For my first project of the semester, I wanted to do something with The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do at first but I did really like his detailed descriptions of each place he visited (and he certainly visited a lot of places!) I used this as a starting point and decided to dig deeper into some of these locations. I thought an interactive map may best convey this, so I first found an image of an 18th century map to use as a base for my project. I then skimmed through Equiano again to pick out at least nine of the locations he visited during his travels. For my locations, I decided to use Smyrna in Turkey, Naples and Genoa in Italy, Oporto in Portugal, London in England, Brimstone Hill in Montserrat, Bridge Town in Barbados, Kingston in Jamaica, and Charleston in South Carolina. Next, I began to map out the interconnecting routes between these 9 locations and made a key detailing what year Equiano travelled there and the ship and ship’s captain for that particular voyage. I tried to pick the most interesting locations in the text and based this on what Equiano himself wrote about each location. For example, even though he only briefly mentions Charleston, he mentions seeing celebrations stemming from the repeal of the stamp act and this I thought would make for some interesting research. As for why I decided to do all this… well, personally, I’m not well-versed in history. I can’t be the only one in this course who isn’t (or, it’s not likely that I’m the only one at least) so I thought that maybe it would help others learn more about Equiano’s travels if I put some of the locations into more of a historical context. And as a result I now know a lot more about this time period and my research was filled with a lot of fascinating information! I had to stop myself from writing mini-essays on each location because there was just so much I could’ve included, but I tried to only include the biggest take-aways/what was most relevant to what Equiano said about the location too.
So overall, this brings me to why literature matters. We can learn a lot from it. In fact, historically, we have learnt a lot from it. The fact that people were writing things down during the 18th century is the entire reason this map was possible. I wouldn’t have had anything to research otherwise because we would’ve known nothing about the time period. I think that’s fascinating, that we have the ability now to glimpse into different time periods like this and see what has changed and what hasn’t. To use Equiano as an example, he wrote a very detailed slave narrative and it’s through this piece of literature that we can take a glimpse into his world at the time. We can even think about why this literature mattered for the time it was written in, because Equiano’s work is itself something that helped the abolishment of the slave trade. This goes to show just how literature matters! It educated people then and it can still educate people now.
And I think literature matters because it connects us to cultures different from our own. This reminds me of Death of the King’s Horseman, when Olunde says that people don’t respect what they don’t understand. Literature is one way that helps us understand and helps us respect. Over the years, it has certainly challenged my own preconceived misconceptions. Literature sparks conversation and through this conversation we’re able to garner a better overall understanding and for this, and many other reasons, I think literature really is important.