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Slavery and Memory in Transatlantic Perspective


Admission requirements



2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the Dutch Caribbean colonies as well of the Emancipation Proclamation (if not yet the end of slavery) in the U.S. On the occasion of the 2013 commemorations, this course will study what Toni Morrison has called the “black presence” in the work of canonical nineteenth- and twentieth-century American writers like Stowe, Melville, and Faulkner as well as slave testimonies by former slaves such as Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Jacobs that provide a counter-narrative to the “official” history of slavery. In the second half of the course, we will study the ways in which, since the late 1970s, the slavery past has been revisited in African American literature, in films and in other cultural productions, sparking intense public debates over the meaning and commemoration of this painful and shameful chapter not only in the U.S., but throughout the Atlantic World. Drawing on trauma theories, we will explore the role literature, film, art, and slavery monuments have played in the construction of the public memory of slavery (and its forgetting) as well as the creation of black diasporic identities and communities. In the last part of the course we will visit and study a couple of museum exhibits on slavery commemorating the abolition of slavery in the former Dutch colonies. Although the emphasis will be on the memory of slavery in the U.S., the Dutch commemoration will provide an opportunity for studying the memorialization of slavery from a comparative, transatlantic perspective. Among the films we will see are Griffith’s landmark movie Birth of a Nation (1915; 1933), Bouchareb’s Little Senegal (2001), and Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012).

Course objectives

This course aims to

  • hone students’ analytical and critical skills through in-depth reading of literary texts, films and museum exhibits in their historical and cultural contexts.

  • introduce students to trauma theory and memory studies

  • develop critical understanding of the concept of U.S. exceptionalism through comparative analysis

  • develop students’ skills to conduct independent research

  • develop students’ oral and written communication skills
    develop their ability to apply theoretical and critical insights in a research essay


See timetable

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

  • Oral presentation and participation (30 %)

  • research essay c. 4000 words (70 %)


Blackboard will be used

Reading list

  • Stowe, Harriet Beecher, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Penguin)

  • Douglass, Frederick, Narrative of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (Norton Anthology of American Literature [NAAL], vol. B; also available on Blackboard)*

  • Melville, Herman, Benito Cereno (NAAL, vol. B, also available on Blackboard)*

  • Faulkner, William, Go Down, Moses (Vintage, ISBN-10: 0679732179)

  • Butler, Octavia, Kindred (Beacon Press)

  • Morrison, Toni, Beloved (Vintage)

  • Gaines, Ernest, A Gathering of Old Men (Vintage)

  • Eshun, Ekow, The Black Gold of the Sun: Searching for Home in England and America (Penguin)

  • Articles and excerpts on Blackboard
    NB: You don’t have to buy the Norton Anthology (NAAL) if you don’t have it already; just read the texts marked * on Blackboard


Via uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte

Registration Studeren à la carte


Students are expected to have read Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin before the course starts.