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Durham University

Department of English Studies


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Freedom, Fragment, Form: An Emancipatory Study of West Indian Runaway Ads and the Romantic Fragment Poem

2nd December 2020, 16:00 to 17:00, Online (Zoom), Dr Rebecca Schneider (Fort Lewis College)

An Eighteenth and Nineteenth-Century Research Seminar. Open to Durham University community only.


British Romanticism has a race issue. This is to be expected of an era that corresponds with the height of the transatlantic slave trade. But what about the ways in which our disciplinary knowledge systems continue to perpetuate biases and exclusions? In partial answer, this talk applies existing modes of literary analysis to archival fragments. Namely, it demonstrates how Romantic-era West Indian runaway ads may be read as Romantic fragments to reveal social – rather than aesthetic – continuity of enslaved people’s narratives about their intentions for a free future. A portion of the talk draws from the speaker’s published essay on this subject, followed by new considerations around contemporary fiction as well as anti-/decolonial methods.

Like readers and critics encountering Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” novelists such as Colson Whitehead in Underground Railroad and Marlon James in The Book of Night Women add their imaginative labor to archival fragments to create narrative continuity and whole personhood for their enslaved subjects. Whitehead and James demonstrate the wider application of the talk’s argument. On the other hand, to the extent that reading runaway ads as Romantic fragments legitimizes and makes visible, it also privileges the colonizers’ and enslavers’ center of reference. What, then, of analyzing “Ozymandias” in the mode of a runaway ad?

About Rebecca L. Schneider

Rebecca L. Schneider earned her PhD in English at the University of Colorado (CU) and is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at Fort Lewis College (FLC) in Durango, CO, where she is also a member of the inaugural CU@FLC postdoc cohort. Rebecca teaches first-year writing and research, women’s literature, semantics, and British literature. She has taught Caribbean literature in addition to archival research methods at other institutions. In her research and publications, Rebecca positions archival materials within literary studies, including reading runaway slave ads as Romantic fragment poems or 18th-century Jamaican place names as epitaphs. She is working on a book about personhood in the colonial Anglophone Caribbean, specifically how Black and Indigenous people, most of whom were illiterate in English, influenced enslavers’ documentary framing of their intentions to live free. She has published in European Romantic Review and Social and Economic Studies, and has placed co-authored pieces in Symbiosis as well as in a forthcoming edited collection on anti- and decolonial archival research methods.

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