College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

Graduation Date


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Department/Program Conferring Degree



freedom, political philosophy, social contract, african american literature, early modern


Can the concepts and ideas concerning freedom and bondage found within African American Slave narratives be read as political philosophic claims? How would one position the perspectives on liberty and liberalism found in slave narratives within the nexus of the history of political philosophy? It is my view that the arguments contained in the slave narratives are substantial enough to warrant the claim that they are philosophic in nature and that any serious critique or analysis of western conceptions of freedom from the enlightenment to modernity that does not address them can be considered incomplete. Within the history of political philosophy, the claims found in the slave narratives are comparable, both in their conceptual foundation and structure, to Social Contract theory. My dissertation examines African American slave narratives and social contract theory concurrently providing a new opportunity to explore the creation of the political self within the liberal tradition, specifically via literacy and narrative. Specifically, my dissertation analyzes the works of Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Locke, Henry Bibb, Harriet Jacobs, and Frederick Douglass.