The Complicated History Behind Beyoncé’s Discovery About the ‘Love’ Between Her Slave-Owning and Enslaved Ancestors

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2018-08-13 23:30Z by Steven

The Complicated History Behind Beyoncé’s Discovery About the ‘Love’ Between Her Slave-Owning and Enslaved Ancestors


Arica L. Coleman

The Life of Sally Hemings exhibit at Monticello is pictured on June 16, 2018 in Charlottesville, Va. (Photo by /For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
The Life of Sally Hemings exhibit at Monticello is pictured on June 16, 2018 in Charlottesville, Va. (Photo by /For The Washington Post via Getty Images) Eze Amos—The Washington Post/Getty Images

With Beyoncé’s appearance on the cover of the September issue of Vogue, the magazine highlights three facets of the superstar’s character for particular focus: “Her Life, Her Body, Her Heritage.” The words she shares are deeply personal, and that last component also offers a window into a complicated and misunderstood dynamic that affects all of American history. While opening up about her family’s long history of dysfunctional marital relationships, she hints at an antebellum relationship that defies that trend: “I researched my ancestry recently,” she stated, “and learned that I come from a slave owner who fell in love with and married a slave.”

She doesn’t elaborate on how she made the discovery or what is known about those individuals, but fans will know that Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is a native of Houston whose maternal and paternal forbears hailed from Louisiana and Alabama, respectively. Her characterization of her heritage stands out because those states, like others across the South, had stringent laws and penalties against interracial marriage. In fact, throughout the colonial and antebellum eras, interracial marriage would have been the exception — even though interracial sex was the rule…

Read the entire article here.

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States, Women on 2015-10-01 01:54Z by Steven

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself

Thayer and Eldridge

Harriet Ann Jacobs (1813-1897)

Edited by Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880)

Read the entire book here or here.

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Race, Romance, and Rebellion: Literatures of the Americas in the Nineteenth Century

Posted in Africa, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2014-06-06 22:59Z by Steven

Race, Romance, and Rebellion: Literatures of the Americas in the Nineteenth Century

University of Virginia Press
October 2013
224 pages
6 x 9
Cloth ISBN: 9780813934884
Paper ISBN: 9780813934891
Ebook ISBN: 9780813934907

Colleen C. O’Brien, Associate Professor of English
University of South Carolina, Upstate

As in many literatures of the New World grappling with issues of slavery and freedom, stories of racial insurrection frequently coincided with stories of cross-racial romance in nineteenth-century U.S. print culture. Colleen O’Brien explores how authors such as Harriet Jacobs, Elizabeth Livermore, and Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda imagined the expansion of race and gender-based rights as a hemispheric affair, drawing together the United States with Africa, Cuba, and other parts of the Caribbean. Placing less familiar women writers in conversation with their more famous contemporaries—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and Lydia Maria Child—O’Brien traces the transnational progress of freedom through the antebellum cultural fascination with cross-racial relationships and insurrections. Her book mines a variety of sources—fiction, political rhetoric, popular journalism, race science, and biblical treatises—to reveal a common concern: a future in which romance and rebellion engender radical social and political transformation.

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Keeping Pictures, Keeping House: Harriet and Louisa Jacobs, Fanny Fern, and the Unverifiable History of Seeing the Mulatta

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2013-08-14 20:32Z by Steven

Keeping Pictures, Keeping House: Harriet and Louisa Jacobs, Fanny Fern, and the Unverifiable History of Seeing the Mulatta

ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance
Volume 59, Number 2, 2013 (No. 231 O.S.)
pages 262-290
DOI: 10.1353/esq.2013.0022

Michael A. Chaney, Associate Professor of English
Dartmouth College

Daguerreotype of Louise Jacobs. From the Fanny Fern and Ethel Parton Papers, 1805-1982, courtesy of the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.

Tucked away in Box Three, Folder Thirteen of the Fanny Fern papers held at Smith College is a daguerreotype of a subject officially designated as an unidentified woman. The represented figure does not stand out among the dozen or so other daguerreotypes in the collection. If, as Shawn Michelle Smith has argued, nineteenth-century “photography was used to locate individual bodies within a genealogy of familial hereditary traits and racial characteristics,” this image works post facto to produce a similar effect. Little distinguishes the faded propriety of this young woman seated in an anonymous interior from the other girls in Fern’s collection, such as her daughters Grace and Ellen Eldredge. What does distinguish the photograph, beyond its contents, is the oddity of its existence in the collection. The fact that there is a stray photo at all is curious in a collection so selectively devoted to so few subjects. Indeed, Grace Eldredge alone accounts for nearly half of the dozen subjects pictured, while her father Charles (Fern’s first husband) accounts for three.

A note in the finding aid identifies the sitter as Louisa Jacobs, Harriet Jacobs’s quadroon daughter. That the subject could be Louisa is supported by certain historical “facts” —Jacobs and her white-looking daughter spent time in Fern’s household. But on the other side of this notion of history as a set of verifiable facts is the regime of affect and feeling that surrounds the mulatta, a fascination that pervaded nineteenth-century American culture and the literature it produced. It is only with reluctance while scrutinizing the unidentifiable young woman that one dispels that urge so often discussed in nineteenth-century tragic mulatta narratives to discern traces of African heritage. Putting aside the possibilities that this is not a picture of Jacobs, we are still left to wonder what secret intimacy warrants the inclusion of this unidentified woman in such a closed gallery. As intertext, the image provides a different type of evidence—a suggestive form of evidence—for the rhetorical and psycho-social, if not historical, actualities that circumscribe Fern and Jacobs. These actualities cohere within a discourse of domesticity and the enclosed scenes that that discourse entails, which play out in gaps and silences behind history’s closed doors.

We need not confirm the identity of the photographed subject in order to use the association of sitter and image as an occasion to interrogate the bonds of affiliation that connect Harriet and Louisa Jacobs to Fanny Fern (a.k.a. Sara Willis). It is the burden of this essay to take up these speculations. The method behind such speculation requires a form of “creative hearing” that William L. Andrews advocates for reading slave narratives. To dwell in the seams, gaps, and cuts—those unspeakable or unknowable blind spots that frame the image—it is necessary that we employ a mode of creative seeing. As with Andrews’s formulation, what is seen is less a fiction invented by the critic than a textual provocation—a call to which we are solicited to respond. Accordingly, as we dwell in the fold where the material and the speculative collapse, possibilities emerge for rethinking sentimentalism and its attendant scripts of race, gender, authorship, and domestic labor.

Creative Seeing: An Analysis of the Unverifiable Photograph

The unidentified daguerreotype exists at the threshold of the speculative and the material. To explain, let us begin with the material dimension of the image, which is the same for any daguerreotype. The material daguerreotype is an artifact of a densely contextualized historical archive, in this case, one that subtends the life of Fanny Fern, her family and private life as well as her literary career as a connoisseur of affect. The speculative dimension of the image, which we shall employ in our creative seeing, derives from the conditions of possibility that enclose the subject. We can never know if this is indeed a photograph of Louisa Jacobs; nevertheless, clues in the archive invite speculation beyond the facts supported by conventional approaches to biographical evidence. Indeed…

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Mixed Bloods and Other Crosses: Rethinking American Literature from the Revolution to the Culture Wars

Posted in Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2013-03-16 19:42Z by Steven

Mixed Bloods and Other Crosses: Rethinking American Literature from the Revolution to the Culture Wars

University of Pennsylvania Press
288 pages
6×9; 24 illustrations
Cloth: ISBN 978-0-8122-3844-0

Betsy Erkkilä, Henry Sanborn Noyes Professor of Literature
Northwestern University

In Mixed Bloods and Other Crosses, Betsy Erkkilä argues that it is through the historical and psychological dramas of blood as a marker of violence, or race, or sex, or kinship that Americans have struggled over the meanings of democracy, citizenship, culture, national belonging, and the idea of America itself as it was constituted and contested in its relations with others and the world. Whether blood is construed as setting up a boundary incapable of being crossed or is perceived as a site of mixing and hybridity, its imagery has saturated the literature of the American republic from the time of the founding. Erkkilä moves from a consideration of contests about territorial, sexual, racial, class, national, and aesthetic borders in the Revolutionary period and the nineteenth century to a discussion of recent contests about the boundaries of culture and the disciplines and the relation between aesthetics and politics, identity and difference, nationalism and cosmopolitanism, the local and the global.

Erkkilä’s American literature is a field of cultural and political struggle, one she examines in scenes of mixture and crossing, miscegenation and incest, doubling and hybridity that subvert, alter, or undo the boundary-building imperatives of American history. While she is concerned with the “crosses” of sex, race, class, and blood, she also looks at the ways history and “blood” impinge on the putatively pure realms of culture, literature, and aesthetics in the writings of Thomas Jefferson, Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, and the Caribbean writer C. L. R. James; she explores the ways the hybridity or mixture of social languages becomes a force for resistance and New World transformation in the writings of Phillis Wheatley and Abigail Adams, Walt Whitman and Harriet Jacobs; and she considers the ways modern subjectivity and the Freudian unconscious bear the markings of the dark, savage, sexual, and alien others that were expelled by the disciplinary logic of the Western Enlightenment and its legacy of blood in the Americas.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • 1. Blood, Sex, and Other American Crosses
  • 2. Mixed Bloods: Jefferson, Revolution, and the Boundaries of America
  • 3. Revolutionary Women
  • 4. The Poetics of Whiteness: Poe and the Racial Imaginary
  • 5. Whitman and the Homosexual Republic
  • 6. Emily Dickinson and Class
  • 7. Beyond the Boundaries: C.L.R. James to Herman Melville
  • Notes
  • Index
  • Acknowledgments

Read the Preface here.

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The Long Walk to Freedom: Runaway Slave Narratives

Posted in Anthologies, Books, History, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United States, Women on 2012-10-25 17:29Z by Steven

The Long Walk to Freedom: Runaway Slave Narratives

Beacon Press
288 pages
6″ x 9″
Cloth ISBN: 978-080706912-7

Devon W. Carbado, Professor of Law and African American Studies
University of California, Los Angeles

Donald Weise, Independent Scholar in African American history

The first book about the runaway slave phenomenon written by fugitive slaves themselves.

In this groundbreaking compilation of first-person accounts of the runaway slave phenomenon, editors Devon W. Carbado and Donald Weise have recovered twelve narratives spanning eight decades-more than half of which have been long out of print. Told in the voices of the runaway slaves themselves, these narratives reveal the extraordinary and often innovative ways that these men and women sought freedom and demanded citizenship. Also included is an essay by UCLA history professor Brenda Stevenson that contextualizes these narratives, providing a brief yet comprehensive history of slavery, as well as a look into the daily life of a slave. Divided into four categories-running away for family, running inspired by religion, running by any means necessary, and running to be free-these stories are a testament to the indelible spirit of these remarkable survivors.

The Long Walk to Freedom presents excerpts from the narratives of well-known runaway slaves, like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, as well as from the narratives of lesser-known and virtually unknown people. Several of these excerpts have not been published for more than a hundred years. But they all portray the courageous and sometimes shocking ways that these men and women sought their freedom and asserted power, often challenging many of the common assumptions about slaves’ lack of agency.

Among the remarkable and inspiring stories is the tense but triumphant tale of Henry Box Brown, who, with a white abolitionist’s help, shipped himself in a box-over a twenty-seven-hour train ride, part of which he spent standing on his head-to freedom in Philadelphia. And there’s the story of William and Ellen Craft, who fled across thousands of miles, with Ellen, who was light-skinned, disguised as a white male slave-owner so she and her husband could achieve their dream of raising their children as free people.

Gripping, inspiring, and captivating, The Long Walk to Freedom is a remarkable collection that celebrates those who risked their lives in pursuit of basic human rights.

Read the Introduction here.

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“Custodians of History”: (Re)Construction of Black Women as Historical and Literary Subjects in Afro-American and Afro-Cuban Women’s Writing

Posted in Caribbean/Latin America, Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2012-05-09 01:48Z by Steven

“Custodians of History”: (Re)Construction of Black Women as Historical and Literary Subjects in Afro-American and Afro-Cuban Women’s Writing

University of Texas, Austin
August 2005
500 pages

Paula Sanmartín, Assistant Professor of (Afro) Caribbean and (Afro) Spanish American Literature
California State University, Fresno

Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of The University of Texas at Austin in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor in Philosophy

Set within a feminist and revisionist context, my dissertation examines literary representations of the historic roots of black women’s resistance in Cuba and the United States, by studying texts by both Afro-American and Afro-Cuban women from four different literary genres: Harriet Jacobs’s autobiographical slave narrative, a neo-slave narrative by Sherley Ann Williams, the testimonio of María de los Reyes Castillo (“Reyita”), and the poetry of Nancy Morejón and Georgina Herrera. Conscious of the differences between the texts, I nevertheless demonstrate how the writers participate in black women’s self-inscription in the historical process by positioning themselves as subjects of their history and seizing discursive control of their (hi)stories.

Although the texts form part of separate discourses, I explore the commonalities of the rhetorical devices and narrative strategies employed by the authors as they disassemble racist and sexist stereotypes, (re)constructing black female subjectivity through an image of active resistance against oppression, one that authorizes unconventional definitions of womanhood and motherhood. My project argues that in their revisions of national history, these writings also demonstrate the pervasive role of racial and gender categories in the creation of a discourse of national identity, while promoting a historiography constructed within flexible borders that need to be constantly negotiated.

Putting these texts in dialogue with one another both within and across geopolitical boundaries, my project is characterized by a tension between positions, from close textual readings to historical commentaries, as I develop multilayered readings drawing on sources that range from cultural history and genre studies to psychoanalytical theory and black feminist criticism. The authors’ literary representations of their culture of resistance constitute an essential contribution to literary and historical studies, suggesting a dialectic model for “reading dialogically” such concepts as “subjectivity,” “discourse,” “tradition,” and “history,” by simultaneously exploring multiple, contradictory, or complementary discursive spaces. This dialectic of identification and difference, continuity and change, serves to describe the intertextual relationships within Afro-American and Afro-Cuban literary traditions. Simultaneously, drawing on dialogic relationships can open up new lines of enquiry and redress the historical imbalance of Western historiography by presenting black women’s history and subjectivity as multiple and discontinuous.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction. “Custodians of History”: (Re)Construction of Black Women as Historical and Literary Subjects in Afro-American and Afro-Cuban Women’s Writing
    1. Gender and Genre
    2. Authorship and Authority
    3. Rebellious (M)Others
    4. National Identification
    5. Revising (Hi)stories
  • Chapter 1. “We Could Have Told Them a Different Story”: Harriet Jacobs’s Alternative Narrative and the Revision of the White Transcript
    1. Hybrid Genres: Assimilation and Subversion in Autobiographical Slave Narratives
    2. The Female Slave Author and the Dialogic of Discourses in Incidents
    3. “The War of Her life”: Harriet Jacobs’s Rebellious Motherhood
    4. Split Subject/Split Nation: Abolitionism, Miscegenation and Black Women as National Subjects
    5. Rewriting the Slave Woman’s “Histories.”
  • Chapter 2. “They Mistook Me for Another Dessa”: Correcting the (Mis)Reading Techniques of the Master(’s) Narrative
    1. Neo-Slave Narratives and the Revision of the Slaves’ Texts.
    2. “Twice-Told Tales”: Real and Fictive Authorships in a Black Women’s Double-Voiced Text
    3. Devil Woman or Debil Woman?: Asserting Rebelliousness Through an Interracial Sisterhood
    4. One Single Nation?: Interrelation of Communities in Dessa Rose
    5. Revising the Fictions of History
  • Chapter 3. “In My Own Voice, In My Own Place”: The Continuous Revision of History in a Black Cuban Woman’s Testimonial Narrative
    1. The Dialectics of Testimonio: Past, Present and Future?
    2. A Family Feud? “Authority-in-Process” in the Production of Reyita, sencillamente: testimonio de una negra cubana nonagenaria
    3. Like Mother, Like Daughter: The Rebel/Revolutionary (M)Other
    4. Black and/or Cuban: The Black Female (M)Other of the Cuban Nation
  • Chapter 4. Revolution in Poetic Language: (Re)Writing Black Women’s History in Black Cuban Women’s Poetry
    1. Neo-Negrista Poetry? : Searching for the “Authentic” Black Female Subject
    2. Authorship and (State’s) Authority in Black Cuban Women’s Poetry
    3. Black Cuban Women Poets and the Revolutionary Black (M)Other
    4. “National” Poetry? Diaspora and/or Transculturation in the Representation of Cuban National Identity
    5. (Re)construction of (Revolutionary) History
  • Bibliography
  • Vita

Read the entire dissertation here.

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Nation, miscegenation, and the myth of the mulatta/o monster 1859-1886

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United Kingdom, United States on 2011-08-05 22:19Z by Steven

Nation, miscegenation, and the myth of the mulatta/o monster 1859-1886

Universite de Montreal (Canada)
261 pages
Publication Number: AAT NR60321
ISBN: 9780494603215

Jessica Alexandra Maeve Murphy

These presentee a la Faculte des etudes superieures En vue de l’obtention du grade de Philosophiae Doctor (Ph.D.) en etudes anglaises

“Nation, Miscegenation, and The Myth of the Mulatta/o Monster, 1859-1886” examines how Harriet Wilson, Harriet Jacobs, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and Robert Louis Stevenson use the trope of the mulatta/o monster only to subvert it by showing readers that the real monster is white, hegemonic culture. More specifically, it deals with how Our Nig, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, The Octoroon, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde depict the interracial body as a gothic house, one which is a microcosm for an increasingly hybrid and un-homely nation. The four texts under consideration in my thesis all explore what it means to be black and female (or dark and feminized) in the United States and Britain where to be white, male, and affluent is to have virtually limitless power over the bodies of women, particularly black ones.

Drawing upon Nancy Stepan’s notion of “proper places,” this dissertation looks at how interracial individuals challenged existing hierarchies in the mid-to-late nineteenth century by defying racial, gender, and class norms nationally and transatlantically. While many scientists of the period believed that mixed-race people were infertile and headed for extinction, the proliferation of such individuals attests to the fact that the number of racially hybrid people was increasing, not decreasing. For many Victorians and their American counterparts, the rise in this population as well as the shifting roles of black and white women, black men, and the working class compelled them to label these groups. It also heightened their concern with degeneration and their need to polarize black/white, female/male, and rich/poor. Yet, as this project shows, while such binaries are necessarily porous, England and the United States both made use of them to establish and define their national identities vis-à-vis one another. Whereas American writers like Jacobs and Wilson relied on such constructs to shame their country and to shape its future, British ones like Braddon used them to allege national superiority or, like Robert Louis Stevenson, later on in the nineteenth century, to reveal the changing face of the nation.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Making and Unmaking Monsters in Harriet Wilson’s Our Nig
  • Chapter 2: Sexual Propriety and Racial Transgression in Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
  • Chapter 3: The Transatlantic Gaze in M. E. Braddon’s The Octoroon
  • Chapter 4: Mr. Hyde as Hybrid in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekvll and Mr. Hyde
  • Notes
  • Works Cited

Purchase the dissertation here.

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Controversy: Race and Sexuality on the American Frontier (FRO 100.023)

Posted in Barack Obama, Course Offerings, Gay & Lesbian, Identity Development/Psychology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2011-05-01 04:12Z by Steven

Controversy: Race and Sexuality on the American Frontier (FRO 100.023)

Goucher College, Baltimore, Maryland

Angelo Robinson, Associate Professor of English

“Am I Black or White? Am I Straight or Gay? CONTROVERSY?”  Since its founding, and long before recording artist Prince penned these lyrics in the 1980s, America has been a space and a place demanding and mandating polarized definitions of race and sexuality. This course will examine the reasoning behind and ramifications of these dichotomies from the Colonial Period to the present in genres that include literature, film, and music.  We will also explore how these binaries affect people who identify as biracial and bisexual.

This discussion-based course requires intensive reading, viewing, and listening and will foster your critical thinking and analytical writing.  Topics of discussion will include the “one-drop rule,” the slavery debate, miscegenation, racial passing, segregation, integration, interracial desire, and sexual passing.  Special attention will be given to individuals who and organizations that refuse to follow racial and sexual dictates. Authors will include Thomas Jefferson, Harriet Jacobs, Mark Twain, Nella LarsenJames Weldon Johnson, Ralph Ellison, June Jordan, James Baldwin, Audre LordeStevie Wonder, Prince, Adrienne Rich, E. Lynn Harris, and Barack Obama.

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Fugitive Vision: Slave Image and Black Identity in Antebellum Narrative

Posted in Books, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States on 2009-12-26 01:18Z by Steven

Fugitive Vision: Slave Image and Black Identity in Antebellum Narrative

Indiana University Press
272 pages
30 b&w photos, 6.125 x 9.25
ISBN-13: 978-0-253-34944-6
ISBN: 0-253-34944-3

Michael A. Chaney, Associate Professor of English
Dartmouth College

Analyzing the impact of black abolitionist iconography on early black literature and the formation of black identity, Fugitive Vision examines the writings of Frederick Douglass, William Wells Brown, William and Ellen Craft, Harriet Jacobs, and the slave potter David Drake. Juxtaposing pictorial and literary representations, the book argues that the visual offered an alternative to literacy for current and former slaves, whose works mobilize forms of illustration that subvert dominant representations of slavery by both apologists and abolitionists. From a portrait of Douglass’s mother as Ramses to the incised snatches of proverb and prophesy on Dave the Potter‘s ceramics, the book identifies a “fugitive vision” that reforms our notions of antebellum black identity, literature, and cultural production.

Table of Contents

  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Looking Beyond and Through the Fugitive Icon
  • Part 1. Fugitive Gender: Black Mothers, White Faces, Sanguine Sons
    1. Racing and Erasing the Slave Mother: Frederick Douglass, Parodic Looks, and Ethnographic Illustration
    2. Looking for Slavery at the Crystal Palace: William Wells Brown and the Politics of Exhibition(ism)
    3. The Uses in Seeing: Mobilizing the Portrait in Drag in Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom
  • Part 2. Still Moving: Revamped Technologies of Surveillance
    1. Panoramic Bodies: From Banvard‘s Mississippi to Brown’s Iron Collar
    2. The Mulatta in the Camera: Harriet Jacobs’s Historicist Gazing and Dion Boucicault‘s Mulatta Obscura
    3. Throwing Identity in the Poetry-Pottery of Dave the Potter
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Index
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