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The first part of the seminar will explore the structures of power that are tied to the Atlantic slave trade and its abolition. We will examine the transformations in Africa after abolition, the roots of a European humanitarian project within anti-slavery discourse, contemporary forms of slavery and the attendant anti-trafficking movement, and the rise of the carceral state.


The second part of the seminar will examine the structures of meaning and identity-formation that are tied to the slave trade through analyses of Black Atlantic literature, folklore, music, ritual practice, modes of resistance, and movements for reparative justice. African American, African diasporic, and American literature bear sonic, affective, and conceptual traces of chattel slavery and its afterlives, thus revealing a persistent concern with enslavement, as well as how racial relations forged during slavery echo and extend in its wake.[1] The sessions in this part explore the tensions as well as how “echoes” and resonances of slavery—be they ritual, literary, folkloric, sonic, or political—simultaneously preserve potent cultural memories and open sites for critical interrogation of the social and political inheritances that reproduce slavery’s violent logics of anti-Blackness in our contemporary moment.


[1] Saidiya Hartman coined the term “afterlife of slavery” to denote “the skewed life chances, limited access to health and education, premature death, incarceration, and impoverishment” overdetermined by slavery’s “racial calculus and...political arithmetic” which continues to imperil Black life in Lose Your Mother, 6. Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016) builds upon Hartman’s insights to theorize “that to be in the wake is to occupy and be occupied by the continuous and changing present of slavery’s as yet unresolved unfolding,” 13-14.