CFP: Staging Slavery around 1800: Performances of Colonial Slavery and Race from an International Perspective

December 19, 2019

Through the lens of popular theater, this book explores the ways in which slavery in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans was imagined and debated in an age of significant intellectual and political change (1770-1830). The most popular venue of its time, the theater was a political arena of topical debate. Not only did theater reflect contemporary social and political dynamics, but also it was a site where alternative narratives were invented and broadcasted to people from varying social classes. Performances in New York, London, Paris or Amsterdam have challenged authorities and confronted broader audiences with abolitionist ideologies. Simultaneously, however, against the backdrop of the Atlantic and Indian slave trade and the widespread colonization of indigenous peoples, the theater produced a new obsession with bodies of color in the visual arts. Indeed, imperial formations not only relied on excessive colonial violence, but also on the circulation of cultural productions that promoted racial hierarchies. This book therefore concentrates both on the role of (non)metropolitan theater and performance culture in the spread of abolitionist ideologies and narratives, and on how these productions (re)established colonial power relations: theater was sometimes an arena of protest but was also a venue for blatant racist and imperialist exploitations of the colonized and enslaved body.


Most existing studies on this topic focus on Anglo-American theater, but this book brings together cases from different colonial powers, including Sweden, Denmark, the Dutch Republic, the German states, Spain, Portugal and France. The volume focuses primarily on the stage depictions of colonized and enslaved people within the framework of slavery in the Atlantic and Indian basins, the triangular trade, and the interconnections between the metropoles of Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. The book investigates the implications of boundary-crossing discussions about this theme and aims to move beyond the national framework of analyses that otherwise narrow the understanding of our colonial past and present. 


In this volume, we invite researchers to engage in refreshing discussions of theater and slavery, in relation to central questions of the formation of philosophical and political ideas, audience responses, representational strategies, and the construction of (national) identity. We encourage close analyses of text and performance, and contributions that raise questions such as: 


  • in what ways was theater itself shaped by global or national politics and events in the colonies (e.g. slave uprisings or antislavery laws); 

  • what was the role of theater in the migration of abolitionist ideologies and narratives across national borders; 

  • what were the dramatic functions of characters of color and what was their relationship to evolving assumptions on race and empire; 

  • how did the practices and meanings of blackface expand and modify over time and place; 

  • how was slavery imagined and protested in non-white theater and performance culture;

  • in what ways were slavery and race performed outside the playhouse (e.g. at slave auctions, fun fairs, the parliament)?


Please send a 500 words abstract to, and no later March 1, 2020. If selected for further process, the final deadline for the contributions will be December 1, 2020. After that deadline there will be a peer review process.


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