Transnational History as Epistolary Novel: Archives and the Comparative Politics of Producing Narratives of Slavery and Empire in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans

Friday, January 2, 2015: 4:10 PM
Morgan Suite (New York Hilton)
Gunja SenGupta, Brooklyn College and Graduate Center, City Univerity of New York
Awam Amkpa, New York University
The proposed presentation will invite reflection on the threshold between history and fiction by narrating inter-oceanic debates over slavery and empire during the nineteenth century, in the style of an epistolary novel. In the wake of European expansion, the integration of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds into global systems of industry, trade, travel, work, politics, and culture, brought a cosmopolitan cast of characters into contests over the meaning of freedom. Their voices emerged most clearly within international and imperial borders of difference over slavery, and entered the politics of producing archives on slavery during moments, and in spaces of conflict between different jurisdictions - whether geographical, legal, or political. Our narrative will problematize the meanings and modes of representing the "truth" in these contexts by knitting together letters and mediated testimonies from "slaveholding" sex workers in India and plantation mistresses in the American South, an antislavery Tennessee Whig in Zanzibar during the American Civil War, and East African fugitives moving between a British "abolitionist" frigate, and an American merchant vessel in the Indian Ocean during the 1870s.