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Slavery and Emotion

Workshop, Martinique, January 6-8, 20

Info about event


Friday 6 January 2017, at 09:00 - Sunday 8 January 2017, at 12:50


Domaine de la Pagerie, Les Trois-Îlets, Martinique

Program for Emotion and Slavery

Domaine de la pagerie, Martinique, January 2017


Friday, January 6

9:30-10:00 Welcome, presentation of program and presentation round, Madeleine Dobie

10:00-11:30 Session 1 Intimate feelings, chair Madeleine Dobie

Jennifer L. Palmer: Interracial Intimacy in the Eighteenth-Century French Atlantic

Helene Engnes Birkeli: The Black Domestic Worker in the White Family: The Affective After-Life of Slavery in St. Croix, 1905-1915

Sasha Turner: The Nameless and the Forgotten: Maternal Grief and the Archive of Slavery

11:30-12:30 Lunch

12:30-14:15 Session 2 The politics of emotions, chair Karen Margrethe Simonsen

Margaret Crosby-Arnold: "Slavery,” Identity Politics and Voting Blocs in the Contemporary United States

Lawrence T. Mcdonnell: Proslavery Argument as Emotional Appeal in the Antebellum South

Myriam Cottias: To pay back feelings: A micro-history of indemnity in Martinique (XIXth century)

 15:00-17:00 Guided tour of La pagerie


Saturday, January 7

9:00-10:45 Session 3 Managing fear, chair Mads Anders Baggesgaard

Kathleen Hilliard: Slavery, Capitalism, and Emotion: Breaking Bonds in 1865 and 1866

Jonas Ross Kjærgård: Search of Home: American Identity and the Haitian Revolution in Leonora Sansay’s Secret History; or, the Horrors of St.Domingo (1808)

Erin Dwyer: Poisoned Hearts: Fear, Poison, and Slavery in the Atlantic World

11:00-12:45 Session 4 Styles and forms of emotion, chair Myriam Cottias

Sarga Moussa: Une scénographie abolitionniste: Expérience orientale et engagement politique chez Lamartine (1835).

Christina Kullberg: Expressions of Emotion: Slaves’ Speech in Jean-Baptiste Labat’s Nouveaux voyages aux Isles de l’Amérique

Inge Dornan: “Whatever was inhuman and unjust must be, impolitic”: the Rhetoric of Emotion in the British Parliamentary Debates on the Transatlantic Slave Trade, c. 1780-1807.

12:45-13:45 Lunch

13:45-15:30 Session 5 From sentiment to affect, chair Jakob Ladegaard

Karen-Margrete Simonsen: Affect and Politics in Sab, A Cuban Novel by Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda

Madeleine Dobie: Slavery, Race and Affect in Gustave de Beaumont's Marie, or Slavery in the United States

Lynn Festa: Slavery, Sentimentality and the Abolition of Affect

15:45-16.55 Session 6 Sympathy and memory, chair Jennifer Palmer

Annette Joseph-Gabriel: Gendering Emotion in Nineteenth Century Abolitionist Narratives

Cheikh Sene: Gorée dans la traite atlantique et l'esclavage en Sénégambie : quand le sentiment prime sur la raison.

20:00 Dinner in town


Sunday, January 8

9:00-9:45 Workshop on publication project, chair Mads Anders Baggesgaard

10:00-10:45 Workshop: Beyond Sentiment, chair Lynn Festa

11:00-11:45 Workshop: Slavery and the 'affective turn' in historiography, chair Madeleine Dobie

11:45-12:00 Recap, Karen-Margrethe Simonsen

12:00-13:00 Lunch and goodbyes 


General Description

Literature associated with slavery provokes and often seeks to provoke emotional responses. This has been most widely studied in the context of late 18th and 19th sentimentalism, a key dimension of abolitionism, but emotionality has been present in discourses on slavery since early modernity – in atrocity stories, travel narratives, autobiographical and anthropological reports, dramas and different narrative and aesthetic approaches in prose and lyrics just as it is present also today in a wide spectrum of literary genres, meaning not only traditional literary genres, for instance in historical novels, political drama and poetry but also movies, blogs, life-stories (often ghost-written), a new boost in autobiographical fiction, campaigns against slavery etc.

This seminar examines the sentimental response of slavery across several national, historical and linguistic contexts and also widens the angle of enquiry to encompass recent studies of affect as a component of human rights and humanitarianism. As a first major case of affective politics, slavery paved the way for more recent efforts to not only ‘harness’ emotional responses but also train subjects to experience them.

The categories of emotionality and affect are not as transparent and accessible as they appear. They are immersed in cultural normativity and politics. In the Western tradition, there has often been an opposition between feeling and reason, and a hierarchy between different feelings, for instance cultivated and non-cultivated, private and public, high rank and low rank feelings. Feelings are deeply related to the power structure of a society; they are not beyond social meaning but a form of meaning making (Sara Ahmed, 2000).

In this seminar, we therefore ask not only what emotions are, but also what they do in texts about slavery. Since emotions are dependent on social reality, how do they change and adopt to different political and historical contexts? What kind of genres, tropes, and images invoke emotions in relation to slavery in different literary historical periods? And how is emotionality related to the personal life story, family structures, issues such as gender, race, and power structures?

Understandings of emotionality differ from estimating them to be of no importance at all to ‘real life problems’ (Herbert Ross Brown), damaging for the development of democratic societies, for instance, theatrical emotions (Jean Jacques Rousseau) to being the exact opposite: a key stone in the development of modern democracy and the development of human rights (Lynn Hunt) and of essential importance to the abolition of slavery (Lynn Festa, Christopher Miller, Madeleine Dobie).

Critical discussions of the relationship between slavery and emotions have shown that in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, at the peak time of the development of the sentimental novel and romanticism, the European and American abolitionist movements produced sentimental accounts and images of enslavement in order to advocate for the abolition, either of the Atlantic slave trade or of slavery itself. (e,g, Festa (2006), Hunt (2007), Christopher Brown (2006), Miller (2007) and Dobie (2010)). However, one may ask: did sentiment in fact contribute significantly to the wave of abolitions that stretched from 1794 to 1888, or were economic and political factors more decisive?

And more generally: Is the main function, or effect of emotions positive, in the sense that they promote identification with slaves as subjects or as agents, or do they elicit pity for them as victims? What kind of psychological investment is made by the reader/spectator?  

Questions about the role of emotion in social and political activism continue to reverberate in recent arguments about the strategies and rhetoric of contemporary human rights campaigns. Scholars including Samuel Moyn (2012), Massad (2008), Didier Fassin and Richard Rechtman (2009), Lilie Chouliaraki (2012) have raised questions about the political moorings of humanitarianism and human rights discourses, connecting them in various ways to the cultivation of pity for or identification with psychological as well as physical suffering. This body of thought intersects with recent developments in the areas of affect theory and the history of emotions. Scholars including Lauren Berlant (1999, 2011) Wendy Brown (1998), Dean (2010) and Ahmed (2011), have explored the categories of sentiment, emotion, feeling and affect, connecting these disparate concepts to modes of representation and moral and political regimes.

The broad goal of this seminar is to reopen the scholarly conversation relative to literature and slavery to address new work on the use and function of emotion, feeling, affect and sentiment. Looking beyond the category of sentimentalism, the contributions may consider the many different ways in which emotion has been cultivated, projected and normativized in representations of slavery.

The seminar is a first step toward preparing a section on Slavery and Emotion, to be published in the book Comparative Literary Histories of Slavery, eds. Mads Anders Baggesgaard, Madeleine Dobie and Karen-Margrethe Simonsen in the series of literary histories made by CHLEL under the ICLA, Publishing House: John Benjamins Publishing.