John Akomfrah, Vertigo Sea, 2015

Passages to Freedom: Worlding the North American Slave Narrative

This DH project maps the paths out of slavery taken in 103 autobiographical slave narratives. In building on a surge of interest in recent years on black fugitivity, it provide a new way of studying mobility in the African-American slave narrative. My ultimate aim is to see if it is possible to distinguish different types of mobility described in the pre-Emancipation narratives in the North American Slave Narrative corpus.

My subtitle to the project, Worlding the North American Slave Narrative, suggests an additional aim of the project, which is geographical. I think it is very important to understand just how many former slaves chose to leave the United States behind to take up a life in other countries like Canada and the United Kingdom and refugee-friendly occupations like commercial shipping. This attention promises to reveal new information about race, ethnicity, and migration, as well as gender, as the only occupations open to black men in particular required of them various kinds of hypermobility that are staggering, and that have contemporary parallels today in the enormous migrant labor forces that work the world’s oil rigs, container ships, that build skyscrapers in places like Dubai and Singapore, etc.