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Mercantilism, Enslavement, and Literary Form: The Royal African Company Letters, 1685–1699

Par Helen Thompson : Professor of English - Northwestern University
Publié par Marion Coste le 13/06/2024

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[Conférence] Based on letters written between 1685 and 1699 by agents of the Royal African Company who had settled in West Africa, this lecture examines the place of epistolary form in late 17th-century trade, as well as the role played by “human pawns” in the credit system set up between the Royal African Company and African merchants.

This lecture was organised as part of a research residency at IHRIM (ENS de Lyon).


Introduction 00:00
  • Two aspects of epistolary form
  • The role of the Royal African Company

1. Archive of slavery and epistolary form: the example of Pley's letter (1681)

  •  Communicating the emotions of the writer as the definitive characteristic of epistolary form
  • The absence of enslaved people's subjectivity (Hortense Spillers)
  • The erasure of the selfood of captives by the archive (Saidiya Hartman and the concept of "critical fabulation")
  • The formal and representational parameters of the RAC letters: a normative articulation of realism
  • The RAC letters and the emergence of epistolary form
2. The figure of the pawn 34:30
  • The RAC letters: exposing the residual humanity of the bonded person 
  • Slaves and pawns in the Royal African Company copybook
Conclusion 46:38


HARTMAN, Saidiya. June 2008. "Venus in Two Acts", Small Axe, volume 2, n°2, pp.1-14. https://read.dukeupress.edu/small-axe/article/12/2/1/32332/Venus-in-Two-Acts

SPILLERS, Hortense J. Summer 1987. "Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: An American Grammar Book", Diacritics, volume 17, n°2, pp.64-81. https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~cavitch/pdf-library/Spillers_Mamas_Baby.pdf

Pour citer cette ressource :

Helen Thompson, "Mercantilism, Enslavement, and Literary Form: The Royal African Company Letters, 1685–1699", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), juin 2024. Consulté le 25/07/2024. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/litterature/litterature-britannique/mercantilism-enslavement-and-literary-form-the-royal-african-company-letters-1685-1699