Remembering the Middle Passage

English 390S-7.01

Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,in that grey vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up. The sea is History.

        --Derek Walcott

The Middle Passage, the route by which most enslaved persons were brought across the Atlantic to North America, is a crucial element of modern history.  Yet it has been notoriously difficult to document or memorialize.  For a long time, as Derek Walcott demonstrates, the best access to this history was through the illuminating imagination of a poet or fiction writer.  Recently, however, new strategies in history writing, as well as new digital methods of aggregating data, have rendered aspects of the passage newly intelligible.  This course will juxtapose multiple disciplinary approaches to remembering the Middle Passage—literary, historical, theoretical, archival, and digital—with the goal of asking how their intersections can help us understand its foundational role in the modern world.  In addition, the course will investigate the project of remembering itself, reading theories of memorialization, and researching the possibility of a deep sea memorial to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Possible texts for the course include: Stephanie Smallwood, Saltwater Slavery; Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother; Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano; Barry Unsworth, Sacred Hunger; Nourbese Philip, Zong!; Clipping, “The Deep”; Steven Spielberg, Amistad.

Students will be evaluated on short analytical papers, position papers, a collaborative research project and a related individual research project.

This course is affiliated with the Representing Migration Humanities Lab and the Data Expeditions program (https://bigdata.duke.edu/data-expeditions ).  A Data Expeditions representative will teach students to work with a data set of shipping routes drawn from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (www.slavevoyages.org ).  NO PRIOR EXPERIENCE IN DATA AGGREGATION OR DIGITAL MAPPING IS REQUIRED, though a willingness to learn these methods would be helpful.  Students will work on a collaborative project with this data set, then develop individual research projects by placing their findings in the context of imaginative literature and theories of memorialization to propose new ways of remembering the Middle Passage.

Flyer for Remembering the Middle Passage

Crosslisting Numbers: 

AAAS 390S