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Adriana ChiraAssociate Professor

Adriana Chira, Associate Professor of Atlantic World History (Ph.D. University of Michigan, M.A. Cornell University, B.A. Cambridge University, UK). Atlantic history; Cuba in world history; race; slavery and the law; land tenure and property; post-emancipation.

I am a historian of property, law, race, and popular political mobilization within rural worlds of the South Atlantic that were shaped by slavery and its long-lasting legacies: Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Spanish Equatorial Guinea. I believe that we cannot understand some of the crises of the present (most notably, growing levels of economic precarity and inequality, the global land rush/grab, and food insecurity), nor imagine just futures without close attention to histories of rural folk’s relationship to land, labor, ownership, and community. I am committed to both global methodological approaches that allow us to shed light on capitalism’s varied trajectories and to long-term place-based research that can provide insight into geographies and communities that have been marginalized in historical narratives. My interest in capitalism is informed by a two-pronged concern with the law and with political economy.

In my first book, Patchwork Freedoms: Law, Slavery, and Race beyond Cuba’s Plantations (Cambridge University Press, 2022), I explore how in a part of the world where enslaved and free people of African descent litigated for freedom, bodily and family integrity, and property, eastern Cuba, the court system served as a crucible for an anti-slavery popular political consciousness during the nineteenth century. The book unearths a distinctive socio-political geography, long overshadowed in the historical imagination by Havana and by Cuba’s sugar plantations. Santiago de Cuba’s Afro-descendant peasantries did not rely on liberal-abolitionist ideologies of universal freedom as a primary reference point in their nineteenth-century struggle for legal and political rights. Instead, as they occupied land and pulled themselves and their families out of slavery through manumission, they negotiated with local and metropolitan elites through an Iberian-colonial legal framework that allowed room for custom.

My second single-authored project extends my interest in custom and property chronologically—focusing on how community norms continued to shape ownership practices in post-emancipation societies within the late Spanish Empire and its aftermath (1880s-1960s). This comparative project, tentatively titled In the Plantations’ Shadows: Black Peasants and Land Ownership by Possession in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Spanish Equatorial Guinea, 1880-1960, explores a mode of land tenure that many rural communities transitioning from slavery to freedom relied on to subsist: direct land occupation without title (also known as adverse possession or squatting). To this day, occupation continues to be common practice across the Global South, especially in former regions of the Spanish Empire where the legal framework has offered protections. I explore the legal tactics through which land occupants living along the margins of agricultural corporations protected access rights and built local economies situated between the formal and informal domains.

I teach courses on Cuba, the Atlantic World, legal history, and research methods.


  • B.A. Cambridge University, United Kingdom, 2005.
  • M.A. Cornell University, 2008
  • Ph.D. University of Michigan, 2016.


  • Atlantic history
  • Cuba in world history
  • Race
  • Slavery and the law
  • Land tenure and property

Learn more about my research here:

Patchwork Freedoms (

Freedom with Local Bonds: Custom and Manumission in the Age of Emancipation | The American Historical Review | Oxford Academic (

Ampliando los significados de Sevicia: Los reclamos de protección corporal de los esclavos en Santiago de Cuba (1810-1870) | Revista Paginas (

Affective Debts: Manumission by Grace and the Making of Gradual Emancipation Laws in Cuba, 1817–68 | Law and History Review | Cambridge Core