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The Origins of African American Literature, 1680-1865

Dickson D. Bruce, Jr.

Publication Year: 2001

Dickson D. Bruce argues that contrary to prevailing perceptions of African American voices as silenced and excluded from American history, those voices were loud and clear. Within the context of the wider culture, these writers offered powerful, widely read, and widely appreciated commentaries on American ideals and ambitions. The Origins of African American Literature provides strong evidence to demonstrate just how much writers engaged in a surprising number of dialogues with society as a whole.

Published by: University of Virginia Press


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. ix-xiii

In trying to understand the origins of African American literature, I have taken what many may find to be an unusual approach. For one thing, this study is something other than a survey of major African American authors and their works, although, of course, they occupy center stage. Rather, it is an effort to investigate the historical conditions for an...

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pp. xv-xvi

I am grateful to a number of people for help in writing this book.
Much of the research was done at the University of California, Irvine, with the help of UCI’s interlibrary loan staff. Their assistance in locating and obtaining materials was invaluable. Some research did, however, have to be done at other repositories, including the Historical Society of...

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Chapter 1: Background to an African American Literature, 1680–1760

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pp. 1-38

To understand the origins of African American letters, it is necessary first to understand the framework within which a black literary enterprise could develop. This framework, antedating the first known publications by African American writers, was the product of complex issues of voice and authority, appropriation and attribution in colonial...

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Chapter 2: The Age of Revolution, 1760–1800

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pp. 39-91

The world in which Lucy Terry, Jupiter Hammon, and Briton Hammon created the initial writing by African Americans was to undergo drastic change almost as soon as the works of the last two, at least, had seen the light of day. The instability in relations between Britain and the American colonies following the 1763 conclusion of the Seven Years’ War powerfully...

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Chapter 3: Literary Identity in the New Nation, 1800–1816

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pp. 92-134

Over the first two decades of the nineteenth century the situations facing African American writers differed in important ways from those of the Revolutionary period. The result was heightened efforts to create a distinctive African American voice within a context in which blackvoiced indictments or commentaries on American affairs continued to have significance. These efforts themselves...

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Chapter 4: The Era of Colonization, 1816–1828

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pp. 135-174

After the time of the American Revolution nothing spurred thinking about issues of African American literary activity, of African American voice and authority, like the creation and activities of the American Colonization Society, including its program of encouraging African American emigration to Africa. Operationalizing notions of a white American national identity, though led by white...

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Chapter 5: The Liberator and the Shaping of African American Tradition, 1829–1832

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pp. 175-210

A period of just under four years, beginning roughly in the middle of 1829 and extending into 1832, was critical for African American literary life. These years were marked by powerful challenges to African Americans in many parts of the United States that represented real setbacks. They were also marked by new and influential voices and new and significant...

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Chapter 6: Literary Expression in the Age of Abolitionism, 1833–1849

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pp. 211-256

The decades of the 1830s and 1840s were among the most complex for free people of color in the United States since the era of the American Revolution, and in ways that had great impact on literary as well as other endeavors. The most important factor in helping to shape that impact was the continuing growth of the movement for immediate abolition, a movement that, if it remained small...

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Chapter 7: African American Voices in the American Crisis, 1850–1861

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pp. 257-300

Beginning in 1850 the developing political crisis in the United States over slavery had profound effects on African American writers and on the role of the African American voice in American life. Important continuities from the preceding decades still framed much that characterized African American literary forms. Thematic constants based on the experiences of slavery and oppression...

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Chapter 8: The War for Emancipation and Beyond

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pp. 301-314

If there was much in the 1850s to encourage thinking about conflict and violence among abolitionists, the end of the decade saw a series of events that made such thought seem more pressing still. To some extent such thought was born of a pessimism brought on by such events as the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott Decision, which in effect institutionalized...


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pp. 315-334

Works Cited

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pp. 335-360


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pp. 361-374

E-ISBN-13: 9780813921938
E-ISBN-10: 0813921937
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813920665
Print-ISBN-10: 0813920663

Page Count: 374
Publication Year: 2001

OCLC Number: 65633912
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Origins of African American Literature, 1680-1865

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Subject Headings

  • Slaves' writings, American -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- Revolutionary period, 1775-1783 -- History and criticism.
  • African Americans -- Intellectual life -- 19th century.
  • African Americans -- Intellectual life -- 18th century.
  • American literature -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775 -- History and criticism.
  • African Americans -- Intellectual life -- 17th century.
  • American literature -- 1783-1850 -- History and criticism
  • Slavery in literature.
  • African Americans in literature.
  • American literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism.
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