Current Issues in Antislavery – Past and Present

HAS Conference

I found a potential panel discussion for the upcoming Historians Against Slavery Conference being held in September in Cincinnati. I plan to attend the conference and the discussion, assuming there was enough interest to create the panel. The following is a description of the panel by Holly M. Kent PhD, University of Illinois-Springfield:

I am assembling a panel on Discussions of Sexual Violence in Historical and Contemporary Antislavery Activism.  (My own paper focuses on the rhetoric which nineteenth-century African-American and white female abolitionists used in describing the rape and sexual abuse of enslaved women in the fiction published in the decades before the U.S. Civil War.) Questions which the panel overall will consider include (but are not limited to):

-The ways in which survivors of sexual slavery have told their stories as part of antislavery activism (both historical and contemporary)

-The rhetoric and imagery of anti-sexual slavery campaigns (both historical and contemporary)

-Debates and controversies about anti-sexual slavery activism (including debates about how best to use imagery, text, and survivors’ stories in non-objectifying and exploitative ways)

Issues of linking the historical movement to the present constantly appear in abolitionist studies, especially among scholars interested in HAS. This particular study highlights the struggle between abolitionists who were in favor of using erotic images and descriptions to engage their potential readers and those who were opposed to the use of “sexual slavery.” Proponents of the tactic pointed to the response and popularity of the strategy while opponents worried what effect the strategy had on women involved in the movement. They worried the depictions would turn women away from the movement. Opponents were also concerned about the changing roles of women and then negative impact this could potentially have on society. Some worried the publications would attract the wrong kind of reader. One who was not concerned with slavery but read the story for their erotic appeal. Given the religious ties in the abolitionist movement it should not be surprising that these concerns were raised.