Consumer Resistance, the Senses of Horror, and Abolitionist Boycott Literature
Abolitionist boycott literature, long overlooked in studies of anti-slavery literature and consumer resistance movements alike, merges sentimental interests of abolitionist literature with economic critique inherent in early consumer resistance movements in ways other literature of the period did not. This talk unpacks the ways that literature situated itself within the sentimental trends of antebellum literature while at the same time employing sensationalist language of consumer interaction with morally-compromised goods, ultimately introducing into the literary landscape a complicated view of what readers and writers increasingly saw as a suspect “free” market. Writers such as Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Elizabeth Margaret Chandler, and John Greenleaf Whittier imagine a world of goods haunted by the touch of enslaved laborers - goods which in turn haunt consumers. If we parse out the language of abolitionist boycott literature alongside its historical and material cultural moment, it seems that such literature posits a very literal version of material relations that collapses the boundaries between consumer and producer, self and other, in ways that have horrific, haunting implications for market society, then and now. Both a discussion on abolitionist boycott literature and approaches to studying it, this talk will address questions of methodology that emerge from research projects such as this.
Jessica Conrad, PhD candidate at the University of Delaware, studies nineteenth-century American print and material culture. Her dissertation examines the role print culture played in shaping, spreading, and sustaining consumer resistance movements, including abolitionist boycotts, temperance, and thrift culture. She is interested in the ways in which this literature imagines an inherent morality or immorality of material things. Jessica has been the recipient of multiple summer research fellowships; she has also held the Andrew W. Mellon fellowship in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia. This spring she is the Graduate International Exchange Fellow at the University of Graz. Her essay "Polluted Luxuries: Consumer Resistance, the Senses of Horror, and Abolitionist Boycott Literature" is forthcoming in American Literature.
The event is free and open to the public.
This lecture is organized by the Department of American Studies.