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Antislavery Poetry from San Francisco

Running man image from workshop poster

The Pacific Appeal was the leading African American newspaper on the West Coast during the early 1860s.  A newly-published set of eight antislavery poems from the journal's inaugural 1862 volume captures the sense of expectancy within the African American community for the imminent end of US slavery.  These poems include the work of James Madison Bell, a San Francisco plasterer, brickmason, and poet.  Read more... 
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The Antislavery Literature Project

Antislavery literature represents the origins of multicultural literature in the United States.

The goal of the Antislavery Literature Project is to increase public access to a body of literature crucial to understanding African American experience, US and hemispheric histories of slavery, and early human rights philosophies. These multilingual collections contribute to an educational consciousness of the role of many antislavery writers in creating contemporary concepts of freedom.

Antislavery literature represents the origins of multicultural literature in the United States. It is the first body of American literature produced by writers of diverse racial origins. It encompasses slave narratives, lectures, travel accounts, political tracts, prose fiction, poetry, drama, religious and philosophical literature, compendia, journals, manifestoes and children's literature. There is a complex and contradictory range of voices, from journalistic reportage to sentimental poetry, from racial paternalism and stereotyping to advocacy of interracial equality, from religious disputation to militant antislavery calls. In its whole, this literature is inseparable from an understanding of democratic development in US society.

The Antislavery Literature Project engages in public scholarship by providing educational access to the literature and history of the antislavery movement in the United States. Much antislavery literature remains unavailable to all but a small number of scholars. We encourage public use of and participatory contributions to literary and historical scholarship of slavery. We believe that public scholarship, where the academy and community meet to create and use cultural knowledge together, is an expression of engaged citizenship.

To accomplish this work, our project does historical research; digitization and production of electronic editions; and delivers annotated texts via the Internet. We emphasize a continuum between research, digitization, and teaching, and make a corpus of antislavery literature available for free for educational purposes. Further, to avoid redundant effort, our site links to the work of the community of digitization projects that have created publicly-available and not-for-profit electronic editions of antislavery literature.

As scanning technologies have altered digitization and large amounts of earlier American texts have become available online, the Project has shifted away from its earlier large-scale digitization work toward more selective projects.  In recent years our efforts have emphasized trans-cultural readings and translations.  We seek to locate the North American literature of slavery and emancipation within a global literature concerned with freedom.  We are currently working on translations of US slave narratives into Chinese, along with creating cross-cultural teaching guides.

Most of our work concerns the documents of historical US slavery, but the Project also maintains a collection of contemporary slave narratives edited by Kevin Bales and Zoe Trodd.  The literature of slavery continues to emerge today and the Project highlights this continuity.

We produce streaming video to interpret selected historical texts, to present research lectures, and to provide teaching models for antislavery literature. Videos include abolitionist choral music from the Antislavery Ensemble, in cooperation with the Arizona State University School of Music, and lectures from a Harvard University course on American social protest literature.  One recent multimedia project involves podcast readings of Frederick Douglass translations as a way to explore the translation history and international reception of early African American literature.

The Project is based at the English Department of Arizona State University and the EServer at Iowa State University's English Department.  It receives assistance from a diverse group of affiliates who support its scholarly and educational objectives.  With this community of  support, the Project has pursued public scholarship over the last decade.  In 2008 the National Endowment for the Humanities recognized the Project as "one of the best digital humanities projects" in a peer-reviewed national competition.