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Week 14. Forced Travel: Voices of the Enslaved

Countless people throughout history have been forced to travel due to circumstances beyond their control, as captives, unfree labourers, or displaced persons such as refugees. This seminar looks at a particularly brutal form of forced travel, the Atlantic crossings of millions of enslaved Africans and unfree people of African descent. It considers how we can write a history of involuntary mobility that is sensitive to the suffering and resistance of the enslaved based on a historical record that served the systemic violence and dehumanisation perpetrated against them. It also focuses on first-person accounts of formerly enslaved authors and the ways they participate in and shape public debates regarding slavery, abolition, religion, and race.

Core Readings (pick two)

Stephanie Smallwood, Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), Ch. 5: 'The Living Dead aboard the Slave Ship at Sea', pp. 122-152. Link.

Kwasi Konadu, 'Naming and Framing a Crime Against Humanity: African Voices from the Transatlantic Slave System, ca. 1500-1900', in: Trevor R. Getz (ed.), African Voices of the Global Past: 1500 to the Present (Boulder, CO: Westfield Press, 2014), pp. 1-37. Link.

Elizabeth A. Bohls, Slavery and the Politics of Place: Representing the Colonial Caribbean, 1770–1833 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), Ch. 6: 'A Long Way from Home: Slavery, Travel, and Imperial Geography in The History of Mary Prince', pp. 165-184. Link.

Primary sources

Edwards, Paul, and David Dabydeen (eds.), Black Writers in Britain 1760-1890: An Anthology (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991). Link. [Select one narrative]

Early Caribbean Digital Archive: Early Caribbean Slave Narratives. [Select one narrative]

Seminar Questions

  1. Should involuntary displacement be regarded as travel?
  2. Which mental and physical factors shaped the experience of the Middle Passage for enslaved Africans?
  3. Through what means can we access the perspectives and experiences of the enslaved in a documentary record that is shaped by the slavers?

  4. How do the circumstances of petitioning and publishing shape printed narratives of the (formerly) enslaved?
  5. Which perspectives on domesticity and mobility does Mary Prince's History offer?
  6. How can knowledge gained through involuntary travels become a tool of empowerment?

Please prepare a brief outline of a possible primary source-based essay to share in the seminar, including an essay question and a one-paragraph explanation of how the source helps answer that question and why it is significant.

Further Reading

Aljoe, Nicole N., Creole Testimonies: Slave Narratives from the British West Indies, 1709-1838 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). Link.

Bellagamba, Alice, Sandra E. Greene, and Martin A. Klein (eds.), African Voices on Slavery and the Slave Trade (2 Vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013-2016). Vol 1 and Vol 2.

Bolster, W. Jeffrey, Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), esp. Ch. 1: 'The Emergence of Black Sailors in Plantation America'. Link.

Boulukos, George E., 'Olaudah Equiano and the Eighteenth-Century Debate on Africa', Eighteenth-Century Studies 40.2 (2007), pp. 241-255. Link.

Burroughs, Robert, 'Eyes on the Prize: Journeys in Slave Ships Taken as Prizes by the Royal Navy', Slavery & Abolition 31.1 (2010), pp. 99-115. Link.

Carey, Brycchan, Markman Ellis, and Sara Salih (eds.), Discourses of Slavery and Abolition: Britain and its Colonies, 1760–1838 (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004). Link.

Carretta, Vincent (ed.), Unchained Voices: an Anthology of Black Authors in the English-speaking World of the Eighteenth Century (Lexington: University of Kentucky, 2004). Link and Library. [Primary source texts]

Carretta, Vincent, 'Questioning the Identity of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African', in: Felicity A. Nussbaum, The Global Eighteenth Century (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), pp. 226-237. Library.

Cowling, Camillia, 'Teresa Mina’s Journeys: “Slave-moving”, Mobility, and Gender in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Cuba', Atlantic Studies 18.1 (2021), pp. 7-30. Link.

Fisk, Bethan, 'Black Knowledge on the Move: African Diasporic Healing in Caribbean and Pacific New Granada', Atlantic Studies 18.2 (2021), pp. 244-270. Link.

Gomez, Michael A., Reversing Sail: A History of the African Diaspora (2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019). Link.

Hanley, Ryan, Beyond Slavery and Abolition: Black British Writing, c.1770–1830 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018). Link.

Kelley, Sean M., The Voyage of the Slave Ship Hare: A Journey into Captivity from Sierra Leone to South Carolina (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2016). Link.

Murphy, Geraldine, 'Olaudah Equiano, Accidental Tourist', Eighteenth-Century Studies 27.4 (1994), pp. 551-568. Link.

Mustakeem, Sowande M., Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2016). Link.

Pettinger, Alisdair (ed.), Always Elsewhere: Travels of the Black Atlantic (London: Cassell, 1998). Library. [Primary source excerpts]

Rediker, Markus, The Slave Ship: A Human History (New York and London: Penguin, 2007). Library.

Shannon, Timothy J., Atlantic Lives: A Comparative Approach to Early America (2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2019), Ch. 5: 'West Africa and the Atlantic Slave Trade'. [includes primary source excerpts] Link.

Thomas, Sue, Telling West Indian Lives: Life Narrative and the Reform of Plantation Slavery Cultures 1804–1834 (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014). Link.

Sharafi, Mitra, 'The Slave Ship Manuscripts of Captain Joseph B. Cook: A Narrative Reconstruction of the Brig Nancy's Voyage of 1793', Slavery and Abolition 24.1 (2003), pp. 71-100. Link.

Whatley Smith, Virginia, 'African American Travel Literature', in: Alfred Bendixen and Judith Hamera (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to American Travel Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 197-213. Link.

Captivity in Africa. Oxford Bibliographies. By Vincent Caretta.

Inside the Slave Ship. Slate podcast on Olaudah Equiano (2015).

Slave Voyages. Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database Website.

Slave Ship in 3D Video.