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Memory and Postcolonial Studies

Synergies and New Directions

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Edited By Dirk Göttsche

In the postcolonial reassessment of history, the themes of colonialism, decolonisation and individual and collective memory have always been intertwined, but it is only recently that the transcultural turn in memory studies has enabled proper dialogue between memory studies and postcolonial studies. This volume explores the synergies and tensions between memory studies and postcolonial studies across literatures and media from Europe, Africa and the Americas, and intersections with Asia. It makes a unique contribution to this growing international and interdisciplinary field by considering an unprecedented range of languages and sources that promotes dialogue across comparative literature, English and American studies, media studies, history and art history, and modern languages (French, German, Greek, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian-Croatian, Spanish).

Combining theoretical discussion with innovative case studies, the chapters consider various postcolonial politics of memory (with a focus on Africa); diasporic, traumatic and «multidirectional memory» (M. Rothberg) in postcolonial perspective; performative and linguistic aspects of postcolonial memory; and transcultural memoryscapes ranging from the Black Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, from overseas colonialism to the intra-European legacies of Habsburg, Ottoman and Russian/Soviet imperialism. This far-reaching enquiry promotes comparative postcolonial studies as a means of creating more integrated frames of reference for research and teaching on the interface between memory and postcolonialism.

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“My name is not Tom”: Josiah Henson’s fight to reclaim his identity in Britain, 1876–1877 (Hannah-Rose Murray)

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Hannah-Rose Murray

“My name is not Tom”:Josiah Henson’s fight to reclaim his identity in Britain, 1876–1877

Abstract

Formerly enslaved African American Josiah Henson travelled to Britain in 1876 to much fanfare and excitement. Regarded as the inspiration of ‘Uncle Tom’ from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s famous novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the British public flocked to hear Henson speak. However, Henson had to work against the stereotypes associated with the character and the racist caricatures of black people prevalent in the 1870s. Henson fought against the twisted memory of slavery and sought to remind British audiences of the violent nature of the institution. This was complicated by Britain’s investment in a narrative I term ‘superior displacement’: British society remembered slavery through the act of forgetting, which placed greater emphasis on the American memory of slavery and ignoring its own past with the slave trade and its subsequent legacies. Abolitionists and reformers often made Henson’s battle more difficult too, and sometimes politicized his life and impact for their own ends, most clearly demonstrated in The Young People’s Illustrated Edition of Uncle Tom’s Story of His Life, published in 1877. Regardless of such complex dynamics, Henson reasserted his identity and rejected the epithet of ‘Uncle Tom’ whenever he could.

The cataclysmic end of the American Civil War signalled the decline in black abolitionist transatlantic journeys to Britain. Between 1876 and 1895, only three activists received extensive coverage in the British press: Josiah Henson, Frederick...

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