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Approaching Transnational America in Performance

Edited By Birgit M. Bauridl and Pia Wiegmink

The volume is uniquely located at the interdisciplinary crossroads of Performance Studies and transnational American Studies. As both a method and an object of study, performance deepens our understanding of transnational phenomena and America’s position in the world. The thirteen original contributions make use of the field’s vast potential and critically explore a wide array of cultural, political, social, and aesthetic performances on and off the stage. They scrutinize transnational trajectories and address issues central to the American Studies agenda such as representation, power, (ethnic and gender) identities, social mobility, and national imaginaries. As an American Studies endeavor, the volume highlights the cultural, political, and (inter)disciplinary implications of performance.

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Staging the Black Atlantic: Fugitive Slaves in William Wells Brown’s The Escape (1858) (Frank Obenland)

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Frank Obenland

Staging the Black Atlantic: Fugitive Slaves in William Wells Brown’s The Escape (1858)

Abstract: William Wells Brown’s The Escape; or, A Leap for Freedom (1858) critiques American slavery from the transnational perspective of Paul Gilroy’s black Atlantic. Drawing on the performance traditions of Shakespearean drama and the minstrel show, the play constructs the figure of the ‘fugitive slave’ to challenge dominant discourses of nation and race.

Introduction

African American writer, intellectual, and reformer William Wells Brown is a foundational figure of nineteenth-century abolitionism on both sides of the Atlantic. As one of the most prolific African American writers of his time, Wells Brown exemplifies the complexity, vibrancy, and transnational character of the abolitionist movement during the antebellum period. Born as the son of a white father and an African American mother on a plantation in Kentucky, he spent the first twenty years of his life as a slave—gathering first-hand experience of the South’s ‘peculiar institution’ working as a field hand, domestic servant, a printer’s assistant, and as help for a slave trader along the Mississippi River. Making his escape to Canada in 1834, Wells Brown joined the Garrisonian branch of the abolitionist movement as a lecturer, activist, and writer who gained a wide audience for his autobiographical Narrative of William Wells Brown, A Fugitive Slave, Written by Himself, for a collection of abolitionist songs, and for his speeches on the abolitionist lecture circuit. In July...

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