Slaves, Servants, and British Literature, 1660-1830


ACLS Fellowship Program




This project analyzes residual, dominant, and emergent languages in eighteenth-century British and West Indian writing to recover poorly understood connections between servants and slaves. Writers of various ranks, religious affiliations, and locales resisted equating British servants and laborers with West Indian slaves even as they found the overlap in their plights impossible to avoid, particularly after midcentury. This tension partially arises from the clash of distinctive views of free versus unfree labor and varied psychologies of power relations in five contemporary languages: the passions, natural rights, sentiment, racial colorblindness, and slang. This project aims to recover several strands of racism, some of which derive from class-based assumptions about workers’ bodies, emotions, and minds.