“Middle Passages: Histories & Poetics,” which will take place at the City University of New York Graduate Center (365 Fifth Avenue, NY, NY 10016) on May 6-7, 2010. This event which brings together some of the most prominent writers in the American Academy will be sponsored by CUNY’s Center for the Humanities, CUNY’s Ph.D. Program in History, CUNY’s Institute for Research on the African Diaspora, CUNY’s Atlantic Studies Seminar and NYU’s Humanities Initiative: “Working Group on Slavery and Freedom” led by Professor Jennifer L. Morgan and Professor Sibylle Fischer. The conference is also sponsored in collaboration with the journal Small Axe: A Caribbean Platform for Criticism.
The Middle Passage has long been a trope for unspeakable terror. Popes and abolitionists—white and black—invoked it as the specter of human dread. Artists and intellectuals depicted the Middle Passage as the penultimate expression of human suffering. As a sign of the Western encounter with Africa, modern scholars—besides those involved in the numbers’ game—have been reticent to press beyond the metaphorically significance of the Middle Passage. As a result, the Middle Passage has emerged as shorthand for human travail thereby rendering it both meaningful and meaningless. But a recent generation of scholars has been keen on discerning how the Middle Passage as social experience defined lives, histories and contemporary social selves.
In the last few years, publications on slavery and the slave trade have transformed the conceptual and historiographical landscape of what we knew, wrote alongside or against, and constituted the epistemological terrain through which the study of slavery and the slave trade were configured. As a result, new questions have supplanted previous ones thereby configuring a new conceptual horizon for slavery studies and the slave trade. Among the distinguished participants in this two-day event are: Vincent Brown (Harvard University), Yvette Christiansë (Fordham University), Saidiya Hartman (Columbia University), Stephanie Smallwood (University of Washington), James Sweet (University of Wisconsin), Eve Troutt-Powell (University of Pennsylvania) and Edlie Wong (Rutgers University).
It is our hope that our conversations during “Middle Passages: Histories & Poetics” will contribute to re-configuring the conceptual horizon of slavery studies through a focused dialogue.
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