Studies: 19th Century Literature: Abolition and Racial Justice

ENG 433: Studies in 19th Century Literature. “Abolition and Racial Justice”

Delivery Format: In-person T/TR 10:30-11:45

*This course also satisfies the 1700-1898 historical breadth requirement

Course Description:

This course focuses on the history of British slavery and its abolition to think about what ideas of abolition and racial justice have looked like historically. In a way, you could think of this historical moment as one of the roots of contemporary racial justice movements, such as Black Lives Matter. As such, we will think deeply about the history of race and racism, and what early movements for racial justice looked like.

We will examine how British slavery and colonialism arose together by learning about this larger history. Unlike in what is now the United States, slavery was most often far away from the British mainland, as enslaved persons were forced to work in Caribbean plantations on islands such as Jamaica, Barbados, and Antigua. Thus although far away geographically, the project of slavery was widely written about across England, and led to key formations of both whiteness and Blackness.

Because the movement to abolish slavery in the British colonies straddled the 18th and 19th centuries, from roughly 1787 to 1833, so will our course materials. They will include a wide range of mostly British primary texts, from novels, travel narratives, and poetry, to scientific and political writings, to examine how writers both justified and challenged slavery, colonialism, and racism. We will pay special attention to genre and how different genres, such as autobiography, poetry, and novels work politically to both challenge (and at times, reinforce) racism, as well as to imagine alternative worlds and histories. To help us with this goal, we will read our historical texts in conjunction with a selection of contemporary works by Black writers writing imaginatively about our time period. Students will also read secondary sources on slavery, race, and empire in the late 18th and early 19th century, as well as selections from contemporary Black studies work, such as Saidiya Hartman, Alexander Weheliye, and Christina Sharpe.

Required Texts:

  • Aphra Behn, Oroonoko (1688)
  • Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative (1789)
  • Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince (1831)
  • William Earle, Obi; or the History of Three-Fingered Jack (1800)
  • Anonymous, The Woman of Color (1808)
  • M. NourbeSe Philip, Zong! (2008)
  • Esi Edugyan, Washington Black (2018)

Other primary and secondary sources available as PDF (possible selections include Phillis Wheatley, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, Ignatius Sancho, Ottobah Cugoano, Thomas Clarkson, Maria Edgeworth, William Cowper, Suzette Lloyd, Edward Long, and others)

Major Assignments and Requirements:

  • Two short writings (30%)
  • Digital archive analysis and presentation (20%)
  • Research project (35%)
  • Class participation and in-class writings (15%)