Our readings for this unit have provided us with a fascinating juxtaposition. On the one hand, we have been thinking through models of ethics–that is ways to redescribed how human beings signify their actions in relation to an idealized understanding of “the good” or “the optimal.” On the other hand, we have been reading about enslavement and the choices and technologies and politics that it entailed. The comparison of the two should give us pause as epic interpretations leave little room to critique, let alone villainize the self.

Beyond this we have been paying due attention to the way Black peoples have signified the world around them in light of the above occasion. This is not only to make sure that we recognize the agency that Black peoples have had in spite of deleterious institutions like slavery. It is also to recognize the nuance and techniques Black peoples have used to work out the good.

In today’s lab we are going to focus specifically on the idea of literacy as a site of these politics. I want us to pay attention to how three Black authors wrote their way through the New World–keeping in mind what we have learned about the historical discourse at play (this is a great plan to review the timeline on the truth-claims page). These writers were skilled readers of their context.

Equiano by Daniel Orme, frontispiece of his autobiography (1789). Courtesy of Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olaudah_Equiano

For each of the there three writers, you are going to do the following:

  1. Background Research–read Gomez (use your index) and look online to learn more about who, what, when, and where in regard to each author and their work.
  2. Study–read each author’s work and critically reflect on what you see.
    Pay special attention to discourses (and associated key terms) that we have used in class (e.g. vocabulary re: scriptures, myths, truth-claims, and especially ethics). And make sure to note what signs/symbols appear important in their work.
  3. Theorize–discuss what good is signified through their writing. How do you understand them and their work now?

After doing this for all three, I want you to put your work in a triple signifying chart to answer the following question:

Gomez discusses enslavement as an institution that required more than just coercion. To what extent is literacy an example of a tool of enslavement in the history of the African diaspora? Your answer should speak to the extent to which it is an example and not an example with the nuance of one who has done the work above and through the semester.

Case Studies

Phyllis Wheatley, “On Being Brought From Africa to America

Olaudah Equiano, “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano,” pages 131-136.

David Walker, Excerpts from “Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World.”