“Imperfectly Known”: Nicholas Said and the Routes of African American Narrative


Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowships for Recently Tenured Scholars




For residence at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study during academic year 2020-2021


“’Imperfectly Known’: Nicholas Said and the Routes of African American Narrative” is a study of a Muslim writer from Borno in northeastern Nigeria. After being enslaved in Africa, Europe, and Asia, Said arrived in the United States as a free person, and soon thereafter volunteered for the African American Massachusetts Fifty-Fifth Regiment during the Civil War. Over the course of four chapters, “Imperfectly Known” traces the geographical, narrative, and textual routes of Said’s two autobiographies—one of which appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in 1867 and another which he self-published in 1873—as a means to examine race, religion, nation, and citizenship in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century United States. This consideration of Said’s writings about literacy and education illuminates the centrality of Africa and Islam to the broader development of African American communities.