Call for Article Proposals: The Underground Railroad(s): History, Myth and Representations

Le(s) chemin(s) de fer clandestin(s) : histoire, mythe, représentations

A century and a half after the abolition of slavery in the United States, the Underground Railroad, the formal and informal network of routes and people that helped fugitive slaves escape from the slaveholding South to freedom between the end of the 18th century and the Civil War, still draws considerable scholarly attention, whether it be through investigating its history or debating its many representations in public memory, literature and various art forms (Schulz, 2016). Considered “a model of democracy in action,” “the nation’s first great movement of civil disobedience since the American Revolution,” and “an epic of high drama” (Bordewich, 2005, p. 4-6), the Underground Railroad has offered many fruitful opportunities for scholars and artists to deepen, question and even contest knowledge of the institution of slavery and understanding of abolitionism, as well as the representations of various aspects of the “color line” in the United States and North America more generally.

In this issue of LISA-ejournal, we would like to survey the ongoing research on the Underground Railroad since the turn of the 21st century, in order to highlight the plurality of the concept itself by encouraging transdisplicinary dialogue between history, memorialization strategies and fictionalization in the arts and literature.

The history of the Underground Railroad has long been characterized by its permeability to mythic language. Early works on the issue, often written by abolitionists, evinced an interest in showcasing the heroic acts of men (and sometimes women) involved in a network primarily depicted as focusing on helping fugitive slaves escape from the slaveholding South to reach the Northern free States or Canada. Wilbur H. Siebert’s groundbreaking The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom (1898) is a case in point: its approach emphasized a national conception of the network, glorified white abolitionists by collecting their personal memories, and promoted the view of an essentially northward route of the Railroad. When, in 1961, Larry Gara published The Liberty Line: The Legend of the Underground Railroad, the book was hailed as a successful attempt to alter this perception by establishing more firmly the mythical dimension of the Underground Railroad, which basically relied on the supremacy of white heroes to the detriment of free Blacks and the fugitive slaves themselves, on a tendency to overestimate the number of fugitives who actually fled using the Railroad, and on the silencing of the voice of the slaves who remained captive in the South. Forty years later, David W. Blight’s Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory expanded on Gara’s argument by presenting the history of the Underground Railroad as told by Siebert and his disciples as an opportunity for white abolitionists in the Northern United States to seek an “alternative veteranhood,” while their “homespun tales of helping slaves escape may have been a kind of white alternative slave narrative” (Blight, 2001, p. 234). In 2015, Eric Foner’s masterly Gateway to Freedom on the Underground Railroad in New York State was published to critical acclaim, as its author’s historical expertise “dispels the lingering aura of myth surrounding the Underground Railroad” (Varon, 2015).

Full Call for Paper in English and French

Deadline for Proposals: Nov. 1, 2017


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