Equiano Bibliography 2015

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===Readings for 11/9=== Baker, Gates, Smith, Gilroy. Keywords: African, Black, Slavery
===Readings for 11/14=== Bugg, Bugg, Carretta, Ito. Keywords: capitalism, economy, market


Aravamudan, Srinivas. Introduction. Tropicopolitans: Colonialism and Agency, 1688-1804. By Aravamudan. Durham: Duke UP, 1999. 1-25. Print.

--JoPR (talk) 02:23, 30 October 2015 (UTC)

How I found this Source

This book was listed in the Bibliography of the Penguin Classics edition of Equiano.

Place in the Scholarly Conversation

Arvamudan is currently a professor at Duke University, whose work focuses primarily on 18th century literature and postcolonial theory. This is the introduction to a book that, as the subtitle indicates, looks at “agency” in 18th century colonialism. The author identifies his work as a part of the project of scholars such as Edward Said, Laura Brown, and Mary Louise Pratt that tries to bring together postcolonial theory and 18th century literary studies in a way that is mutually illuminating.

In this introduction, the author elaborates his specific intervention, a gesture to destabilize and complicate, or, to use the author’s words, break “the continental shelf known as the European eighteenth century” into “multiple textural archipelagoes.” As the book’s title suggests (or, rather, can be explained to be suggesting) this work looks at multiplicity of agents/subject positions that emerge in the midst of colonialism, that is, the tropes of identity that emerge (primarily) in the tropics.

The author makes abundantly clear that in this project there are no colonialist villains or anti-colonialist heroes—which tend to arise when scholars allow their work to be shaded by an anachronistic, simplifying polemical lens.


I chose to focus on this book’s introduction (rather than the chapter on Equiano) because I thought it might provide a useful account of the postcolonial research conversation in which Equiano is often situated. Although it does accomplish this to some degree, this introduction tends to focus more on the work at hand (naturally), and I would imagine that there is a better introduction to the subject than this particular book. If there is no such discussion and we decide to look at Postcolonialism, then I would recommend this introduction.

Since this chapter dwells on the complexities and (mis)constructions of colonized subjects (in several senses of that word), I would suggest the keyword “subject.”

Bailey, Anne. "European and American Agency in the Atlantic Slave Trade on the Old Slave Coast." African Voices of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Beyond the Silence and the Shame. Boston: Beacon, 2005. 115-51. Print.

--LindseyP (talk) 02:30, 28 October 2015 (UTC)

How I found this source:
I found this source by searching the stacks near the Peskin book. Looking at the index, I found that Equiano was cited a few times in one chapter.

Place in the scholarly conversation:
Bailey is a writer, historian, and professor of History and Africana Studies at the State University of New York - Binghamton. Her approach in this book is, as expected, historical; in fact, the book reads much like a history textbook. In the cited chapter, Bailey, who realizes that most accounts of the slave trade come from Europeans and white Americans, delineates the perceptions and attitudes of these Europeans and white Americans during the slave trade. They view the trade as an industry, in which slaves are commodities, able to be sold and exchanged.
In order to gather material for her research, Bailey took several trips to England, where she analyzed records at the Public Records Office and other London facilities. Throughout the chapter, she cites various statistical data. For example, in her examination of captains of the slave trade, she relies on Stephen Behrendt's compiled database of nearly three thousand slave voyages and derived biographical information. She also relays the information provided in many historical accounts; for example, she uses Alexander Falconbridge's abolitionist book in order to present a portrait of surgeons on ships of the slave trade.

Keywords: slavery, labor, market, terror
While this chapter offers an impressive account of the industrial perspective of whites during the slave trade, I don't think it would be particularly useful for class discussion. As a historical text, it mainly seeks to present a series of facts, and I think our class would better benefit from more literature-oriented papers.

Baker, Houston A. Blues, Ideology, and Afro-American Literature: A Vernacular Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984. 15-63. Print.

1. Where I found this source:

This source was cited many times in the literature I read, including Plasa’s book. It appears to be cited in other texts on this wiki. I found the text in the Walsh Library.

2. Place in the Research Conversation:

Baker’s work is extremely important for cultural and vernacular studies. Cited over 1100 times according to google scholar, the book seeks to establish a vernacular level on which cultural and literary studies may progress. Henry Louis Gates Jr., in the endnotes for his book The Signifying Monkey, specifically credits Baker with “…accomplish[ing] with the blued what I try to accomplish here with Signifying.” Equiano’s Narrative is only one of a very many Afro-American authors Baker examines, and, by the breadth of his examination, he offers others in the field a model on how to read Black narration and vernacular.

3. Notes on the Chapter

Baker is trying to rewrite American history as a discourse between different movements, or “archaeologies of knowledge” beyond the traditional humanism. He sees bodies of knowledge as is, as arbitrary configurations, and he wants to record the history of a body of knowledge, beginning with what he (and Foucault) call the fundamental unit of discourse.

He claims that there are certain governing statements from which a basis of knowledge is constructed, e.g. “Religious Man,” and “Wilderness.” “Religious man” would be a figure devout, for whom economic matters are of secondary importance. The pilgrims become depictions of “Religious Man,” and this concept, connected to concept of what is not “Religious Man” forms a body of knowledge.

Literary history, he argues, is formed by the exclusion of non-white authors, the body of knowledge being constructed out of this concept of exclusion.

He uses Barthes to show how statements are transformed into “facts” and these “facts” do not follow reality; they only signify it. To define African’s as heathens, the slave trader creates a history with economic consequences and religious implications. “Religious-man” writes a narrative of bringing the godless African over to the New World and offering religion.

He then looks to frame Afro-American literary history using Fredric Jameson and Hayden White. White says literature may only be seen as socially relevant if its commodity status in a community is acknowledged. Jameson argues that the relationship between a text and the social is best understood by the reinvention of that text by ideological analysis. Baker wants to bring these two strings together, and apply them to Afro-American literature.

On page 31, he addresses Equiano. On one level, the narrative appears to support that body of knowledge in which the heathen African is transformed into productive Western, Christian, and old narrative in which the African becomes spiritual cargo. But, if one begins to look at the conditions of disruption that incorporate the commercial aspect of the slave trade, then “one perceives a very different awakening on the part of the African. In this case, the Narrative is one in which Equiano masters the rudiments of economics that condition his life, and ground his social status.

As the narrative progresses, we see the middle portion of the book brackets the slave trade. One explanation is that the narrator, having been reduced to property, realized the only way towards selfhood is by the acquisition of property. His plan of freedom, thus, is mercantile. The narrative suggests that the slave must negotiate the mercantile situation in order to be free. Therefore, Equiano’s narrative ground the archeology of African-American narrative in the slave trade, and the need for economic mastery of that trade in order to be free.

Baker continues, saying the narrative suggests the one way the enslaved African may connect to the rest of society is by economic repossession, which will reunite, “a severed African humanity.” Baker’s ultimate claim here, and one well worth debating is that all African American creativity is conditioned by a historical discourse that privileges economic terms. Any creative black man or woman must come to terms with the “economic of slavery.”

4. Two Recommendations:

Despite some doubts (and confusions) with Baker’s work, I would recommend this chapter for the density of his ideas, the universality of their application, and the importance this work has in the research conversation. The Keywords I would recommend include “Economy,” and “Literature.”

--Tjlaym06 (talk) 22:03, 23 October 2015 (UTC)

Boulukos, George E. "OLAUDAH EQUIANO AND THE EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY DEBATE ON AFRICA." Eighteenth Century Studies 40.2 (2007): 241- 255. ProQuest. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.

--PatrickS (talk) 17:34, 22 October 2015 (UTC)

How I found this Source:

I found this article through a simple keyword search of “Equiano” on the MLA International Bibliography database.

Place in the Scholarly Conversation:

Responding to critics- notably Vincent Carretta- that frame Equiano scholarship as a tug-of-war between the author’s British and/or African identities, this article proposes that the very interrelationship of Equiano’s national and political identities reflects, and in some senses inverts, 18th century British discourses on Africa and the slave trade in toto.

As Boulukos notes, many pro-slavery and Abolitionist discourses (from William Snelgrave’s New Accounts of some Parts of Guinea to Anthony Benezet’s Some Historical Account of Guinea) center around an oddly mutual presumption of racial essentialism and African inferiority and “primitivism.” The article posits that Equiano’s (or rather Vassa’s) “insistence on a British national identity, and the legal and social privileges it entails,” (249) denotes a resistance to both sides of this discourse by invoking equal protection under British law that such a national identity reasonably entails. Moreover, the article notes that Equiano’s mutual identification with both English and African “countrymen,” challenges discursive presumptions of racial essentialism and African “primitivism” by rendering “identity” as an elective performance whose “only consist function is to offer a counterweight to essential or externally imposed categories,” (243).

Two Recommendations:

I would recommend this article both because of the way that it effectively positions The Interesting Narrative within a broader context of 18th century discourse and for the ways it works in dialogue with many of the other sources listed in our bibliography (Caretta, Bugg, Gilroy all come to mind). For keywords, “African,” “Identity,” “Slavery,” “Nation,” “Interiority,” and “Law,” would all be relevant for this source.

--PatrickS (talk) 20:06, 29 October 2015 (UTC)

Bugg, John. "Equiano's Trifles". ELH 80.4 (2013): 1045-1066. Print.

Professor Julie Kim recommended John Bugg’s work on Equiano to me as exemplary models of scholarship pertinent to my own research interests. When I learned we were reading The Interesting Narrative for this class, the combination of Julie’s recommendation and the fact that John is a member of our department weighed heavily on my eagerness to bring his work into consideration for our collective study of Equiano. In terms of actually “finding” or obtaining this article, I used Project MUSE. When John isn’t advising graduate students in his capacity as the English Department’s Director of Graduate Studies, he is researching and teaching on topics that, according to his faculty bio on Fordham’s website, include the following: “British romanticism, legal and political history, romantic-era print culture, empire and abolitionism, and peace studies.” In 2014, he published Five Long Winters: The Trials of British Romanticism. Since John’s research interests primarily focus on British literature and this is an American literature class, I think this fact as well as the transatlantic nature of Equiano’s life and narrative illuminate one of our recurring avenues of inquiry this semester: what exactly do categories like “American literature” and identities like “American” (even “American literary scholar”) even mean anyway? It seems fitting, then, to now suggest the keyword essay “American” in consideration with this essay.

In “Equiano’s Trifles,” John Bugg observes that as a result of the political and historical import of focusing on Equiano’s direct testimony within the context of the abolition movement, scholars have failed to offer sustained critical attention to Equiano’s style, writing it off as simply transparent discourse (1045-6). Critics like Henry Louis Gates Jr., Cathy Davidson, and Adam Potkay have offered readings of various overarching structural logic dynamics or organizational patterns inherent in Equiano’s narrative. However, Equiano’s calculated rhetorical maneuvers and formal experimentations, Bugg suggests, come to bear if we trace what he delineates as one of the text’s structuring tropes, logic, or subplot: the trifle. Through close textual reading, historical contextualization, and biographical attentiveness, Bugg argues that the series of seemingly insignificant moments or unparsed digressions in the text—the trifles—actually demand critical attention and scrutiny as these places in the narrative prove integral to the life story Equiano wants to tell and offer a reading of the text as not only part of a convention tract of abolitionist discourse, but a space in which the author, Equiano, deeply contemplates the transatlantic world he traversed in a way “that could not yet be accommodated by contemporary abolitionist discourse” (1053; 1063). The article engages in larger conversations on the Atlantic slave trade, the Zong massacre, and questions of form and genre (especially in terms of abolitionist discourse, the slave narrative genre, and autobiography). In addition to the keyword essay on “American,” it also seems useful, then, within the context of John's article, to revisit the “Abolition” keyword essay. I highly recommend this essay for collective class reading; it presents a sound argument and represents a somewhat recent (2013) and refreshing contribution to Equiano scholarship. Also, John Bugg is awesome and I think there’s value in considering the scholarship of faculty in our department.

--JessicaD (talk) 00:50, 31 October 2015 (UTC)

Bugg, John. "The Other Interesting Narrative: Olaudah Equiano’s Public Book Tour". PMLA 121.5 (2006): 1424-1442. Print.

--PatrickS (talk) 00:23, 29 October 2015 (UTC)

How I found this Source:

This source was recommended (and in a sense bequeathed) to me by our own colleague, Jessica D’Onofrio. Knowing that I was interested in reading John Bugg’s work, and having already filled her 4 source quota for this assignment, Jessica emailed me a copy of this article. Scholarship is necessarily collaborative, and I hope (even if it works to my own detriment) that this example can demonstrate that fact.

Place in the Scholarly Conversation:

This article directly addresses Vincent Carretta’s questions of Equiano’s birthplace/ identity, explores the possibility that Equiano’s book tour was both a political act in itself and a demonstration that his Interesting Narrative was an equally (and intentionally) “performative manifesto,” and discusses the extent to which Equiano’s narrative and its promotion were able to garner new levels of trans-racial support (i.e. poor and working class whites' recognition of the atrocities of slavery) for Abolitionism by gesturing (especially through "publicity") toward associating the American slave trade with the impoverished members of British society of the day.

In the first case, Bugg demonstrates that Carretta’s claim that Equiano was born in South Carolina simultaneously hinges on questionable evidence (the listing of a “Gustavus Weston” on a ship manifest) and the presumption that a Freedman would not have to obscure his origins and identity within the slave-trading culture of the American South in the 18th century. In the second, Bugg notes that the publicity that Equiano’s “first modern-style author tour” (1424) garnered helped to “convert sympathetic readers into political actors,” (1431) to such an extent that the activism inherent within The Interesting Narrative becomes more apparent. Bugg goes on to demonstrate how Equiano’s awareness, and deliberate cultivation, of the perceived analogy between Northern English miners and chattel slaves worked(if only incrementally) to offer an avenue by which English laborers could identify with The Interesting Narrative and approach it, and its political aims, with a level of sympathy.

Two Recommendations:

This article is incredibly well crafted (to the point of being worth using as a template for academic writing), deeply engaging, and a poignant and illuminating piece of Equiano scholarship. It would be indispensable to anyone looking to pursue The Interesting Narrative in any scholarly depth. That said, I won’t recommend it for our class. Knowing that Jessica is submitting John’s more recent article "Equiano's Trifles" as a possible class reading, I think that our time would be better spent reading a broader scope of the scholarship- up to and including the Carretta work to which John Bugg is responding.

As for Keywords worth exploring within the context of this article, I would recommend “Identity,” (by virtue of the “Carolina/Africa question), “Africa” and “America” (for the same reason), “Capitalism,” (by virtue of Bugg’s discussion of the confluence of Equiano’s self-promotion and monetary profit and the political aims of his work), and, somewhat obviously, “Slavery.”

--PatrickS (talk) 03:48, 29 October 2015 (UTC)

Caldwell, Tanya. “’Talking Too Much English’: Languages of Economy and Politics in Equiano’s ‘The Interesting Narrative.” Early American Literature 34.3 (1999): 263-282. JSTOR. Web. 27 Oct. 2015

--MelissaK (talk) 13:59, 27 October 2015 (UTC)

How I found this Source: Knowing that I was looking for articles which discussed Equiano’s use of economic rhetoric, John recommended this source to me. (Thanks!)

Place in the Scholarly Conversation: This article contends the idea that Equiano was “indisputably” an African who had adopted European manners, but rather that he was thinking and writing from a wholly British mindset. Caldwell seems to be combating a 20th century reading of the text which does not account for the 18th century rhetoric Equiano is employing. She argues this idea mainly through discussing Equiano’s imperialistic and economic rhetoric his argument against slavery, claiming that his understanding of the British economic system is due to his British identity. Caldwell goes on to explore the similarities of his rhetoric to Robinson Crusoe and protestant narratives, all to prove that Equiano identifies as British and White.

Two Recommendations: This article is intriguing and despite not quite agreeing with all of her points, I think it could be useful in thinking about the rhetoric Equiano uses in order to persuade his audience. In particular, Caldwell brings up the interesting point that Equiano gains his freedom not against or outside of the economic system, but through it. If we decide to look at the role of economy in Equiano’s narrative, I would recommend reading this.

As for Keywords, I would recommend “Identity,” (since it is mainly arguing for Equiano’s identity as a European), “Economy” (as Caldwell focuses on the language of economy) and “Freedom” (which interestingly enough, Caldwell almost puts in opposition or tandem to economy). I would also like to recommend the keyword "White" as Caldwell argues that Equiano saw himself as white.

Carretta, Vincent. Equiano, The African: Biography of a Self-Made Man. Atlanta: University of Georgia Press, 2005. 303-329. Print.

--Tjlaym06 (talk) 22:03, 23 October 2015 (UTC)

1. Where I found this Source

I went to the library, searched the shelves containing Equiano criticism, and checked several titles in Google Scholar to see which recent publication has contributed more to the critical conversation. This book was cited over one hundred times since it was first published in 2005. After, I read through a few chapters and settled on “The Art of the Book” because it discussed several aspects of the narrative both through historical context, and indirectly (as well as unintentionally) using keywords that have been discussed in class. This book chapter appears, then, may contribute to our Keywords Project as well as the Bibliography Project.

2. How this relates to the scholarly traditions:

Carretta works in and publishes criticism in the work of the early black Atlantic, and continues the tradition of critics such as Paul Gilroy and his work, The Black Atlantic. Gilroy seeks to continue this tradition

3. General Notes on the Chapter

The author proposes that if we approach Equiano’s narrative as a spiritual autobiography, we will miss that Equiano has designs on his audience that were personal as well as political.

He claims that Equiano wants to combine the intimacy of memoir writing with the authority of history writing, because 18th century readers came to believe that the most instructive works of history included the private lives and thoughts of people who could be imitated. Edmund Burke’s notion of history writing was the fundamental notion that people everywhere were essentially the same. Therefore, anyone could be refined or corrupted. A skilled author could take the past or the distant (as is the case with Equiano) and make it familiar, since, after all, deep down we are all the same. Equiano might have entertained the idea that is audience would have followed Burke’s belief that beneath the flesh there was an inherent sameness.

But while he claimed to write with an authoritative African voice, he needed to show his readers that he was as British as they.

He also uses his autobiography to practice nation formation as well as self-creation. His British readers were interested in a state centrally organized by nationality, culture, economics, and religion. The autonomous villages of the Igbos would less compelling to British readers. Therefore he paints the Igbos to resemble something familiar to the Europeans. Equiano uses his autobiography to practice nation building so as to comfort and compel his readers, and in so doing, he forges a national identity. In so doing, he is rehabilitating, not only the Igbos in the eyes of the Europeans, but rehabilitating Africa as well, showing these places as possessing centralized institutions.

But, as the books goes on, Equiano begins to speak more frequently about Africa in general, conflating different Africa ethnic groups and creating a sort of pan-African identity.

Later, Carretta directs attention to evidence suggesting that Equiano is inventing himself as someone who has neither lost his African identity nor as someone who has rejected or embraced European society.

4. Two Recommendations:

I would recommend this book chapter, as it appears to be a mainstay in Equiano criticism in the last ten years. Also, this book appears to play a role in terms of the general themes we have seen develop throughout this class. For example, the author discusses identity in terms of the collision of various cultures, as we have seen in many, many critical works. Regarding Keywords, I would recommend African—as this book explores the self-creation of an identity—and Identity, as the theme of the book how Equiano’s identity is self-made and not just prescribed by any culture or process of cultural mixing.

--Tjlaym06 (talk) 03:12, 26 October 2015 (UTC)

Carretta, Vincent. "Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa? New light on an eighteenth‐century question of identity." Slavery & Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies 20.3 (1999): 96-105. JSTOR. Web. 22 October 2015.

--JohnM (talk) 18:45, 22 October 2015 (UTC)

I discovered this article while perusing the introduction to our Norton Critical Edition of the Interesting Narrative. I was able to locate a pdf file of the article using Google Scholar.

This is the article in which Carretta puts forth the claim that Equiano was, in fact, born in South Carolina. Carretta marshals an array of evidence suggesting that, based on inconsistencies in the provable veracity of events in Equiano’s narrative (that is, events relating to his comings and goings in Britain and the New World are rather precise, while the African part of his narrative is not demonstrably accurate), “There can be no doubt that Vassa manipulated some of the facts of his autobiography.” Some of the evidence Carretta calls upon is intriguing, such as the fact that Equiano never identified himself by the name ‘Olaudah Equiano’ in any other situation besides his literary endeavors, and that furthermore, no one else seems to have referred to him as Equiano, either. Additionally, the question of Equiano's identity was first raised in newspaper articles in the 1790s, which is rather interesting.

This article is important, as it raised a question in Equiano scholarship that continued to be argued about for some time afterwards. Carretta is one of the leading Equiano scholars and, as I’ve said, some of his support is fascinating. But this article does not delve deep into Equiano’s possible motivations for manipulating his past and very identity, beyond a cursory gesture to the theory that he did so for “rhetorical (and financial) gains.” In other words, this article is about the ‘what’ of Equiano’s history, not about the ‘why,’ or about how this theory complicates our reading of the Interesting Narrative. Due to its importance, I am recommending the article as possible reading, but I think it would work best in combination with other articles that present refutations of Carretta’s claims and/or probe the significance of Carretta’s hypothesis.

If we choose Carretta’s article, the keywords “Performance,” “Affect,” and “Identity” may prove useful to our discussion.

Davidson, Cathy N."Olaudah Equiano, Written by Himself" NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 40. 1/2 (2013). JSTOR. Web. 29 Oct. 2015.

--JoPR (talk) 02:23, 30 October 2015 (UTC)

How I found this Article

I found this article by searching for “Equiano” on JSTOR.

Place in the Scholarly Conversation

After beginning with a several page account of the complex structure of the Equiano’s narrative ant the conflicts it reveals, Davidson remarks, “I begin this essay by reminding the reader of the moral, formal, and structural indeterminacy at the heart of the ‘’Interesting Narrative’’ to underscore the point that a text can be simultaneously polemically powerful and unresolved.” Davidson then goes on to summarize and address the question of the authenticity of Equiano’s account of his early years. At first, she suggests that, if Equiano did indeed fabricate the story of his early years, then early Americanists could embrace him as the father of the American novel.

Finally, about ten pages in, Davidson gets to the real purpose of her paper, that is, to suggest that we should not challenge the generic situation of the novel based on the answer to an un-determined question about Equiano’s birth, but use this very indeterminism as a way into understanding slave-narratives. And, as the author suggests, this is not a simple evasion, since our notions of history/autobiography as fact and the novel as fiction are not the standards under which Equiano wrote.

Davidson is a professor emerita at Duke. In addition to her work on American Lit., she also has written substantially on the history of technology and on the place and future of humanities in the information age.


Since it offers what appears to be a relatively fresh perspective (albeit with a periphrastic delivery) from an important scholar on the issue of the authenticity of Equiano’s work, I would suggest this article if we choose to look at that debate.

Subject, identity, and performance would all be useful keywords for this essay.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory Of African-American Literary Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. 127-169. Print.

--JohnM (talk) 02:49, 30 October 2015 (UTC)

I noticed this book (and, in particular, this chapter) being referenced often as I sifted through Equiano scholarship. I then decided to check the book out from the Fordham University Library.

Gates’ book is a comprehensive theory of African-American literature; in the chapter I selected, he discusses the trope of the talking book, and the ways in which that was expressed and modified as an African-American literary tradition began to take shape. Indeed, he identifies the concept of the Talking Book as “the ur-trope of the Anglo-African tradition,” as it allows early black writers a way to effectively depict their distance from a European literary tradition even as they are writing themselves into that tradition. Equiano does figure into Gates’ discussion, but only as one of five texts, each of which develop the trope and ‘signify’ upon one another (the others – Gronniosaw, Marrant, Cugoano, and Jea – are more obscure). In each text, there is a stress placed on learning and, specifically, on attaining literacy as a method of self-realization. But the texts refer back to and inform one another in fascinating ways. Equiano, Gates argues, could not use the Talking Book trope “without a remarkable degree of self-consciousness,” and thus, he uses it as an allegorical device – one that allows Equiano to “[name] his relation to Western culture through the trope.”

I recommend this article for our reading. Gates has a dynamic voice and ably places Equiano within a lively tradition of African-American writers of the time; certainly, the chapter would be productive if we wanted to focus our discussion on Equiano’s methods of developing and realizing his literary persona. Beyond that, a great deal of criticism seems to refer back to Gates’ work.

Keywords that would work in conjunction with Gates include “African,” “Black,” “Performance,” and “Aesthetics”

Grégoire, Henri. On the Cultural Achievements of Negroes. Trans. Thomas Cassirer and Jean François Brière. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996. Ebsco. Web. 29 October 2015.

--JoPR (talk) 02:43, 30 October 2015 (UTC)

How I found this source

I looked at Brycchan Carey's bibliography for Equiano. Hoping to find an older source, I chose the only 18th century text cited.

Place in the Scholarly Conversation

Apparently, French Abbots were the only people writing on Equiano in the 19th century.

Grégoire was an abolitionist and advocate of racial equality, who favored universal suffrage.

In this book, the author seeks to argue against the prevailing racist anthropology and uses Equiano as one of several examples of prominent "Negroes and Mulattoes Distinguished by Their Talents and Their Writings." In addition to his adherance to Christian principles in the face of grave injustice, Grégoire praises Equiano as a "man of nature" and compares him to Daniel Defoe.


As interesting as this book is, it does not quite fit into the rest of the discussions that seem to be emerging, so I don't recommend it.

Relevant keywords include religion, reform, and sentiment.

Gilroy, Paul. "Diaspora and the Detours of Identity." Identity and Difference. Ed. Kathryn Woodward. London: Sage Publications, 1997. 299-343. Print.

--Tjlaym06 (talk) 22:15, 23 October 2015 (UTC)

1. Where I found this source?

This source was quoted by Carl Plasa in his book Textual Politics From Slavery to Postcolonialism. Gilroy’s work helps shape Plasa’s ideas regarding black identity during the Atlantic slave trade, and this book chapter helps shape Plasa’s arguments.

2. What is this chapter’s place in the scholarly community?

This book chapter (originally published as an article) has been cited almost five hundred times. The criticism looks to extend the study of post-ethnic/post-racial cultural examinations, as well as how culture affects the formation of public spheres. This article is also cited in studies of Diaspora and the negotiations of different cultures in these types of negotiations.

3. General Notes on the Chapter

The article begins by looking at identity. As Gilroy writes, “To share an identity is apparently to be bonded on the most fundamental levels: national, ‘racial’, ethnic, regional, local. And yet, identity is always particular, as much about difference as about difference as about shared belonging.” He is interested in calculating the relationship between sameness and otherness as it applies to identity, and how sameness and otherness relates to group cohesion. Identity becomes an idea of power and identity. But the sameness and difference are not fixed, but are constantly changing.

Identity is something constructed in the past, and therefore ir is fixed and closed.

The primal view of identity conceives of identity as fixed and unchanged. Difference here is conceived of as a problem. The contrasting idea is individual identity. This concept sees identity as changing, malleable, and reconstructing.

The next section examines three different ideas that recur in identity theory: 1. Identity as subjectivity, 2. Identity as inter-subjectivity, 3. Identity as a basis for social solidarity.

After that, Gilroy looks at ideas of diaspora and how this affects group identity. These ideas are applied to the writing of Equiano, and how he uses his identity as a Christian to undermine he legitimize of slavery. Also, Equiano provides a challenge to the imperial domination over identity formation.

Gilroy’s diaspora criticism examines how identification is formed in contrast to political forms and ideas of national citizenship.

4. Two Recommendations:

I recommend this article as a great tool to understanding diaspora, and identity criticism. While most of the article is not concerned with Equiano, it connects very well to our Keywords work, as a term becomes the centerpiece of understanding literary and social criticism. The two keywords I would recommend are Identity and Diaspora.

--Tjlaym06 (talk) 03:26, 26 October 2015 (UTC)

Gould, Philip. “The Rise Development and Circulation of the Slave Narrative.” The Cambridge Companion to the African American Slave Narrative. Ed. Audrey Fisch. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 11-27. Print.

Philip Gould is a professor of English and the department chair at Brown University. His research interests include early American literature and culture, transatlantic history, and antebellum politics. I found this chapter in The Cambridge Companion to the African American Narrative, which I found by browsing the Walsh Library stacks. One of the reasons I was drawn to Gould’s essay was that he has come up in our reading this semester and his chapter doesn’t deeply engage with Equiano (though he does come up a few times).

Gould’s chapter is more informative than argumentative; he provides an overview of the development of the slave narrative—a nexus of literary, political, religious, economic, and commercial implications. First, he begins by offering an explanation for the rise of antislavery moments in the late eighteenth-century; he attributes the rise to the following three cultural and philosophical changes: secular social philosophy, sentimentalism, and more radical ideas about natural rights in relation to the state and social forms of authority. While this chapter does not make a direct contribution to Equiano scholarship it functions as a general survey and in doing so presents a variety of different writers including Equiano. Gould considers the context of the genre and traces its development through its various political and religious influences before moving on to consider abolitionist politics within organized antislavery movements, which speaks to some of the other larger conversations to which this chapter contributes (16). For example, he draws on the relationship between print and orality in suggesting that the conventions of the printed slave narrative were often first rehearsed on the lecture circuit, which attests to the multiple modes of circulation. Like many other scholars, Gould refuses to reduce slave narratives to mere passive constructions of dominant ideological influence and advocates for their status as not only pieces of cultural production and self-representation, but also forces that shape various dimensions of society including “an emerging, capitalist literary market” (23). It seems impossible not to recommend the keyword essays on “Abolition” and “Slavery” as companion pieces to this chapter. As far as reading this chapter as a class it does not present a groundbreaking argument or intervention, but it functions as a good model of a different type of scholarship that articulates a specific critical conversation or historical context. I think it does provide a useful overview of the emergence of the slave narrative so if people want to venture down that route and talk more about the shaping of this powerful force then this piece might prove useful.

--JessicaD (talk) 03:51, 31 October 2015 (UTC)

Ito, Akiyo. "Olaudah Equiano and the New York Artisans: The First American Edition of The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African. Early American Literature 32.1 (1997): 82-101. JSTOR. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

--JohnM (talk) 13:35, 27 October 2015 (UTC)

I first came upon mention of Ito’s article in the bibliography of our Norton editions. I then located the article online via a search of Fordham’s library database.

Ito analyzes lists of subscribers attached to different editions of Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative, in order to make a claim that while in Britain, Equiano’s work was seen as primarily abolitionist and did abolitionist cultural work, in America, Equiano “fit into post-revolutionary rhetoric among artisans concerned with the ideas of independence and republicanism.” In Britain, Ito contends, the list of subscribers for the first edition includes many illustrious figures of the time, and that later editions boast increasingly higher numbers of subscribers and continue to add high-ranking figures to their ranks. Having established the popularity of Equiano’s Narrative, Ito then points out that the book was also directly influential in helping to enact abolition in Britain. Ito turns to America, noting that, in contrast, the American list of subscribers is notable in its lack of significant figures; instead, it is heavy on artisans and other people who occupied a lower station in life. Ito suggests that the publication of the Interesting Narrative coincided with a waning of interest in abolitionism, and thus, was not read that way. In essence, Ito’s argument is that while Equiano intended for the Interesting Narrative to do political work, it was published and read in America as either a travel narrative or as a work of egalitarianism, and faded quickly from popular view.

Ito’s argument is interesting in that it points out the dichotomy in contemporary responses to Equiano and tries to answer why that happened. I found his hypothesis, on the whole, convincing – although he limits himself largely to discussions of the subscriber lists, which perhaps limits his scope. Perhaps we will find additional argues that address this question. In any case, I am recommending the article for reading if we decide to delve into the issue of Equiano and abolitionist movements.

Keywords that might work nicely with Ito’s article include: “Class,” “Public,” and “Market.”

Jaros, Peter. "Good Names: Olaudah Equiano Or Gustavus Vassa." The Eighteenth Century 54.1 (2013). Project MUSE. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

1. I found this article by searching "Equiano, names" in the Fordham library database.

2. Peter Jaros is an assistant professor of Early American Literature and Trans-Atlantic Literature at Franklin & Marshall College. This article examines The Interesting Narrative through the lens of the author's two names, and, in light of them, discusses connections between reputation, politics, economics, and authorship throughout the narrative. Additionally, Jaros asserts that, instead of harping on the question of Equiano/Vassa's birth place and using that to determine which name is proper, scholars should be more interested in answering why he would choose to use two names. Throughout the rest of the article, Jaros attempts to answer this question by dealing with a number of subjects including Equiano's attempt to establish a strong character with his readers and the impossible legal position of freed slaves. This relatively short article attempts to speak to a huge number of subjects, including economics, race, Christianity, and rhetoric.

3. I do recommend this article, but with a caveat. As I mentioned, this article attempts to find a place in a wide variety of conversations, and its sheer breadth makes it an interesting read. However, in certain parts, I was left unsatisfied. In order to fully address everything he mentions, Jaros would have to expand this article into an entire book. That said, the article was fascinating, and I can see it provoking some very fruitful class discussion.

Should we decide to use this article, I would recommend the following articles: "African," because of this articles consideration of Equiano's place as an Igbo and his insistence on using his African name in his autobiography; "Economy," in order to get a better understanding of how the slave trade fits into the wider history of international economy; and "Black" and "White" (as a pair) in order to inform our discussion of Equiano as the African/former slave versus Equiano as the gentleman living in an Anglo world.

--KatieS (talk) 14:01, 27 October 2015 (UTC)

Kolapo, Femi J. "The Igbo And Their Neighbours During The Era Of The Atlantic Slave-Trade." Slavery & Abolition 25.1 (2004): 114-133. Academic Search Complete. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

--KatieS (talk) 01:27, 28 October 2015 (UTC)

1. After learning that Equiano is associated with the Igbo people, I decided to look further into their involvement with the Atlantic slave trade. To find this article, I searched "Igbo, African slave trade" on the Fordham Library Database.

2. This piece was published in Slavery & Abolition, a journal entirely committed to publishing on "Slave and Post-Slave Studies." Femi Kolapo is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, and his research interests include the culture of precolonial Africa, the slave trade, and the effects of abolition in Africa. This piece is a direct response to the scholarship of a variety of historians who attempt to explain the widespread presence of Igbo culture in the Atlantic slave-trade compared to the relative dearth of other African cultures. Kolapo argues that in order to understand the patterns of the African diaspora, one must take into account the "culture, polities, and commerce of the regions and the sub-regions constituting the entire Igbo neighborhood" (116). An interdisciplinary method of research and analysis is necessary to really understand the data that we have from the time of the Atlantic slave-trade.

3. Though I really enjoyed reading this article, its content was disappointing. I had hoped that it would provide insight into Equiano's background and lead us to a fuller understanding of the author of the Interesting Narrative. Instead, this article focused a great deal on methodology and data analysis as opposed to pertinent cultural insights. Though it was interesting and well-written, I'm not sure it would be the best choice for our class. Too little of the content is easily applicable to our discussion of Equiano.

If, however, we decide to read this article, the obvious choice of Keywords would be "African" and "Slavery." I also think "Migration" would be applicable because of this article's concern with the African diaspora, an example of forced migration.

Marren, Susan. "Between Slavery and Freedom: The Transgressive Self in Olaudah Equiano's Autobiography." Publications of the Modern Language Association 108.1 (1993): 94-105. JSTOR. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

--LindseyP (talk) 01:10, 28 October 2015 (UTC)

How I found this source:
I found this source by searching "Equiano AND autobiography" on Google Scholar. I was able to access the article via JSTOR.

Place in the scholarly conversation:
Marren springboards her argument off of the critic Anne Norton's contention that, through autobiography, a person can recreate himself by ascribing to himself the traits once denied to him in the corporeal world. Marren argues for the "subversive re-creation of the narrative self" (102) in Equiano's autobiography; Equiano, she contends, challenges the boundaries of Western dichotomies, most especially the black/white distinction. Marren also implements Orlando Patterson's model of the dialectic of enslavement, slavery, and manumission in order to help her case; she claims that, for Equiano's narrative, "this model suggests an interpretation that acknowledges the ideological implications of the numerous contradictions and ambiguities animating the narrator and impelling his linguistic innovations" (96). Equiano, initially baffled by white culture, adopts white values in order to challenge the white man's rigid distinction between white and black.

Keywords: black, white, race, identity
If we decide to discuss the concept of race, and, more specifically, of racial fluidity, this article would benefit us. Marren offers a compelling case of how Equiano applies "white" traits to himself in his narrative and thus challenges the white man's rigid racial perceptions.

Moses, Wilson Jeremiah. “African Redemption and the Declines of the Fortunate Fall Doctrine.” The Wings of Ethiopia: Studies in African-American Life and Letters. Ames: Iowa State University Press. 1990. Print. 141-158.

--MelissaK (talk) 01:46, 31 October 2015 (UTC)

How I found this Source: Doing a little bit of footnote tracking, I found this source cited in a couple of articles.

Place in the Scholarly Conversation: Wilson Jeremiah Moses is the director of the Afro-American Studies Program and Boston University. In this particular chapter of his book on African-Americans, Moses claims that Africans adopted Christian rhetoric (particularly the doctrine of the “Fortunate Fall”) in order to avoid feeling victimized and to undermine white authority. He connects it to the idea that Christian rhetoric allowed the Africans an ideology of progression, out of which came the theory of African civilization. He looks at three different authors (one of which is Equiano) and their uses of the rhetoric to combat slavery and how they differ from each other.

Two Recommendations: This is a really fascinating read on the way Africans tended to adopt the Christian rhetoric and narrative in order to understand their suffering as well as to combat slavery. I definitely recommend this chapter as I think the context it gives for Equiano’s work could be very useful in our conversation.

As for Keywords, I would recommend “civilization” strangely because Moses seems to be aware of it as a keyword for 18th century Europeans. Despite not having a keyword essay for it, I would also like to look at the keyword “Christianity” as Moses makes some specific claims about Christian beliefs under the broad term “Christianity” even though there are several different denominations which may not all believe the same things or use the same rhetoric.

Murphy, Geraldine. "Olaudah Equiano, Accidental Tourist." Eighteenth-Century Studies 27.4 (1994): 551-568. Print.

Geraldine Murphy is a professor of English and Deputy Dean of Humanities and Arts at the City College of New York, CUNY. She has published on the Cold War, Lionel Trilling, and Henry James. I looked through the table of contents of our Norton Critical Edition of Equiano’s narrative and then skimmed through some of the book’s modern criticism selections and during my preliminary assessment became interested in this article’s consideration of genre and the gaze. The article was previously published in Eighteenth-Century Studies, so I included that citation information above. This article is engaging in larger conversations on eighteenth-century imperialism, the travel genre, the slave narrative, discourse on the ignoble slave, and gaze theory rooted in film theory.

Murphy identifies Equiano’s Interesting Narrative as “the intersection of the slave narrative and the travelogue,” which she suggests contributes and extends a larger conversation on the slave narrative genre (and specifically Equaiano’s narrative) as a hybrid production. Murphy considers Equiano within the historical context of the late eighteenth-century and specifically the genre of travel writing as a means for configuring his imperial or colonizing gaze. In doing so, Murphy uses film theorist Laura Mulvey’s concept of the “male gaze” to foreground the power structures inherent in points of view and acts of looking. Murphy notes that critics have suggested that there is both the voice of the “naïve African child” and the “Westernized adult” and she uses this binary to posit two opposing gazes in the narrative. Since Equiano is marginalized, Murphy suggests, he cannot be fully equated with a colonizing or imperial gaze; however, Murphy believes that Equiano’s gaze also cannot be separated from the larger colonizing project and therefore by situating his writing alongside travel writing (some of which explicitly engages pro-slavery rhetoric or abolitionist discourse) of the time she suggests Equiano’s journey from “accidental tourist” to “dissident colonialist.” Therefore, I think the keyword essays on “Colonial” and “Visual” pair well with this essay and its inquiries into the power structures embedded in looking specifically in relation to colonialism. I recommend this essay for class reading if we decide to structure units around keywords and phrases like: genre, colonial conquest, identity, and travel.

--JessicaD (talk) 01:30, 28 October 2015 (UTC)

Nwoga, Donatus I. "Humanitarianism and the Criticism of African Literature, 1770-1810." Research in African Literatures 3 (1972): 171-9. ProQuest. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.

--PatrickS (talk) 18:09, 22 October 2015 (UTC)

How I found this Source: I initially found this source on the MLA bibliography database through an advanced keyword search for “Equiano,” articles published prior to 1990. Pushing the research a bit further, I found that Professor Nwoga was of Igbo descent and a former Dean of Faculty Arts at the University of Nigeria. I hoped that this might expand the scope of scholarship/perspectives in our bibliography and discussion on Equiano’s narrative.

Place in the Scholarly Conversation:

The article appears to only be on the early periphery of Equiano scholarship, if it can be said to engage in that conversation at all. Short of an introductory mention of Equiano as one of the “curiosities” of the “four Africans [that] had their books published in London in the last 30 years of the 18th century,” the article does not engage in any analysis of The Interesting Narrative directly.

That said, Nwoga addresses 18th century discussions of African literary merit, identity, and essentialist notions of racialization that (as many later authors have noted) predominated both the indictments and support of The Interesting Narrative at the time of its publication and in the prevalent literary scholarship on the text in the 1990’s and 2000’s. Specifically, Nwoga (albeit more directly addressing Phillis Wheatley’s poetry) dissects the implications of the more infamous segments of Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia (as would Boulukos in 2007) which reflect the “viscious ethnocentric circle of establishing norms from one community and judging the other by them,” and the extent to which those presumptions were challenged even within the time of Equiano’s promotion of his narrative (173). Nwoga proposes the argument that art/narratives/poetry created by Africans thrust into the “New World” and the very modes and contexts of that art must be examined “on the basis of African achievement in their continent;” an argument that was extensively pursued directly through Equiano scholarship by critics such as Chinua Achebe, Catherine Acholonu, etc. in later part of the 20th century (175). Frankly, I was surprised to find that Nwoga was so sparsely cited by some of these later critics.

Two Recommendations:

In the end, I would not recommend this article to the class. Despite the fact that I find Ngowa’s argument to be strikingly prescient (given its 1972 publication date) of the tone and tenor of later Equiano scholarship, the article does not directly address The Interesting Narrative. The arguments that Ngowa raises have been more extensively and pointedly explored by the Equiano scholars that followed him. For the purposes of our class discussion, this article would likely prove to be more of a reference point than a spur for productive discussion.

If we were to use this article, I would recommend the Keywords “African,” “American,” and “Racialization” as a tripartite set of corollary readings.

Osei-Nyame, Kwadwo. "The politics of 'translation' in African postcolonial literature: Olaudah Equiano, Ayi Kwei Armah, Toni Morrison, Ama Ata Aidoo, Tayeb Salih and Leila Aboulela." Journal of African Cultural Studies 21.1 (2009): 91-103. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

--JohnM (talk) 13:57, 27 October 2015 (UTC)

I located this article via Fordham Library Databases, searching for the terms “Olaudah Equiano Africa.”

Dr. Osei-Nyame is a lecturer in African Literature and does work on postcolonial studies at the University of London. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that he interprets Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative as part of (indeed, very nearly the beginning of – though he does not stress that point) a postcolonial tradition of “African self-reconstruction.” Osei-Nyame argues that the early chapters of the Interesting Narrative, with their repeated use of the collective pronoun ‘we’ and focus on ethnological descriptions of Equiano’s people, legitimize the African experience against the image of Equiano “educated and groomed as an Englishman as the frontispiece of his book shows.” Osei-Nyame views these early chapters through the lens of Chinua Achebe’s assertion that he “would be quite satisfied if my novels…did no more than teach my readers that their past – with all its imperfections – was not one long night of savagery.” Equiano is merely one text considered in the article, and it is only considered very briefly; Osei-Nyame calls upon examples of more contemporary African literature as well as on Toni Morrison’s Beloved to place Equiano within a tradition of “wrenching the distorted narration of this [African] history from the grip of the dominant narratives of colonialism.”

It is interesting to consider Equiano in terms of post-colonialism; nevertheless, I’m not recommending this article as a source for our potential discussion on the topic. Osei-Nyame’s article implies more than it delivers on the topic of Equiano, and he seems to glide past the most interesting part of his own narrative (at least, for our purposes) – that is, that an autobiography written in 1789 might legitimately be seen as a postcolonial text. The article made me think, but it did not quite convince me the way I hoped it would.

That said, I would select the keyword essays “African” and “performance” as possible keyword essays to dovetail with Osei-Nyame’s article.

Peskin, Lawrence. "Slavery at Home and Abroad." Captives and Countrymen: Barbary Slavery and the American Public, 1785-1816. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2009. 71-89. Print.

--LindseyP (talk) 02:23, 28 October 2015 (UTC)

How I found this source:
I found this source by searching "Equiano AND slavery" on Google Books. I was able to access the book in the stacks of Fordham's Walsh Library.

Place in the scholarly conversation:
Peskin's book concerns itself with captivity narratives surrounding the Barbary crisis, which began in 1785 upon the capture of two American merchant ships, the Maria of Boston and the Dauphin of Philadelphia, by Algerian seamen; the Algerians proceeded to enslave the captured Americans. The book, which interacts with various critical publications on the Barbary crisis, is less concerned with the accounts of the captives than it is with the reactions of the captives' countrymen, and the chapter "Slavery at Home and Abroad" occurs within a section of the book that analyzes the effects of the captivity on Americans at home. The chapter states that, whereas the captives did not associate their self-acknowledged slavery with the enslavement of blacks back home, the white Americans back home occasionally did delineate the hypocrisy of their nation's simultaneous allowance of slaves and condemnation of Algerian slave holders. These accounts, according to Peskin, resemeble Equiano's narrative in that they challenge the roles of savage and civilized. In order to accomplish his argument, Peskin does a close textual analysis of many of these accounts.

Keywords: slavery, civilization, race
I conditionally recommend this article for class; if we want to consider a broader scope of slavery that is not immediately linked to Equiano, then this article would be helpful, as it gives a thorough assessment of the American response to slavery in the face of an unsettling event - namely, the Barbary crisis.

Plasa, Carl. Textual Politics From Slavery to Postcolonial: Race and Identification. New York: St. Martin Press, 2000. 9-31. Print

--Tjlaym06 (talk) 22:03, 23 October 2015 (UTC)

1. Where I found this source:

Using the Walsh Library search engine, I found a number of books on the topic of Equiano, and a found this publication.

2. How this fits into the scholarly conversation:

This source connects previous postcolonial theories to many texts including Equiano’s. In terms of a larger conversation, Plasa responds to Moira Ferguson’s Colonialism and Gender Relations From Mary Wollstonecraft to Jamaica Kincaid: East Caribbean Connections. Ferguson, though, is more interested in gender, and does not examine Equiano's narrative.

This book is cited by several sources, including an essay by Samantha Early writing in the African Studies Review about Equiano’s rhetorical move from the margins of society to the center. Several African Studies journals quote Plasa's book.

3. General Notes on the Chapter:

From this book I would like to recommend the chapter titled “’Almost an Englishman’: Colonial Mimicry in The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himself"

His thesis is that this text unfolds a double inscription; at one level it is autobiography unfolding, and at another it is a political project designed to further the abolitionists' cause.

Through the narrative he is concerned with books and the power they impart. This critic believes Equiano’s sees white texts as synecdoche for Enlightenment thought and ideas.

He continues to survey different philosophers of Equiano's day and decides that most thinkers saw fundamental differences between the races; it is this culture Enlightenment literature involves from.

In order to persuade the white reader to end the slave trade, Equiano needs to persuade the reader that he can fully partake in Enlightenment ideas, and the reader’s humanity.

Plasa then moves into this idea of mimicry taken from the work of Homi K. Bhabha. What he means by mimicry is, in this case, the colonizer reforming the Other. And yet, the colonizer wants the Other to still remain only a mimicker, not an actual Enlightened individual.

For Equiano, writing in imitation of the Enlightenment, mocks English ideas inherent or based in the Enlightenment, while putting forth himself as an example of a humanity fundamental to all people regardless of race.

4. Two Recommendations

I would recommend this article; it connects to several critical traditions including postcolonialism, theories of the public and private sphere, racial criticism, and studies of imperialism. If not all of Plasa’s claims are supported, yet he sill engages in major writer (Paul Gilroy, Vincent Carretta) working in the conversation. In terms of Keywords, I would recommend Black because of how the word relates to skin color. Secondly, I would recommend the word African, because of how important this essay is to African Studies, and how "African" is equated as a cultural Other.

--Tjlaym06 (talk) 03:35, 24 October 2015 (UTC)

Potkay, Adam. “Olaudah Equiano and the Art of Spiritual Autobiography.” African-American Culture in the Eighteenth-Century. Spec. issue of Eighteenth-Century Studies 27.4 (1994): 677-692. JSTOR. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

--MelissaK (talk) 16:50, 27 October 2015 (UTC)

How I found this Source: I was looking to read something about Equiano’s use of Biblical tropes in his narrative and several sources were citing this article. Since it was also cited in the Norton edition, I decided it might be good to have.

Place in the Scholarly Conversation: In this article, Potkay is claiming that Equiano wrote mainly as a Christian, using the same forms seen in other protestant narratives. He traces a parallelism between Equiano’s physical travels and the Old Testament tropes Equiano uses to interpret his journey, arguing that he writes his own life in imitation of the Biblical narratives and makes it a story of salvation. Ultimately, Potkay asserts that by using the Christian rhetoric, Equiano is able to see his life as a progression without ever denying his African homeland.

Two Recommendations: I would recommend this article if we decide to look at Equiano’s use of Christian rhetoric. Its argument would be interesting to compare to the idea that Equiano is writing as a European and to see where the identities converge and where they might pull apart enough to allow another voice to be heard.

As for Keywords, I would recommend “Identity” since its underlying claim is that Equiano identifies first and almost entirely as a Christian. I would like to consider the keyword Christianity for this article as well, as there are several different forms and Potkay never states which one supplies Equiano with his supposedly main identity as a Christian.

Potkay, Adam. "History Oratory and God in Equiano's Interesting Narrative." Eighteenth Century Studies 34.4 (2001): 601-614. Project MUSE. Web. 29 October 2015

How I found this Article

Trying shamelessly to smuggle some of my own interests into this project, I did a Google scholar search for “Equiano Cicero.” This is what came up.

Place in the Conversation.

This article is part of a three-article forum on teaching Equiano (the other articles are by Aravamudan and Roxanne Wheeler). Potkay is the Chair of the English department at William and Mary and works on Romantic and Enlightenment intellectual history.

Against many of the critics we have read, The author challenges the postcolonial focus on Equiano, suggesting that the tools of post-colonialism are ill-equipped to grasp the “Christian, oratorical, and colonial world” to which this text properly belongs. Potkay, to give one example, challenges critics like Aravamudan and Helen Thomas, who (if we accept Potkay’s reading) in an attempt to see Equiano as a slyly civil hybrid resister, try to downplay his Christianity.

This article caught me off-guard at several turns—I first expected it to be about oratory, then about pedagogy, but finally found what amounts to an invective against the oversights of postcolonial studies. While I am not sure if I agree with Potkay, something about this constellation of shifting expectations seems appropriate for our class. I recommend this article.


It might be useful to look at the word “modern” in conjunction with this article, since the author is attempting (in one sense) to disentangle the complexities of reading equiano as a “modern” in (post)modernity.

--JoPR (talk) 02:31, 30 October 2015 (UTC)

Pudaloff, Ross J. “No Change without Purchase: Olaudah Equiano and the Economies of Self and Market.” Early American Literature 40.3 (2005): 499-527. JSTOR. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

--MelissaK (talk) 14:36, 27 October 2015 (UTC)

How I found this Source: I found this article cited in one of John Bugg’s articles. I also noticed that this article cited several other notable scholars and decided to read it.

Place in the Scholarly Conversation: In this article, Ross Pudaloff begins by claiming that Equiano used commerce to build his identity as an equal with white men. However, the article goes on to cover his piety, his retention of African values, his role in the abolition movement, his use of the chiasmus to challenge white authority, and the political context of his time. While I think Pudaloff is trying to use these to support his claim that they are all tied to commerce and that they can easily fold in on themselves, he spends most of his time situating himself among the other scholars in the field which makes his argument difficult to follow and somewhat weak. He references the work of Carretta, Baker, Potkay, Linebaugh, Rediker, Edwards, Shaw, Sabino, Hall, and Shyllon to show how commerce is an influential and therefore integral piece of Equiano’s life.

Two Recommendations: I would not recommend this article for the class. While his argument sounds interesting, I think that Pudaloff’s presentation of it renders it confusing. His ideas turn on each other so frequently that I am unsure as to what he is actually claiming.

However, I will recommend the Keyword essays “Identity,” “Capitalism,” and “Economy” as Pudaloff argues that Equiano’s identity was a result of his participation in the economic structure of the British Empire.

Sabino, Robin, and Jennifer Hall. "The Path Not Taken: Cultural Identity in the Interesting Life of Olaudah Equiano." MELUS 24.1 (1999): 5-19. ProQuest. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.

--PatrickS (talk) 18:09, 22 October 2015 (UTC)

How I found this Source:

This article was referenced in an early footnote in Boulukos’s "OLAUDAH EQUIANO AND THE EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY DEBATE ON AFRICA." Chasing that citation, I found the article through the MLA database.

Place in the Scholarly Conversation:

This article tugs at quite a few threads in Equiano scholarship. The authors’ overarching claim is that, despite criticism that makes pointed not of Equiano’s adoption of British sovereignty/citizenship and his “defense” of and participation in the chattel slavery system, Equiano “remained Igbo throughout his lifespan,” and that his “pre-slavery existence largely determined his response to slavery,” and his “highly selective” acculturation to “Anglo-Christian values,” (5).

In service of that project, Sabino and Hall first refute the (mostly 18th century contemporary) claims that The Interesting Narrative was ghost written. They go on to challenge claims to the unilateral extent of Equiano’s “acculturation,” (notably those of Susan Marren and Geraldine Murphy) by asserting that Equiano was neither “permanently [n]or temporarily acculturated to Anglo-Christian values,” nor that his “response to slavery was uniformly negative,” (8). As proof of the latter claim, Sabino and Hall note that Equiano was able to (overtly in the narrative) use the experience of the more mitigated slavery practiced on the African continent (and his “benevolent” attempts to use implement something more akin to that form in his capitalist enterprises in the Americas) as a narrative mode for roundly condemning the chattel slavery system. To the former claim, the article cites Equiano’s “conversion” to Anglo-Christian values as an “accumulative process” that built upon, rather than effaced, his Igbo religious heritage and practice.

Perhaps the most interesting element of this argument is that both the narrative and (by an extension necessitated by their invocation of Rabinowitz’s claim that “autobiography does not separate rhetorical purpose from self-assessment”) physical Equianos- or is it Vassas- embody the trope of the “trickster-hero” of African mythology. This claim is not entirely borne out (and the authors’ own notes that, having been enslaved as a child, Equiano could have only had a nascent understanding of that mythological history seem to problematize the claim itself), but it may prove to be a productive avenue of discussion for the dilemmas inherent in ascribing overly simplistic notions of “race,” “nationality,” or “religion,” to either Equiano the man or to his narrative.

Two Recommendations:

I wouldn’t recommend this article for our class discussion, at least not very highly. While some of the claims of Equiano’s “cultural syncretism,” and “selective acculturation,” are worth discussing, the article as a whole gestures toward the more recent scholarship in dialogue with Carretta. It would probably be more productive to focus on that more recent work. If we do decide on this article, I would recommend the keywords “African,” “Identity,” “Naturalization,” and “Freedom.”

Samuels, Wilfred. “Disguised Voice in The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African.” Black American Literature Forum 19.2 (1985): 64–69. JSTOR. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.

--LindseyP (talk) 01:21, 28 October 2015 (UTC)

How I found this source:
I found this source in the Works Cited section of the Marren article. After searching for the article on the Fordham library webpage, I was able to access it via JSTOR.

Place in the scholarly conversation:
Samuels is currently a professor of English and Ethnic Studies at the University of Utah. He is the founder of the African American Literature and Culture Society of the American Literary Association. He has written extensively on Equiano.
In this article, Samuels argues against a "common error" of critics who fail to see that Equiano veils his true narrative intentions behind a humble, deferential voice; in contrast, Samuels contends that Equiano constructs a narrative mask in order to capture the attention of whites without offending them. While not denying the critic Frances Foster Smith's contention that Equiano promotes "gentlemanly humanitarianism," Samuels argues that Equiano seeks to accomplish his mission by gaining control both over the narrative and over the white reader. Samuels concludes, "it is the implicit posture, grounded in the signification of warriorhood to his traditional African community, that eventually presents the represented self that he has chosen to amplify in the hidden purpose of his narrative" (68).

Keywords: slavery, abolition, identity
While this article certainly has its merits, I do not recommend it for class. It is relatively short in length, which isn't in itself a bad thing, but, as we must be selective in our choices, I think that other articles could offer a more expansive perspective on the topics we choose to discuss.

Smith, Valerie. "Form and Ideology in Three Slave Narratives." Self-Discovery and Authority in Afro-American Narrative. Cambridge: Harvard University Press: 1987. 9-43. Print.

Valerie Smith is a distinguished scholar of African American literature who was recently named the 15th president of Swarthmore College. Previously, at Princeton University, she served as a dean, the Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature, and Professor in both the English and African American Studies departments. Smith has made extensive contributions to African American literary studies. The fact that she, along with and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., edited The Norton Anthology of African American Literature in itself attests to her scholarly legacy and esteem. While browsing my personal library and considering whose voices might provide important contributions to our collective bibliography I found a copy of Smith’s book Self-Discovery and Authority in Afro-American Narrative; through a combination of skimming and using the index I located this chapter in which she discusses Equiano. Here Smith contributes to larger discussions on African American literature, genre, and abolition.

Smith’s literary and historical analysis extends the work of William Andrews and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and begins by articulating the uncertain status of slave narratives as fields of literary critical inquiry, which stems from their highly negotiated status—“the relationship between narrator and text was triangulated through the ordering intelligence of a white amanuensis or editor”—and their formulaic pattern (9). As pieces of abolitionist propaganda, slave narratives conformed to a particular set of conventions, which for some call into question their literary merit and value as autobiography; however, Smith turns to the narratives of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, and Olaudah Equiano because she argues they “elude the domination of received generic structures and conventions” on both aesthetic and political levels, which demonstrates liberating acts of resistance “even to the domination of their white allies” (9; 11). Smith considers what she calls Equiano’s “double voice” as a way of asserting authority over ideologies inherent in the black conversion narrative form which traditionally “appropriated a rhetoric that denies the value of independence of mind and will” (13). The doubleness of Equiano’s young “African heritage” and his adult “European acculturation,” according to Smith, allows him to take a critical stance against the society he otherwise admires (20). I recommend the keyword essays on “Abolition” and “Slavery,” which work well since this chapter considers the complicated status of slave narratives as highly mediated abolitionist propaganda and subversive pieces of literature that exercise authority. I really enjoyed this chapter, but given its somewhat dated status (1987) I think its important contributions in terms of Equiano are residual in more recent scholarship and therefore I do not recommend this piece as collective reading for the class.

--JessicaD (talk) 23:47, 27 October 2015 (UTC)

Wiley, Michael. "Consuming Africa: Geography And Identity In Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative." Studies In Romanticism 44.2 (2005): 165-179. Humanities International Index. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

--KatieS (talk) 13:52, 27 October 2015 (UTC)

1. I found this source by searching "Equiano, Romanticism" on the Fordham library database. This piece comes from the journal Studies in Romanticism.

2. Michael Wiley, professor at the University of North Florida, works primarily in the field of British Romanticism. He opens this article by responding other scholars' claims regarding Equiano's birthplace and identity, but quickly shifts to a different topic that nonetheless deals with his hybrid identity: Equiano's place in the cannibalization of Africa by Europeans. Throughout the rest of the article, Wiley discusses that myriad mentions of food, eating, dietary rules in his autobiography, as well as several explicit mentions of European cannibalism. Wiley claims that just as Europe consumed Africa, European culture consumed Equiano, the African. Equiano, in turn, becomes part of cannibalistic Europe (following the idea of "you are what you eat"), a process that culminates when Equiano purchases himself. The end of this article returns a conversation about identity with the fact that Equiano identifies himself by two names, "Oladah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa."

3. This article was incredibly interesting, though horrifying in its description of British cannibalism at sea. I would not recommend reading article before eating. Putting potential nausea aside, I'm still not sure that this article would be the most productive for our conversation. A few of Wiley's claims seemed to be stretches, and parts of the article were repetitive. Overall, I do not recommend that we read this article.

However, if the class does decide that this piece is worth reading, I would recommend the Keyword "Body" because of the article's concern with the physical act of eating, especially the act of consuming another human body. "Slavery" would also be a good Keyword to read, for obvious reasons.

Zafar, Rafia. "It Is Natural to Believe in Great Men." We Wear the Mask: African Americans Write American Literature, 1760-1870. New York: Columbia UP, 1997. 89-116. Print.

--KatieS (talk) 00:06, 28 October 2015 (UTC)

1. I found this book by looking through the bibliography in the back of the Norton Critical Edition of The Interesting Narrative. Upon Googling the book, I found that it contained several sections dealing with Equiano. I checked out the book from Fordham's library, and based on the number of index references, I decided to read Chapter 4, "It Is Natural to Believe Great Men."

2. Rafia Zafar is a Professor of English, African & African-American, and American Cultural Studies at Washington University. She writes primarily on 19th African-American literature and the literature of the Harlem Renaissance.We Wear the Mask, a book about the transformation in which African writers living in America began to think of themselves and their literature as "African-American," fits squarely within her research interests.

Chapter 4, "It is Natural to Believe in Great Men," is primarily a comparison of the autobiographies of Benjamin Franklin and Frederick Douglass, and shows how Douglass used Franklin's idea of the "self-made man" in his own story. However, it also situates Equiano's autobiography (and few other lesser-known writings) in conversation with Douglass and Franklin. Zafar suggests that Equiano acts as something of a prelude to Douglass in that he, too, engages with the desire for personal success in a very "American" way. She also briefly discusses Equiano's European-influenced ideas about capitalism and culture, ideas that are also apparent in Douglass' writings.

3. I do not recommend this reading. Unfortunately, the majority of the chapter deals solely with Douglass and Franklin. I can only see it being a useful reading if we really delve into the history of African-American autobiography. Even then, I'm a bit skeptical. The chapter is heavy on biographical details about the various writers, and as such, I don't see it developing into a fruitful discussion.

Should we choose to look at this reading, I would recommend "Family" and "Economy." In addition to addressing the writers' similar views on capitalism and the economy, Zafar also notes that these men had troubled or virtually non-existent familial experiences.