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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Spring 2006

E 395M • Recovering Slavery: Trauma, Memory, Culture

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
34070 TTh
2:00 PM-3:30 PM

Course Description

In a phenomenon that demonstrates the vestiges of cultural trauma- or what Ron Eyerman (Cultural Trauma) refers to as the "dramatic loss of identity and meaning [and] a tear in the social fabric"--dispersed slave descendants in unprecedented numbers actively seek recovery and disclosure about the slave past, whether monetary restitution or reparations, culture, artifacts, and memorabilia. Yet, such recovery, in effect, troubles the archives, calling attention to exclusionary practices in historical compilations (as when the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, amid controversy, referred to the U.S. Constitution as a "flawed document" for its early exclusion of slaves). This course therefore proposes two primary objectives. Engaging Jacques Derrida's Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, it first critiques the very process by which archives hide their own raison d'etre (or what Toni Morrison calls the escape from knowledge that was required to erase so much history about race and slavery in the first place). In its second objective, the course recovers the absented slave whose subjectivity is reclaimed through collective cultural memory practices (libation ceremonies, rituals, relics), heritage sites, texts, and reparations movements, precipitated by unresolved trauma.

The course first gleans South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission--which exchanged amnesty for full disclosure about brutalities under Apartheid--as a template for recovery efforts undertaken by slave descendants in the international community. Given its symbolic interlocking with slavery, the TRC engages trauma, memory, and recovery. Haile Gerima's haunting film, Sankofa, and South Africa's Long Night's Journey Into Day ferment discussion about recovery and modernity, e.g. the African Burial Grounds of Manhattan, slavery re-enactment at Colonial Williamsburg, and the 300 year-old slave ship Henrietta Marie at Key West. In a segment titled found(l)ing fathers, the course reveals previously undisclosed information about George Washington's and Thomas Jefferson's complex public policies and private practices regarding slavery that metaphorize a nationalist patriarchy around suppression and denial. The segment concludes with Suzan-Lori Parks's The America Play which, at once, critiques the absence of blacks from history and destabilizes history itself through an African American's repetitive dramatization of Lincoln's assassination. The America Play as text is paired with the Zapruder film about the Kennedy assassination to show how popular culture provides a framework for (re)making history.

Finally, the course critiques the notion that literature or imaginative fiction--including a Pulitzer Prize winning novel about blacks enslaving blacks--represents the best possibility for reconstituting a slave subject that has long been fragmented and disembodied in the historical record. The binding of the slave subject in texts like Morrison's Beloved, Phillips's Cambridge, Jones's The Known World, Martin's Property with certain strategies of intervention and resistance at relevant heritage sites destabilizes or troubles the archives as repository of information and as venue for literary instruction or pedagogy. Ultimately, the course seeks to answer the following: what are the limits of archives, and what is the measure of recovery? Can the slave subject ever be reclaimed fully?


Garry Wills, "Negro President": Jefferson & the Slave Power.

Henry Wiencek, George Washington: Imperfect God.

Eichstedt and Small, Representations of Slavery.

Suzan-Lori Parks, The America Play and Other Works.

Toni Morrison, Beloved.

Edward P. Jones, The Known World.

Caryl Phillips, Cambridge.

Carol Martin, Property.

Jacques Derrida, On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness.

Films (UGL audio-visuals Reserve)

Long Night's Journey Into Day.



The Old African Blasphemer.

Middle Passage.

The African Burial Ground: an American Discovery.

Africans in America.

Slave Reparations.


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