
  • “Death, Slavery, and Spiritual Justice on the Colombian Black Pacific (1837),” Nuevo Mundo, Mundos Nuevos, Debates, June 11, 2015

Public Scholarship


  • National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship (2022-2023)
  • Early Career Faculty Fellowship, Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice (2021-22)
  • Rutgers University Research Council Grant (2020)
  • Society of Fellows Postdoctoral Fellowship, Dartmouth College (2016-2019)
  • The Woodrow Wilson National Dissertation Fellowship (2015-2016)
  • Ford Foundation Diversity Predoctoral Fellowship (2011-2015)
  • SSRC-ACLS International Dissertation Research Fellowship (2012-2013)
  • Ford Foundation Diversity Predoctoral Fellowship (2011-2015)
  • Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, Brown University (2006)