Introducing Equiano's World

This project on Gustavus Vassa (Olaudah Equiano) focuses on the abolition movement. The subject of the project is the life of Olaudah Equiano, alias Gustavus Vassa, the African, whose Interesting Narrative, published in 1789, has been credited as influential in the abolition of the British slave trade, implemented in 1807, and which is widely read in English literature and Black Studies courses, and remains in print in several popular editions. There are over 25,000 sites on the web relating to this most interesting African and black Briton. His story is a classic slave narrative, written in the richness of eighteenth-century literature, by someone who did not know any English until he was eleven. 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 has been a considerable body of information collected, much of it published in the various editions of the Interesting Narrative, and most fully in the edition by Vincent Carretta. Moreover, there is some very good scholarly analysis of different aspects of Vassa/Equiano’s life and significance. This 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, and their children, his commercial activities and observations in the Caribbean, his involvement in the Mosquito Shore venture of Dr. Charles Irving and Vassa’s 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 are being searched. Moreover, research is being conducted on places and individuals that were important in Vassa’s life.

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 times and places of Equiano's World. Taken together, Equiano's World is an adventure into the history of abolition, accessible to scholars, students and the interested public.



Gustavus Vassa
Frontispiece, The Interesting Narrative (1789)
Painted by William Denton
Engraved by Daniel Orme

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.


Acknowledgments

Yacine Daddi Addoun
Emory University

Carlos Algandona
York University

Peitra Arana
Health Systems and Services Consultant, Belize

Mark Duffill
London



Feisal Farah
American University of Nigeria

Jeffrey Gunn
York University

Karlee Sapoznik
Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth

Rafael Carvalho Slobodian
York University

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

Project Development


Areeba Abidi
York University

Suad Hassan Ahmed
York University

Luisa Cruz
York University

Jacqueline Garriss
Université de Sherbrooke

Ian Hood
York University

Tamika Johnson
York University

Hakim Klif
York University

Fahad Qayyum
York University

Jellisa Ricketts
York University

Rand Saoor
York University

Bruna Tiné
YMCA

Mariana Tiné
Université de Montréal

Rita Tran
C. W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute

Acknowledgements

Kathleen Chater
Researcher, London

Margaret Crosby-Arnold
Columbia University

Mark Duffill
Researcher, London

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Harvard University

Jordan Goodman
Writer

David Imbua
University of Calabar

Henry B. Lovejoy
University of Colorado - Boulder

John S. Michael
University of Pennsylvania Museum

Karl Offen
Oberlin College

Karlee Sapoznik
York University

Suzanne Schwarz
University of Worcester

Susan Snell
Library and Museum of Freemasonry

Arthur Torrington
Researcher

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.

Platform

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 Licence.

 

Previous versions of the Equiano’s World website in PDF format are archived to demonstrate development over time and are hosted in Project History.



Image of 18th century printing press by Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki (c. 1770), published in Karl-Heinz Menzen's Heil-Kunst: Entwicklungsgeschichte de Kunsttherapie (Berlin, DE: Verlag Karl Alber, 2017).

Credits and Support

Contact us

Prof. Paul Lovejoy
E: plovejoy@yorku.ca

Bruno Verás
E: brunorv@yorku.ca


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