Crowning Coal: Slavery, Fossil Fuels, and Literature 1755–1865


ACLS Fellowship Program


Literature, Media, and Communication


“Crowning Coal” shows how print culture facilitated the expansion of British coal and American slavery through metaphor, comparison, metonymy, and other devices. The project examines British and American literary texts, scientific works, travelogues, and other media from across the long nineteenth century. These texts analogized the lives of enslaved peoples with colliers; conflated enslaved peoples with coal and steam engines; and developed the ‘machine slave’ metaphor. The ideological conflation of slavery and steam made it all the easier to materially transfer actual energy, work, and pain between these systems prolonging slavery and reinforcing fossil fuels. “Crowning Coal” shows how media naturalize pernicious energy sources, how to resist those forms and move towards energy justice.