Anna Mae Duane

Fellow’s Talk: Anna Mae Duane on Contested Meanings of Slavery

2022–23 Fellow's Talk. “God can sometimes Make a Prison a Palace:” Unexpected Engagements in the Contested Meanings of Slavery from the Nineteenth Century to the Present Moment. Professor of English, UConn, Anna Mae Duane, with a response by Hassanaly Ladha. Wednesday April 12, 3:30pm. UCHI Conference Room, Homer Babbidge Library. This event will also be livestreamed.

“God can sometimes Make a Prison a Palace:” Unexpected Engagements in the Contested Meanings of Slavery from the Nineteenth Century to the Present Moment

Anna Mae Duane (Professor, English, UConn)

with a response by Hassanaly Ladha (LCL, UConn)

Wednesday, April 12, 2023, 3:30pm, Humanities Institute Conference Room (HBL 4-209)

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The event will also be livestreamed with automated captioning.

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How is that one word—slavery—can be deployed to completely opposite ends? Even as it evokes divisive racial and colonial histories, the term slavery has the capacity to accommodate an incredibly diverse, and often paradoxical, set of political arguments and legal practices. This talk, taken from Duane’s book in progress, Like A Slave: Slavery’s Appropriation from The Revolution to QAnon, explores how slavery has been deployed as a metaphor, and in the process, the ways Americans have continually reshaped the collective memory and historical meaning accorded to the most brutal—and central—institution in the history of the United States. Duane contends that slavery’s shifting meanings have emerged as an ongoing dialogue between white supremacist appropriations of slavery’s threat and Black authors’ insistent rewritings of slavery’s meanings. As white writers imagined everything from seduction, to drunkenness, to imprisonment as a form of “slavery,” they were also implicitly shifting the parameters of what constituted freedom. Thus, when nineteenth-century Black writers insisted on alternate ways of defining and remembering slavery, they are offering rhetorical, legal and imaginative redefinitions of not only the crime of enslavement, but also the possibilities of freedom. This talk will focus on how literary depictions of prison—the very status that animates slavery analogies for prison abolitionists today—were sometimes imagined by nineteenth-century African American authors as sites of respite and resistance from the alleged freedom offered by the white household.

Anna Mae Duane is a Professor of English and American Studies at the University of Connecticut. She has written or edited six books, including Suffering Childhood in Early America: Violence Race and the Making of the Child Victim; The Children’s Table: Childhood Studies and the Humanities; Child Slavery before and after Emancipation: An Argument for Child Centered Slavery Studies. She co-edited Who Writes for Black Children: African American Children’s Literature before 1800 with Kate Capshaw. She is the co-host, along with Victoria Ford Smith and Kate Capshaw, of the Children’s Table Podcast. Her work has been supported by the NEH, the Fulbright Foundation, and by the Yale Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition. Her latest book, Educated for Freedom: The Incredible Story of How Two Fugitive Schoolboys Grew Up to Change a Nation, was supported by a UCHI Faculty Fellowship. During her fellowship year, Professor Duane will be working on a book project entitled, “Like a Slave: Slavery’s Appropriation from the American Revolution to QAnon.”

Hassanaly Ladha is an Associate Professor of French and Comparative Literature and the Graduate Advisor in French and Francophone Studies at the University of Connecticut. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Yale University and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Princeton University. He taught at Harvard University before joining the faculty in Literatures, Cultures, and Languages at UConn. His first book, The Architecture of Freedom: Hegel, Subjectivity, and the Postcolonial State (Bloomsbury Academic, 2020), which was supported by a 2015–2016 Humanities Institute Fellowship, offers a new reading of Hegel’s related theories of Africa and the dialectic, language and the aesthetic, and mastery and slavery, tracing the implications of these concepts for postcolonial studies and political theory.

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If you require accommodation to attend this event, please contact us at or by phone (860) 486-9057. We can request ASL interpretation, computer-assisted real time transcription, and other accommodations offered by the Center for Students with Disabilities.

A New Director for the Humanities Institute

We are very excited to welcome Professor Anna Mae Duane as the fourth director of the UConn Humanities Institute. Her appointment as director will begin this August.

As Provost Anne D’Alleva noted in her announcement of Professor Duane’s appointment, Professor Duane was selected from a very impressive pool of candidates and “has demonstrated a commitment to and understanding of the humanities across a range of disciplines and support for the diverse voices and perspectives that constitute UCHI.”

The recipient of two UCHI fellowships, Professor Duane is deeply involved in interdisciplinary scholarship at UConn and beyond. A professor of English, Professor Duane conducts research that reaches beyond disciplinary boundaries, engaging with childhood studies, literary and critical theory, and disability studies.

Professor Duane has articulated an exciting vision for the Humanities Institute—building on the legacy created over the past twenty-one years, in large part by the leadership of current director Michael Lynch, and branching out in new directions to create an even more robust and vibrant community of humanities scholars at UConn. We can’t wait to see that vision in action.

We’d like to thank the search committee for their work, and we would also like to thank the whole Provost’s office for overseeing the search process, with special thanks to Senior Vice Provost Jeffrey Shoulson.

A Message from the New Director

Anna Mae Duane headshot

It’s a dream come true for me to lead the Humanities Institute here at UConn. As a faculty member and as a UCHI fellow, I’ve had a front row seat to the remarkable leadership of our previous Director, Michael Lynch, Director of Academic Affairs Alexis Boylan, and the rest of the UCHI team, including Yohei Igarashi, Elizabeth Della Zazzera, Nasya Al-Saidy, and Mary Volpe. Together, they have fostered an internationally recognized site of intellectual excellence that fosters cutting-edge research and collaboration. As we move forward, I am committed to building on this foundation by continuing our outreach to renowned scholars in the humanities across the globe, while expanding our efforts within the UConn community to support our faculty and students.
—Anna Mae Duane

The Sharon Harris Award Winner and Finalists Announced

The University of Connecticut Humanities Institute (UCHI) is proud to announce the winner and the two finalists of this year’s Sharon Harris Book Award. The Sharon Harris Annual Book Award is given for a monograph published by UConn Tenure, Tenure-Track, Emeritus, or In-Residence faculty that best demonstrates scholarly depth and intellectual acuity and highlights the importance of humanities scholarship.

This year’s winner is Kathryn Blair Moore, an Assistant Professor of Art History, for her book The Architecture of the Christian Holy Land: Reception from Late Antiquity through the Renaissance (Cambridge University Press, 2017)

The finalists are Hassanaly Ladha, Assistant Professor of French and Francophone Studies, for The Architecture of Freedom: Hegel, Subjectivity, and the Postcolonial State (Bloomsbury, 2020)and Anna Mae Duane, Associate Professor of English, for Educated for Freedom: The Incredible Story of Two Fugitive Schoolboys Who Grew Up to Change a Nation (NYU Press, 2020).




Kathryn Blair Moore, The Architecture of the Christian Holy Land: Reception from Late Antiquity through the Renaissance (Cambridge University Press, 2017)

Professor Kathryn Moore’s book is a wonder of scope, methodology, and scholarly creativity that examines buildings enclosing spaces associated with the bodily presence of important religious figures as foci for real and imagined pilgrimages.  Moore employs the destruction and re-creation of architecture as a lens for viewing interchanges of cultures and religions, providing a compelling historical account that challenges current dominant narratives of age-old, intractable faith-based conflicts. Noteworthy for drawing upon both visual and material culture as well as textual sources from four continents, this monumental work advances the fields of history of art, architecture, and religion, and contributes broadly to the humanities by demonstrating the mediated nature of the experience of the architecture of the Holy Land.




Hassanaly Ladha, The Architecture of Freedom: Hegel, Subjectivity, and the Postcolonial State (Bloomsbury, 2020)

Professor Hassanaly Ladha’s groundbreaking work brings new and important insights to Hegelian philosophy. It sheds light on misunderstood areas in Hegel’s works, particularly relating to his view and presentation of Africa within the prism of his ideas on the master-slave dialectic and the political state; it is the first work to clarify the place occupied by Africa in Hegel’s understanding of the aesthetic origin of freedom, and underlines Hegel’s relevance as a modern philosopher in modern discussions on slavery and post-colonialism. Professor Ladha’s work is a remarkable reassessment of both Hegel’s major works and also neglected and misunderstood writings.

Anna Mae Duane, Educated for Freedom: The Incredible Story of Two Fugitive Schoolboys Who Grew Up to Change a Nation (NYU Press, 2020)

Professor Duane’s exquisite book tells the entwined stories of James McCune Smith and Henry Highland Garnet, two classmates at the Mulberry Street New York African Free School in the 1820s, as they become renowned public figures and leaders in the struggle for black freedom. With an innovative narrative approach and creative archival work, Duane draws from their individual journey’s fresh insights to big historical questions and concerns, shedding new light on American racial formation, childhood, and the very meanings of freedom, belonging, and realized human potential. Duane’s eminently readable work demonstrates the expansive capacities of the humanities with beautiful craft and style.

Alexis Boylan Lead Author of New Book on Feminism and Mad Max

University of Connecticut Humanities Institute (UCHI) Director of Academic Affairs, Alexis Boylan, is the lead author of a new book entitled Furious Feminisms: Alternative Routes on Mad Max: Fury Road (University of Minnesota Press, 2019). The book uses the feminist credentials of George Miller’s 2015 Mad Max: Fury Road film to ask “what is possible, desirable, or damaging in theorizing feminism in the contested landscape of the twenty-first century.” The authors tackle this issue from four different disciplinary angles: art history, American literature, disability studies, and sociology. Other authors of the book are Anna Mae Duane,  associate professor of English at UConn and a UCHI Class of 2016-2017 Fellow; Michael Gill, an associate professor of disability studies in the department of Cultural Foundations of Education at Syracuse University; and Barbara Gurr, associate professor in residence in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program at UConn. 


Cover the book surrounded by the headshots of the authors: Alexis Boylan, Anna Mae Duane, Michael Gill, and Barbara Gurr