Slave narratives have by now become a central form of African American memory. The genre, which is held as the origin of African American autobiography, grew out of the personal accounts by enslaved and formerly enslaved Africans. In the British colonies and later the United States, in Canada and the Caribbean during the 18th and 19th centuries, these “impossible witnesses” (Dwight McBride) were dedicated to the political aim to contribute to the abolition of slavery.
Against the historical backdrop of the transatlantic slave trade, institutionalized slavery and abolitionist endeavors, the seminar introduces students to a variety of respective texts and films. We examine slave narratives as a genre and discuss the narrative, political and editorial strategies the narrators had to apply. Slave narrators also used a number of rhetorical strategies of directly addressing the intended audience in order to create solidarity and they were dependent on a white editor to attest the credibility of the account. In the seminar, we also take a loom at so-called neo-slave narratives and recent filmic adaptions.
With the Caribbean as its cradle, the slave trade has been a transatlantic phenomenon, based on a colonial logic of capitalist exploitation, catering to the wealth of most European nations. Slave narratives bear structural and generic resemblances with later forms such as Cuban fugitive slave testimonies and other Latin American testimonies. We discuss slave narratives thus simultaneously as a transamerican and transnational mode of memory, knowledge production and resistance. As such, slave narratives implicitly challenge national boundaries and discourses and foreclose diasporic notions of a Black Atlantic (Paul Gilroy) or conceptualizations of “outernational” decolonial horizons (José David Saldívar).