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Slavery and Anti-Slavery in 18th-century Britain

ENGL 241.301
instructor(s):
TR 3-4:30

While the eighteenth century was a period of Enlightenment thinking -- radical support for the principle of individual liberty, denouncement of absolutism, and challenges to the established authority of church and state -- it was also the era of the transatlantic slave trade. The birth of the British nation and empire went hand in hand with its exploitation of African labor, as countless numbers of human beings were shipped across the ocean to work the plantations of the Americas. This course will consider how slavery was understood, justified, and represented in the British context over the course of the century. How did pro- and anti-slavery sentiment find expression through the literary genres of heroic romance, spiritual autobiography, biblical jeremiad, or the poetics of the georgic? What kinds of activist strategies led to the abolition of the slave trade, and, eventually, emancipation? What role did women and the fight for women�s rights play in the anti-slavery movement? In this course, we will study the discourse of race and slavery in British society beginning with Aphra Behn�s novella of a kidnapped African prince, Oroonoko (1688) and ending with abolitionist Elizabeth Heyrick�s sugar boycott pamphlet, "Immediate, Not Gradual Abolition" (1824). Readings will include philosophical and economic justifications for slavery beginning with Aristotle and Locke, Afro-British slave narratives (Equiano, Cugoano), influential plays (Southerne, Coleman) and poetry (Day, More, Yearsley, Wheatley), and political treatises (Clarkson, Wilberforce). Particular emphasis will be given to the roles of sentimentalism, exoticism, religion, and gender in the literature of the period.