Header

UZH-Logo

Maintenance Infos

“Black But Comely”: Settler-Colonial Identity, African Whiteness, and Intertextuality in James L. Sims’s Travel Narrative “Scenes in the Interior of Liberia” (1858)


Mühlheim, Martin (2022). “Black But Comely”: Settler-Colonial Identity, African Whiteness, and Intertextuality in James L. Sims’s Travel Narrative “Scenes in the Interior of Liberia” (1858). SPELL: Swiss Papers in English Language and Literature, 41:71-97.

Abstract

Constructing a coherent sense of communal identity was far from easy for early Americo-Liberian settlers. They felt the need (a) to distinguish themselves from a racist ‘white civilisation’ while nevertheless claiming to be among the ‘civilised’; (b) to set themselves apart from black Americans in the U.S. while remaining equally committed to anti-slavery and abolition; and (c) to emphasise their superiority over indigenous ‘heathens’ while at the same time staking their own claim to ‘true Africanness.’ From previous studies, we know a great deal about the material challenges of life on the shores of West Africa. But how did Americo-Liberians grapple with the ideological and psychological complexities of their contradictory position as black anti-slavery settler-colonists? This essay argues that mid-nineteenth-century narratives of exploration into the black republic’s hinterland are a particularly promising source for scholars interested in examining how Americo-Liberians sought to contain the conflicting push and pulls that threatened to unravel their attempts at self-definition. More specifically, the essay demonstrates that in one such travel narrative – J. L. Sims’s “Scenes in the Interior of Liberia” (1858) – intertextual references are not merely ornamental, but instead deployed strategically, in an attempt to stabilise the disconcerting volatility of Americo-Liberian settler identity.

Abstract

Constructing a coherent sense of communal identity was far from easy for early Americo-Liberian settlers. They felt the need (a) to distinguish themselves from a racist ‘white civilisation’ while nevertheless claiming to be among the ‘civilised’; (b) to set themselves apart from black Americans in the U.S. while remaining equally committed to anti-slavery and abolition; and (c) to emphasise their superiority over indigenous ‘heathens’ while at the same time staking their own claim to ‘true Africanness.’ From previous studies, we know a great deal about the material challenges of life on the shores of West Africa. But how did Americo-Liberians grapple with the ideological and psychological complexities of their contradictory position as black anti-slavery settler-colonists? This essay argues that mid-nineteenth-century narratives of exploration into the black republic’s hinterland are a particularly promising source for scholars interested in examining how Americo-Liberians sought to contain the conflicting push and pulls that threatened to unravel their attempts at self-definition. More specifically, the essay demonstrates that in one such travel narrative – J. L. Sims’s “Scenes in the Interior of Liberia” (1858) – intertextual references are not merely ornamental, but instead deployed strategically, in an attempt to stabilise the disconcerting volatility of Americo-Liberian settler identity.

Statistics

Citations

Dimensions.ai Metrics

Altmetrics

Downloads

31 downloads since deposited on 10 Jan 2023
15 downloads since 12 months
Detailed statistics

Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > English Department
Dewey Decimal Classification:820 English & Old English literatures
Uncontrolled Keywords:Liberia, colonialism, travel narratives, intertextuality
Language:English
Date:2022
Deposited On:10 Jan 2023 13:13
Last Modified:21 May 2024 20:00
Publisher:Universitätsverlag Winter
ISSN:2940-1658
OA Status:Hybrid
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.33675/SPELL/2022/41/8
Official URL:https://spell.winter-verlag.de/data/article/11394/pdf/162201008.pdf
Related URLs: (Publisher)
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)