In my previous blog post on Black History Month, I discussed teaching black British and postcolonial literature, and using this as an opportunity to explore elements of black histories in Britain and globally. I also suggested that ‘texts studied such as the slave narrative connect in very specific ways to topics treated during Black History Month.’ Let us look a little further into this idea.
We examine black British and postcolonial experiences on other modules that I teach, as part of our exploration of the multiplicity of literature and identity. On my third-year module, HM6308 ‘Make It New’, which examines 20TH and 21ST Century British Literature, we study a 2003 novel written by the Scottish author James Robertson, called Joseph Knight. This novel treats the topic of slavery and Scotland’s historical role in imperialism and slavery in the Caribbean. Joseph Knight is based on the real historical figure, the slave Joseph Knight – see The Woyingi Blog, http://woyingi.wordpress.com/2011/10/31/transatlantic-lives-joseph-knight/.
For more detail on Robertson’s novel, read the Guardianreview of Robertson’s novel, written by this year’s Booker Prize nominee, the author Ali Smith: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/jun/07/fiction.alismith She argues that: ‘Robertson handles the mystery of who Joseph Knight really is with a subtle panache. Knight’s presence and absence are both melancholy sorts of escape; and the novel is full of people hopelessly enslaved: slaves, colliers, spinners, women – and, more than anybody, the imperialists themselves.’
The section called ‘History of Slavery’ on the Black History Month website http://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/also contains information about slavery which provides an interesting context to novels such as Robertson’s. Here, it states that: ‘Scots proudly played their part in the abolition of the trade. But for a time we misted over our role as perpetrators of this barbarism. Many of Scottish industries, schools and churches were founded from the profits of African slavery.’
These questions of race and narration deepen our study of literature, and further our understanding of its resonances and relevance during black History month and beyond.
© Dr Charlotte Beyer