Slavery and Abolition in the Eighteenth Century
This course examines how the slave trade was understood, justified, contested, and represented in British literature. The rise of Britain as a world power went hand in hand with its exploitation of African labor, as tens of millions of human beings were shipped across the ocean to work the plantations of the Americas. What kinds of activist strategies aided the British 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? Why was interracial romance such a prevalent theme in anti-slavery fiction and poetry? We will explore these questions beginning with Aphra Behn’s novella of a kidnapped African prince, Oroonoko(1688), and ending with Elizabeth Heyrick’s sugar boycott pamphlet, "Immediate, Not Gradual Abolition" (1824). Other readings will include philosophical and economic justifications for slavery by Aristotle and Locke, Afro-British slave narratives (Equiano, Cugoano), influential plays (Southerne, Coleman) and poetry (Day, More, Yearsley, Wheatley), and political treatises (Clarkson, Wilberforce).
The course will culminate with one final project of your own, original research. We will make field trips to Penn’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library, other relevant libraries in Philadelphia, and possibly a New York City museum.