Modernity Unmoored: Ships as Material and Metaphor

watercolor of a slave ship, 5 crew members with multiple enslaved persons crowded on the deck. A Portuguese flag flies & an outline of another ship is in the background.

Credit: Lieutenant Henry Samuel Hawker, The Portuguese slaver Diligenté captured by H.M. Sloop Pearl with 600 slaves on board, taken in charge to Nassau, May 1838. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Resource Description

This series of modules approaches ‘ships’ and ‘boats’ as material and metaphor for thinking about migratory experiences and the movement of peoples, goods, and commodities, as they relate to the idea of modernity on a local, transnational, and planetary scale. The modules focus on literary, visual, and cinematic representations of ships and boats as a basis for engaging in comparative work. Ships and boats are considered not just as physical objects, but as technologies and symbolic objects that speak to the dynamics of circulation and/or extraction in the context of slavery, colonialism, and global capitalism. The modules underscore the role they have played in the establishment and subversion of racial, cultural, economic, and political divides across space and time. 


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Maria Truglio

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Maria Truglio is a Professor of Italian and Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies at Penn State (University Park). She earned her BA from Wesleyan University in 1992, and her MA (1996) and PhD (2001) from Yale University. Her research investigates Italian literature from the nineteenth century to the present day with attention to questions of gender and national identity formation. She is currently focusing on the field of children’s literature, bringing psychoanalytic, post-structuralist, and postcolonial methodologies to bear on texts written for young people from the unification period forward.

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Emmanuel Bruno Jean-François

Emmanuel Bruno Jean-François is an Assistant Professor of French & Francophone Studies, and Comparative Literature, whose scholarship and teaching interests draw from a variety of fields such as postcolonial and decolonial theories, migration studies, island and ocean studies, and Creole and ethnic studies. His first monograph, Poétiques de la violence et récits francophones contemporains (Brill, 2017), is a comparative study that foregrounds the notion of ‘rupture’ as a relational framework for theorizing the aesthetic and ethical responses which twenty-first century francophone writers across the Global South offer to the global culture of violence, and to the endless stream of violent imagery that have become both mundane and myopic in our contemporary society.

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Victoria Boyd-Jennings

headshot of Victoria Boyd-Jennings

Victoria Boyd-Jennings is currently pursuing a dual PhD in French and Francophone Studies and African Studies at Penn State University. Her research interests include Francophone diasporic identity formation and the collective memory of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and colonialism through the examination of precolonial historiographies and colonial archival documents.

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