#BLACKLIVESMATTERS

Why is it important to understand the socio-historic context of anti-Black racism?

As we struggle for justice in the deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Tony McDade, João Pedro, D’Andre Campbell, Abdirahman Abdi, Adama Traore, Sandra Bland, Mark Duggan, and many more Black individuals, it becomes increasingly important to commit to an actively anti-racist model of education. There is an urgent need to re-evaluate the ways in which historians and larger society have prioritized the life histories of enslavers and slave traders, thus perpetuating the harmful legacies of history’s relationship to Blackness. As academics in this field, we have a duty to work with the Black community to ensure an accurate representation of the history of the African Diaspora. For this reason, an anti-racist model of education must expand beyond the university setting and be accessible to the general public.


Slavery and the slave trade were a historical trauma that worked to systematically devalue Black bodies, the disastrous consequences of which continue to be felt in contemporary society. While slavery may have been abolished in the British colonies in 1834, the United States in 1865, Haiti in 1804, and Brazil in 1888, its legacy remains evident in the disproportionate rate at which Black individuals are arrested, incarcerated, and subjected to lethal force by agents of the criminal justice system. This targeted policing of Black people extends beyond the courts and prisons and is found in education, child welfare, social assistance and healthcare. Learning about the brutality of the slave trade, means acknowledging the deep systemic roots of anti-Black racism. Only once we understand these roots can we begin to deconstruct modern systems of oppression.

"Equiano’s World" and the SHADD digital humanities initiatives hope to contribute to this discussion by documenting and amplifying the voices of the enslaved. In addition to posting educational resources on the history of the Atlantic slave trade, we hope to highlight the resistance and resilience of the African Diaspora, by providing access to first person testimonies of slavery, such as The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, written by Gustavus Vassa, the subject of this biographical site.

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Introducing Equiano's World

This project on Gustavus Vassa (Olaudah Equiano) focuses on the movement to abolish the trans-Atlantic slave trade and ultimately to emancipate the Africans and their descendants who had been enslaved. The subject of the project is the life story of Olaudah Equiano, the enslaved Igbo boy who was later known by the name given to him as a slave, Gustavus Vassa. He identified himself as African, sometimes as Ethiopian and ethnically as "Egbo," that is Igbo. The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African, as Published by Himself, first appeared in March 1789. The release of nine editions in Britain and one in New York were influential in the abolition of the British slave trade, which was implemented in 1807. Because of the book's literary merit and its political significance it has remained in print in several popular editions which are currently widely read in English literature and Black Studies courses at universities in North America, Britain and Africa.

His contribution is highlighted in hundreds of articles and books devoted to an interpretation of his impact, which has been organized on this website. The story of this most interesting African and black Briton is sometimes labeled the classic slave narrative, written in the richness of eighteenth-century literature, has subsequently shaped a whole genre of literature identified as "slave narratives."  Considering Olaudah Equiano did not know any English until he was eleven or twelve, whereupon he became known as Gustavus Vassa, this extraordinary recognition confirms his historical importance and moral influence. In the early 1790s, the heady days influenced by Revolutionary France on those interested in Parliamentary reform, the abolition of the slave trade, and the ending of slavery. Vassa was arguably the most influential Black in London at a time when the Black community numbered perhaps 20,000, making London one of the largest “African” cities, if not the largest, in the world at the time.

There is a considerable body of information presented here, much of it originally published in the various editions of The Interesting Narrative. Moreover, there is extensive scholarly analysis of different aspects of Vassa/Equiano’s significance and his place in the period in which he lived. The Equiano's World project builds on that knowledge. Considerable historical work remains to be undertaken, particularly with regard to the relationship of Vassa to the Black poor of London, his friendship with radical leader, Thomas Hardy, who was tried for treason in 1794, his marriage to a white woman, Suzannah Cullen, his commercial activities, his observations in the Caribbean, his involvement in the Mosquito Shore venture of Dr. Charles Irving, and his fascination with the Muslim world of the Ottoman Empire. The papers of the leading abolitionists, intellectuals and political figures of the late eighteenth century and those who subscribed to the various editions of The Interesting Narrative reveal connections into British society that are astonishing in their range and depth. The research being conducted on places and individuals that were important in Vassa’s life lends itself to dissemination of new knowledge via the internet.

This website is divided into different sections that establish the context in which Vassa lived, explore the places where he traveled, and the people whom he knew. There is also a section that raises questions surrounding Vassa's life, including where he was born to his views on race and slavery, and hosts a forum for discussion and queries. Studying Equiano provides access to primary documents, published scholarly analysis and web links relevant to the times and places of Vassa's life. Taken together, Equiano's World is an adventure into the history of abolition, accessible to scholars, students and the interested public.

 



Gustavus Vassa frontispiece, painted by William Denton and engraved by Daniel Orme, The Interesting Narrative (1789).

Project Direction

Paul E Lovejoy

Project Director

Bruno Véras

Project Coordinator

Kartikay Chadha

Technical Team Lead

Carly Downs

Content Coordinator

Fernanda Sierra Suárez

Design Consultant

Leidy Alpízar

Administrative Coordinator

Acknowledgments




Academic Contributions


Peitra Arana

Kathleen Chater

Margaret Crosby-Arnold

Mark Duffill

Feisal Feisal

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Jordan Goodman

Jeffrey Gunn

David Imbua

Henry B. Lovejoy

John S. Michael

Karl Offen

Karlee Sapoznik

Suzanne Schwarz

Susan Snell

Arthur Torrington



Technical and Website Assistants


Areeba Abidi

Carlos Algandona

Yacine Daddi Addoun

Hakim Klif

Fahad Qayyum

Rand Saoor

Fernanda Sierra Suarez

Rafael Carvalho Slobodian

Rénee Soulodre-La France

Bruna Tiné

Mariana Tiné



Student Assistants


Suad Hassan Ahmed

Fábio Cascadura

Luisa Cruz

Jacqueline Garriss

Ian Hood

Nicole Hunter

Gisoo Jafari

Tamika Johnson

Renée Lefebvre

Jellisa Ricketts

Rita Tran

Project History


The project on Gustavus Vassa, aka Olaudah Equiano, traces its origin to the heightened interest in the history of Africa that dates to the 1960s. The publication of an excerpt of The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, as Published by Himself in Thomas Hodgkin's pioneering collection of primary documents on Nigerian Perspectives in 1960 was subsequently followed by new editions of The Interesting Narrative by literary scholar, Paul Edwards, and G.I. Jones's annotated account of Equiano's boyhood life and enslavement in the interior of what is now Nigeria in Philip Curtin's edited collection of primary texts, Africa Remembered: Narratives of West Africans in the Era of the Slave Trade (1967).

The literary merit of Vassa's autobiography inspired scholarly critique that has continued to the present, while Vassa's observations on his memories of Africa and his subsequent enslavement and role in the movement to abolish the slave trade have informed historical analysis and prompted debate, sometimes heated, over how to interpret Vassa's account and his influence. by 2010, it became clear that the extensive documentation relating to Vassa's life and times could be assembled for purposes of constructing a website that could reach a broad audience. Paul Lovejoy, with the assistance of M.B. Duffill was conducting research on Vassa's life, and with the assistance of Rafael Carvalho Slobodian, Reneé Soulodre-La France and Yacine Daddi Addoun, an initial website was launched. In 2016, Professor Lovejoy and project coordinator, Bruno Véras, initiated the development of a new website with updated information. Fernanda Sierra has made major contributions in designing this new website, while Carly Downs has supervised and assisted the production of new content. Kartikay Chadha is the primary programmer and developer of the open-source website and associated databases. This new Equiano’s World website was officially launched on April 16, 2019 during Professor Paul E. Lovejoy’s W. E. B. Du Bois Lecture Series, “Equiano’s World - Beyond Slavery and Abolition,” presented at the Hutchins Center at Harvard University.


Best Practices

The Equiano’s World website is an open-source, database-driven, online digital repository created by the Harriet Tubman Institute at York University. Equiano’s World respects Best Practices as developed in the course of generating the website. In addition to the identification of the specific contributions of the Research Team and Web Development team, these Best Practices include a description of the Methodology employed in the collection and production of web content. All content that is included on the website has been verified by Distinguished Research Professor, Paul E. Lovejoy. Since 2008, archival research has been conducted during various research trips to England, Nigeria, Nicaragua, and the United States. Copies of these documents have been deposited into Professor Lovejoy’s online repository. All sources are referenced using the Chicago School reference style. The images that are included on the website are optimized for the web and provide credit to the artist as well as the gallery or location in which the image is housed. Most of the historical images displayed on this website were created in the 18th and 19th century and are considered to be in the public domain under the "Fair Use" clause as recognized in many different countries.

Logo and Images

The design of www.equianosworld.org aims to provide researchers and the general public with a clean, accessible and fluid layout. The visual identity of the site highlights important moments in the life of Gustavus Vassa. In implementing this concept, we created a circular logo placing Vassa’s silhouette at the center with the cover of his autobiography as the background. This silhouette was adapted from William Denton and Daniel Orme’s portrait entitled Equiano made in 1789 for the frontispiece of his autobiography. The two letters on the side of the logo stand for “Equiano's World.” The font was developed using his original handwriting. The current logo was designed by Fernanda Sierra Suarez. It was inspired by the logo used on the original website, developed in 2008.

The design of www.equianosworld.org aims to provide researchers and the general public with a clean, accessible and fluid layout. The visual identity of the site highlights important moments in the life of Gustavus Vassa. In implementing this concept, we created a circular logo placing Vassa’s silhouette at the center with the cover of his autobiography as the background. This silhouette was adapted from William Denton and Daniel Orme’s portrait entitled Equiano made in 1789 for the frontispiece of his autobiography. The two letters on the side of the logo stand for “Equiano's World.” The font was developed using his original handwriting. The current logo was designed by Fernanda Sierra Suarez. It was inspired by the logo used on the original website, developed in 2008.



Platform



18th century printing press by Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki (c. 1770) in Karl-Heinz Menzen, Heil-Kunst: Entwicklungsgeschichte der Kunsttherapie (Berlin: Verlag Karl Alber, 2017).

The "Equiano's World" website is an open-source, database-driven, online digital repository created by the Studies in the History of the African Diaspora – Documents (SHADD) research group at York University. The user front-end of this website is developed in HTML5 using bootstrap 4.0 framework that provides pre-written Javascript and CSS classes. The backend database is developed in MySQL, an open-source relational database management system. PHP programming language allows communication between the front end of the website and the MySQL database. The computer programme files of this website and databases will be/are released under MIT License.

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