ZOOM SEMINAR: Race, Slavery, and the Perils of Gift-Giving: Rereading The Liberty Bell and Cassey's Album

  • Date: –16:00
  • Location: Via Zoom
  • Lecturer: Alexandra Urakova, Johan Peter Falck Fellow, SCAS. Senior Researcher, A.M. Gorky Institute of World Literature, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow
  • Website
  • Organiser: Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS)
  • Contact person: Klas Holm
  • Seminarium

Alexandra Urakova, SCAS and Russian Academy of Sciences, gives a seminar on "Race, Slavery, and the Perils of Gift-Giving: Rereading The Liberty Bell and Cassey's Album". The talk will be followed by a Q&A session.


Nineteenth-century ideology and language of the gift are closely intertwined with the question of race and slavery, which is especially true for the North-American literary history. In my presentation, I will discuss the racial dimension of the sentimental language of gift-giving and its role in the construction of racial identity. The presentation consists of two parts and two case studies respectively. In the first part, I will examine the popular idea of freedom as a gift that circulated in the pages of an antislavery gift book, The Liberty Bell (1839-1857). A Christmas present and a sacrifice on the altar of emancipation, the gift book was itself a materialized “freedom’s gift” distributed at anti-slavery fairs that were held by female abolitionists at Christmastime throughout the antebellum years. No surprise it contributed to the meta-narrative of white benevolence – the story of unilateral gift-giving from white abolitionists to their Black “brethren.” While reconstructing the mainstream rhetoric of The Liberty Bell, I will also discuss texts that disrupted this meta-narrative by addressing the subject of harmful, useless, or inconsiderate gifts to the slaves. The second part will examine the way free black communities used sentimental culture of giftgiving as they were seeking an alternative and more positive way of appreciating communal reciprocity, on the example of the antebellum Philadelphia friendship album belonging to a Black abolitionist Amy Mathilda Cassey. Reading the album through the lens of terminology suggested by Roberto Esposito, I will discuss how the album contributors constructed their communal identity through trivial but meaningful acts of gift-giving, gestures of attention, support, and solidarity.

For more information and the Zoom link, please see the enclosed PDF file or http://www.swedishcollegium.se/subfolders/Events.html.

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