Sunday, December 02, 2012

The Hanging of Angélique (My summary and paper thesis)

Afua Cooper and her astounding book

This is the summary of a book I analyzed for my last paper. It's a great piece of Canadian history which I think everyone should know about. I've also included my paper thesis/intro in the same format required for my class. Hope you enjoy it and are inspired to read this book!

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” – George Orwell

The Hanging of Angélique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montréal, written by Afua Cooper (2006), tells the story of the life, trial and execution of an Afro-Portuguese slave woman named Marie-Joseph Angélique in New France during the early 18th century. Cooper (2006), a Jamaican-born Canadian historian, poet and author, uses her academic power and expertise to reconstruct the memories and narrative of Angélique’s life that is rooted in the legacy of the Atlantic slave trade. As a result, she unveils a history of slavery in Canada that has been systematically written out of official history – therefore out of the collective consciousness – and covered up with the national myth of Canada as “freedom's land” (Cooper, 2006). While Canada did exist as a refuge for many runaway slaves escaping a life of bondage in America, its colonial history consists of over 200 years of institutionalized slavery of African and Indigenous peoples, shared between both the French and British colonial governments that were in power (Cooper, 2006).

When Angélique arrived to the New World in the year 1725, she had already spent her young life as a slave in Portugal, the country that had “initiated this Atlantic commerce in human flesh” (Cooper, 2006). She was soon sold to the wealthy fur trader François Poulin de Francheville and his wife, Thérèse de Couagne, with whom she spent a majority of her life as a slave in their home in Old Montréal (Cooper, 2006). Angélique openly resisted her position as a slave and declared her hatred for the French and her slave owner, Madame Francheville (then widowed), whom she threatened on numerous accounts to “roast” by fire after being denied permission to be freed (Cooper, 2006). Then, one April evening in 1734, the Francheville home lit up in flames and spread rapidly causing mass destruction to Old Montréal, all of which was immediately blamed on Angélique (Cooper, 2006). The next chapter of Angélique's life was spent in prison and on trial for allegedly causing the fire, and enduring horrendous torture before she took her final breath at the gallows on June 21, 1734 (Cooper, 2006). From this chapter, Cooper (2006) was able to capture Angélique's actual testimony from the trial and add her voice to the growing collection of both historical and contemporary stories of Black resistance that have been silenced and forgotten for far too long. 

This paper will highlight how Cooper succeeded in unearthing a history of slavery, deeply buried in Canada's consciousness, which subverts Canada's hegemonic “master-narrative” of Whiteness as the norm, as well as contributes to a positive representation of Black women in Canadian history. Through telling the story otherwise, Cooper disrupts the homogeneous construction of Black slaves as a singular, nameless, one dimensional body, and breathes life into Angélique so that she is represented as a complex individual, who asserted her strength and courage as she resisted racial subjugation. The Hanging of Angélique (2006) offers a form of “pedagogical memory” so that present generations can learn and heal from this painful history, as well as “develop a moral and healthy relationship to the past” (Baum, 2000). In reading this history, we all must consider, not only Cooper's position as a historian and the power she holds in narrating Angélique's life, but also our own social location and relationship to slavery in Canada and how this has influenced the meanings we make about society. Through using “critical viewing practices - that is practices of looking that take into account the authority and power of the historically and culturally situated viewer in the production of meanings” (Sturken & Cartwright, 2003), we can consider the cultural context in which we shape, question and negotiate our identities in relation to society, and which dictates the pedagogical arena through which we have learned about Canadian history. We can also use these practices to think about how we remember (or forget) Canada's role as active participants in the Atlantic slave trade, as well as the ensuing racism that is embedded in Canada's social framework.

Baum, R. (2000). Never to forget: Pedagogical memory and second-generation witness. Between Hope and Despair: Pedagogy and the Remembrance of Historical Trauma. R. Simon, S. Rosenberg, &  C. Eppert (Eds.). Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield. 91-115.

Cooper, A. (2006). The Hanging of Angélique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montréal. Toronto: Harper Collins. Print.

Sturken, M. & Cartwright, L. (2003). Viewers make meaning. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. Oxford University Press. 1-44.

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