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BFS: 18th-Century Literature: 18th-Century Slavery and Abolition

ENGL 0521.401
also offered as: AFRC 0521
Tuesday 12-2:59pm


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 literature and visual culture? What kinds of activist strategies fed 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? How did white abolitionist work reproduce some of the same racial biases and harms that undergirded the system of slavery and racial capitalism? 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 Mary Prince’s memoir, The History of Mary Prince (1831). Other readings will include philosophical and economic justifications for slavery (from Aristotle to Locke), Afro-British narratives of resistance (Equiano, Cugoano), popular theater (Southerne, Coleman) and poetry (Day, More, Yearsley, Wheatley), and political treatises (Clarkson). Students will be introduced to archives at Penn and local Philadelphia libraries in order to facilitate a final research paper. Short discussion responses, one class presentation + annotated bibliography and a choice of either two short essays (5 pages each) or one longer essay (15 pages).



fulfills requirements
Sector III: Arts & Letters of the College's General Education Curriculum