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



Poster from 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.

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.

Project Direction

Prof. Paul Lovejoy

Distinguished Research Professor
FRSC

Concept and Creation
(2009 - current)

A leading proponent of revisionist interpretations of the history of the African diaspora, he is the founding Director of the Harriet Tubman Institute and editor of the Harriet Tubman Series on the African Diaspora with Africa World Press. His theoretical approach places Africa at the center of intellectual discourse. His contributions to the UNESCO include service on the International Scientific Committee of the UNESCO Slave Route Project (1996-2012), his continued involvement as co-editor of the on-line series of essays by committee members, and a co-editor of the UNESCO General History of Africa, vol. 10, on Global Africa.

Bruno Véras

Project Co-ordinator


Content and Creation Management
(2016 - current)

Bruno Véras is a public and digital historian, researching Global Africa, religion and Transnational History. He is the Project Manager for the Freedom Narratives Projects (freedomnarratives.org) and former UNESCO consultant for African-Brazilian museum exhibits and slave narratives at FUNDAJ, Brazil. He is a documentary filmmaker and cultural producer, also directing awarded educational projects in the Global South. He is the creator and co-director of the website Baquaqua Project (baquaqua.org). He is currently a PhD student in History at York University and project coordinator for the SHADD Project (shadd.org).

Kartikay Chadha

Webmaster


Programming Training and Supervisor
(2019 - current)

Kartikay Chadha is a Bioinformatician and Human Statistical Geneticist. He holds a Masters of Science degree from the University of Toronto. Kartikay ia an expert in computer programming, database development and management, and big data quantitative and qualitative analyses. He currently holds appointments at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, OCAD University and York University. Kartikay is the primary developer of The Language of Marks Collaborative Web-portal and is currently assisting Prof. Paul Lovejoy's research group in developing database and front-end visualization tools.
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Project Team



This section is being refined. We will publish new information soon!


Advisory Board



This section is being refined. We will publish new information soon!

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

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.



Publishing info, The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789).

Copyright

The goal of Equiano’s World is to disseminate knowledge related to the historical slave trade and the fight for freedom from slavery. This open-source website is intended for personal, educational and non-commercial purposes for students, teachers, scholars, and the general public worldwide. Since Vassa published the narrative himself, there are no modern issues of copyright.

The Equiano’s World is a non-commercial and educational digital resource. The project does not own rights to materials held in this digital database and does not license or charge fees for use of materials. Most of the historical images displayed on this website were created in the 18th century and are considered in the public domain under the "Fair Use" clause as recognized in many countries. The website relies on open-source coding as much as possible. All elements of the project website are intended for open access in the public domain. All materials that are downloaded, used or redistributed in any form are subject to the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International license (CCBY-NC 4.0) and acknowledgement should be clearly stated. Conditions of use of content from the website and its images, design or texts should be provided with appropriate attribution providing bibliographic information.

Example: Paul Lovejoy et al. “Vassa’s Legacy,” Equiano’s World. www.equianosworld.org (Accessed April 17, 2019).


Contact us

Prof. Paul Lovejoy
E: plovejoy@yorku.ca

Bruno Verás
E: brunorv@yorku.ca


Address:

329 York Lanes
York University
4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3

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