Slavery as History, Slavery as Fiction , Part 2: The Slavery Archive As History and Narrative

AHA Session 60
Friday, January 2, 2015: 3:30 PM-5:30 PM
Morgan Suite (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Ana Lucia Araujo, Howard University
Edward A. Alpers, University of California, Los Angeles

Session Abstract

If historical events have been the object of novels, films, and artworks, how do historians address the interplay between fact and fiction in historical sources? By studying primary sources documenting slavery and the Atlantic slave trade in the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean worlds this panel addresses this issue by examining particular case studies. M. Scott Heerman examines how runaway slave advertisements possibly fictionalized the escapes of self-emancipated enslaved men and women, by exploring "The Great Escape, a collection of slave escape accounts published in Chicago's abolitionist newspaper Western Citizen. Likewise, in the second paper, Amanda Bellows develops a comparative study of nineteenth-century slave narratives written by former enslaved persons and fictionalized narratives depicting slavery written by white authors. Her study reveals that although different, these two kinds of narratives contained shared themes and authorial goals, even though post-bellum slave narratives had different content and message elements. Particularly, she emphasizes that Southern creators of fictionalized slave narratives tended to represent satisfied black individuals, by attempting to conceal the racial tensions of the Jim Crow era. In the third paper, Gunja Sengupta and Awam Amkpa discuss how history and fiction shape the debates on slavery in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds during the nineteenth century. By using the format of an epistolary novel, by combining letters and testimonies, the two authors question the production of truth regarding slavery and slaveholding in a transnational context. In the fourth paper, Trevor Getz examines the testimonies of Gold Coast litigants in the Gold Coast, by proposing an innovative interpretation of these cases, not only as historical evidence, as they have been treated by historians, but also as narratives situated close to oral tradition and literature that are aimed at particular audiences. The various papers in this panel show how literature and fiction can provide historians of slavery with important instruments to interpreting and writing about the past.