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The Literature of Slavery

ENGL 248.302

This course will consider major texts in the literature of slavery from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century.  What kind of language did English and American writers – both black and white – use to tell stories about slavery?  What major themes emerge from such literature, and how do these themes change with the spread of slavery and the rise of abolition movements?  How did the transatlantic slave trade and the institution of slavery influence modern conceptions of race, class, and gender, and how does the representation of slavery in poems, prose, and drama challenge our sense of these categories and their origins?  The course will conclude with Frederick Douglass’s famous Narrative, but it will attempt to unhinge earlier writing from the powerful teleology that the success of American abolitionism provides.  The literature of slavery is an Atlantic phenomenon not tied to any one national context or to any one political movement.  Thus the range of readings will be extensive and diverse, including Aphra Behn’s novel Oroonoko; plays by Thomas Southerne and Susanna Rowson; poetry by James Grainger, Phillis Wheatley, William Cowper, and William Blake; political writing of Thomas Jefferson, William Hamilton, David Walker; and narratives by Olaudah Equiano, Thomas Clarkson, and Mary Prince.

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