Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis


English Language and Literatures



First Advisor

Katherine Adams


19th century African American autobiographers, by writing their pasts, present re-interpretations of northern and southern space. The act of writing maneuvers between two poles: inscribing meaning into the land, and interpreting it as a material reality. The lack of resolution between these efforts results in interesting slippage between the interpretive and inscriptive undertaking. The struggle to come to terms with the material reality of landscape, and the attempt at restructuring the semiotics of that landscape, speak to the writer's individual (creative, liberating, rebellious) project, as well as its pedagogical implications. If, as historian John Ernest asserts, the slave narrative is a performative genre, then the readings and (misreadings) of landscape the writers present is equally a performance. While vocabularies of landscape are developed, the interpretive/inscriptive performance of the writer instructs the reader. The performance is intended then not simply as a reform effort against slavery, but a complex revision of the reader's moral and geographic thinking. The writer asks the reader to 'trace' the landscape of their past, to follow the semiotic signposts the author constructs in order to understand the full weight of slave experience.