Townsend Center's Berkeley Book Chat: Bryan Wagner: The Tar Baby: A Global History

In The Tar Baby: A Global History (Princeton, 2017), Bryan Wagner (English) explores how the tar baby tale, thought to have originated in Africa, came to exist in hundreds of forms on five continents. Examining the fable’s variation, reception, and dispersal over time, he argues that this story of a fox, a rabbit, and a doll made of tar and turpentine is best understood not merely as a folktale but as a collective work in political philosophy. Circulating at the same time and in the same places as new ideas about property and politics developed in colonial law and political economy, the tar baby comes to embody an understanding of the interlocking systems of slavery, colonialism, and global trade.

Wagner is joined by Christopher Tomlins (Law). After a brief discussion of the book, they open the floor for discussion.