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More than two centuries after the fact, the sexual relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, enslaved to Jefferson, continues to grip the American historical and literary imagination, manifesting most recently in the April 2016 release of Stephen O’Connor’s historical novel Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings. The novel portrays Jefferson as a compassionate lover and renders Hemings as equally ensnared in the trappings of love and passion. O’Connor’s work, while receiving a good deal of high praise, has been the subject of bitter critique from readers dismayed that the novelist romanticizes the relationship, representing Hemings as a willing participant instead of a rape victim. This criticism is born out of the general perception that few, if any, truly romantic relationships existed between enslaved African Americans and their white masters and mistresses, since the system of slavery and its uneven relations of power precluded possibilities for sincere sentimental connections. The English Department at the University of Alabama is planning a two-day symposium that interrogates this general perception by re-examining models of intimacy across racial lines during the era of slavery and afterwards.
Symposium organizers seek paper proposals from emerging and established scholars whose work engages aspects of interracial intimacy within an American context. The aim of this symposium is to interrogate the ways in which Americans expressed intimacies across racial lines amid the phenomena of New World cross-cultural contact, the transatlantic slave trade and onwards into the 20th century. What were the limitations of interracial intimacies and how might people have addressed those limitations in various settings – domestic spheres, legal systems, religious spaces, classrooms? If people across races and cultures lived, ate, slept, and traveled together, what were the implications for cultural understanding—or lack thereof? What was interracial intimacy and how might expressions of such intimate contact look different given the features of race, gender, and class? We welcome papers that address any era of American cultural history, and we are particularly interested in perspectives that examine time periods before the 20th century.
Possible paper topics might include but are not limited to the following:
- Same sex intimacy across racial lines
- Multicultural intimacies beyond the black/white binary
- Economic intimacies, i.e. business ventures, financial loans from slave to master and vice versa
- Domestic intimacies
- Narrative Intimacy and writers who embody cross-racial consciousnesses
- Interracial intimacies of the (long) Civil Rights Era
- Intimacy in death, i.e. through graveyards and funeral homes
- Medical intimacies, i.e. white doctors/black bodies and vice versa
If interested, please email a one-page CV and 250-word abstract to symposium organizers: Andy Crank (firstname.lastname@example.org), Trudier Harris (email@example.com), and Cassander Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org). The deadline for submissions has been extended to Nov. 1, 2016. Those whose proposals are selected will receive small travel grants to offset the cost of travel and accommodations in Tuscaloosa. If you have questions or need more information, you can address queries to Professors Crank, Harris, and Smith.
Cassander Lavon Smith, PhD
Associate Professor of English
The University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0244