The talk studies the entangled exploitation of human labor and natural resources in the early 19th-century Caribbean through the lens of selected slave narratives from the region. The exploitation of enslaved Africans as a cheap human labor force in the European colonies in the Caribbean went hand in hand with the (ab)use of the Caribbean nature as a profitable resource that profoundly impacted the region’s ecosystem. Caribbean slave narratives, known for their first-hand testimony on Atlantic slavery, offer crucial insights into the enslaved Africans’ experiences of nature and its uses in the colonial Caribbean. This connection and the contributions of slave narratives to its discussion have rarely been studied to date. The talk analyzes how the narratives of two former slaves in the British Caribbean, Mary Prince’s The History of Mary Prince (1831) and Ashton Warner’s Negro Slavery Described by a Negro (1831), depict land and water as exploitable (and exploited) natural resources whose profits provided the raison d’être for the exploitation of enslaved humans. In a coda, the paper further looks at the emancipative potential of nature, specifically water, for the emancipation of at least a few of the enslaved.
Astrid Haas is an Associate Professor in American Literature and Culture at the University of Bergen, Norway. She previously worked as a research fellow at the Institute for Black Atlantic Research at UCLan, supported by a Marie Curie Research Grant of the EU. Her research interests include InterAmerican and Atlantic Studies from the 18th to the 21st century, the genres of travel writing, drama, and autobiography, and the Black and Latinx Diasporas. Among others, she published the monographs Stages of Agency: The Contributions of American Drama to the AIDS Discourse (2011) and Lone Star Vistas: Travel Writing on Texas, 1821-1861 (2021). Her presentation is connected to her larger research “Black Inter-American Mobilities and Autobiography in the Age of Revolutions (1760-1860).”
Wednesday 20 September 12-13.00 (BST)
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