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Slavery and Memory in the Black Atlantic


Admission requirements



Slavery is more than just a horrific event in the past. It is a disruptive transatlantic process that lasted more than four centuries and created what Paul Gilroy has called the “Black Atlantic,” a “culture that is not specifically African, American, Caribbean, or British, but all of these at once,” a transnational counterculture that continues to inform cultural and (trans)national identities throughout the Atlantic world. The polyfony and transnational character of this counterculture will be reflected in this course, in which we will look at slavery from a Black Atlantic perspective. We will first study how slavery was represented and contested in early 19th-century slave testimonies, fiction, and historical texts from across the Atlantic world; then we’ll study how in the 1930s it gave rise to cultural and ideological movements in the French and later Hispanic Caribbean that centered on a (pan-)African identity; and finally we will focus on the ways that the memory of slavery has been reclaimed by diasporic Africans in North and Latin American and (Dutch, French, and Hispanic) Caribbean literature and film, as well as in memorial culture (monuments, museums), in the past few decades.
Four thematic blocks will centre around:
1) The epoch of slavery, its testimonies and critics. Questions of ethics, identity construction, resistance, and religion will be studied in this block, such as slave testimony by former slave Frederick Douglass and Herman Melville’s novella Benito Cereno, which provide a counter-narrative to the “official” history of slavery.
2) Emancipation, Négritude and Rastafari: nostalgia for an African identity in the Black Atlantic.
3) Double Diaspora: gender, migration and the nomadic in black Atlantic identity. Drawing on trauma and memory 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.
4) Dynamics of Memory of Slavery in museums, monuments, and cultural practices. Questions of the construction and representation of national and cultural identities. We will talk about recent public debates about the meaning and commemoration of this painful and shameful chapter in the history of the Atlantic World
Note: all texts will be read in English (translation).

Course objectives

This course aims to

  • give students a critical understanding of the ways slavery has been represented, contested and remembered in autobiographical and fictional texts and films in various geographical, language and culture areas as well as in contemporary museum exhibits and other forms of memorialization, with a basic understanding of their historical and cultural contexts.

  • to give students a critical understanding of relevant theoretical concepts such as the Black Atlantic, diaspora, and Négritude.

  • help students develop their skills to conduct independent research.

  • help students develop oral and written communication skills (discussion, presentation, essay).


The timetable will be available by June 1st on the

Mode of instruction

Weekly seminar and two excursions to museums.

Course Load

10 ec = 280 hours

  • Seminars: 2 hours per week x 13 weeks = 36 hours

  • Studying compulsory readings for seminars and museum visits =124 hours

  • Preparing oral (group) presentation = 20 hours

  • Writing of final course paper, c. 3000 words = 100 hours (rereading texts, collecting research material, researching and reading additional literature, writing of paper)

Assessment method

Oral presentation (20 %), participation (10 %) and research essay c. 3000 words (70 %)


Blackboard will be used to provide students with specific information about (components of) the course, such as course syllabus, some of the assigned readings, discussion questions, and essay topics.

Reading list

Provisional reading list

  • Narrative of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (Dover Thrift edition; also available on Blackboard).

  • Morrison, Toni, Beloved (Vintage)

  • Maryse Condé, I, Tituba , Black Witch of Salem (U of Virginia P)

Additional texts will be assigned later (course syllabus will be made available on Blackboard in January 2016)


Students are required to register for this course via uSis, the course registration system of Leiden University. General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs


Course coordinator is dr. Joke Kardux.


All other information.