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German Abolitionism: Kotzebue and the Transnational Debate on Slavery

  • Author(s): Oduro-Opuni, Obenewaa
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License

This essay challenges the notion of an absence of German abolitionist awareness in Europe during the Age of Enlightenment. Furthermore, it highlights the lack of a scholarly engagement with historical German debates on slavery and abolition in the media and the public sphere. In this regard, I investigate the transnational significance of German abolitionist discourse based on the work of August von Kotzebue (1761–1819). For this reason, I explore the formulation of Kotzebue’s antislavery trajectory by illustrating intertextual instances involving his play Die Negersklaven: ein historisch-dramatisches Gemählde in drey Akten 1796 (The Negro Slaves: A Historical-dramatic Painting, in Three Acts 1796). In so doing, I demonstrate that Kotzebue makes a substantial and significant contribution to transnational abolitionist discourse of the late eighteenth century in the form of an abolitionist text that discursively and polemically condemns slavery as an inhumane institution. My analysis makes the case for a revised understanding of German-language contributions to this transnational debate. In addition, I expose a marginalization and scarcity of scholarship on German-speaking abolitionism and abolitionist efforts within German Studies, which is of similar relevance to transatlantic American studies, that usually does not consider German-language contributions. Therefore, this study widens the discipline’s scope by an inclusion of additional voices with regard to the context of slavery and abolition that traditionally belong to the spectrum of American literature and history.

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