Confronting the ghostly legacies of slavery

Rice, Alan orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-2215-4727 and Cardux, Johanna C (2012) Confronting the ghostly legacies of slavery. Atlantic Studies: Literary, Historical and Cultural Perspectives, 9 (3). pp. 245-272. ISSN 1478-8810

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This introductory essay discusses the legacies of the transatlantic slave trade across three continents. It begins by investigating the historical amnesia about the trade which has only recently and in some geographies been ameliorated, taking as a point of departure observations by Nobel Prize Winners Derek Walcott and Toni Morrison, who were in the vanguard of a movement to memorialise it. The essay moves on to discuss not only traditional memorials, walking trails and artworks, but also ghostly legacies of the trade, including human body parts. Taking the small slave port of Lancaster, England, as a key case study, the essay draws on recent theoretical work on corporeality, spectrality, Holocaust studies, trauma, dark tourism, the Black Atlantic and memory studies to interrogate the meanings of these legacies. The way that black agency contributes to new understandings of the horrors of the slave trade is demonstrated by discussion of William Wells Brown's intervention at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Such “guerrilla memorialisation” is shown at work historically and in recent memorialisations of the trade. Moreover, its urgent need in the wake of contemporary issues of forced labour from the African continent is discussed. The final section on memorial landscapes summarises the essays in this volume and discusses the links between the various locales. France, which is trying to come to terms with its history through legislation and the creation of memorials, is discussed as a slave power case study. The new memorial in Nantes is an important municipal response to the legacy of the trade and by its esplanade design is linked back to the city trails in Britain discussed earlier in the essay. Other geographies with slaving pasts such as Wales and Mauritius are introduced, as well as the African Burial Ground in New York. The essay ends where it started, on the West Coast of Africa, with a reflection on heritage tourism and the complex legacies of slavery on the slave castle coast.

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