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“A Secret History of the Sable Venus: Digital Analysis, Narrative Authority, and the Language of Race in European Novels with Afro-Caribbean Female Protagonists, 1808-1827”

Nicole Aljoe
Tuesday March 22
OI Colloquium with Nicole Aljoe

One of the benefits of digital literary analysis is the possibility of employing machine learning to offer new and compelling close readings of archival texts. Consequently, this talk will explore the politics of and opportunities that close digital textual analyses, like topic modeling and Stylometry, offers to our understanding of the intriguing variety and diversity of ways in which Black women were figured, written about, and represented in literature in Europe at the beginning of the 19th-century. Closely examining the appearance of mixed-race female Caribbean protagonists in five fictional texts: The Woman of Colour (1808), Zelica, the Creole (1822), Ourika (1824), Joanna, or The Female Slave (1824), and “Theresa, A Haytien Tale” (1827), the talk will focus on the how these intriguingly nuanced narrative portraits of ‘accomplished’ Black female subjects complicates our understanding about the development of discourses of race within the fiction of the Romantic-era.

Nicole N. Aljoe is a professor of English and Africana Studies at Northeastern University. She received her PhD in English Literature from Tufts University, her MA in English Literature from the University Vermont, and her BA in Art History from Vassar College. She is co-Director of The Early Caribbean Digital Archive and Director the Early Black Boston Digital Almanac, both associated with Northeastern’s NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks and the Digital Scholarship Group. Her research focuses on 18th and early 19th Century Black Atlantic and Caribbean literatures with a specialization on the slave narrative and early novels. In addition to teaching in these areas, she has published essays and book chapters on these topics in American Literary History, The Journal of Early American Literature, African American Review, Anthurium, The Oxford Companion to African American Slave Narratives, and Teaching Anglophone Caribbean Literature. In her monograph Creole Testimonies: Slave Narratives from the British West Indies, 1709-1836 (Palgrave 2012) and in the co-edited collections Journeys of the Slave Narrative in the Early Americas (UVA Press, 11/2014) and, most recently, A Literary History of the Early Anglophone Caribbean: Islands in the Stream (Palgrave/Springer, April 2018), she extensively explores the myriad ways in which the voices of subalterns have appeared in the archives. Currently, she is at work on two new projects that extend this research in productive ways: in the first, she examines representations of Caribbean Women of Color produced in Europe and England between 1780 and 1840. And in the second, she explores relationships between narratives of black lives and the rise of the novel in Europe and the Americas in the 18th century.


The OI’s Colloquium Series is an ongoing seminar for scholars to present their work in progress for graduate students and colleagues.  Advanced registration is required. All participants read the pre-circulated  paper and prepare to engage in generous and generative feedback.

When we meet in person we are limited by the size of the OI’s conference room; online we limit registration to 40 (a typical size for the colloquium). No recordings are made of the discussions and no tweeting or posting on other social media platforms during the event is permitted in order to encourage this intellectual community of trusted exchange.


Contact Beverly Smith for your copy.


Tuesday, March 22

6:30 pm - 8:00 pm EDT



Nicole Aljoe

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