Mathelinda Nabugodi talks about ‘The Trembling Hand: Reflections of a Black Woman in the Romantic Archive’ at the Birkbeck Arts Week, 18 May 2022

Image credit: Thomas Stothard, “Voyage of the Sable Venus from Angola to the West Indies” (1801)

Romanticism is best known as a movement celebrating political and imaginative liberty—the human mind freeing itself from the shackles of tradition. But Romanticism also coincided with the apex of the transatlantic slave trade. In this lecture, Mathelinda Nabugodi uncovers some of the links between the poetry of freedom and the practices of slavery in the Romantic period, drawing on her current work-in-progress, a critical memoir entitled The Trembling Hand: Reflections of a Black Woman in the Romantic Archive.

The book is structured around a series of encounters with objects contained in the archives of the major Romantic poets: unexpected treasures such as Wordsworth’s teacup, Shelley’s baby rattle, or Byron’s carnival mask. Establishing a direct, physical link between the Romantic past and our own present, these relics prompt a wide-ranging reflection on the period’s legacy in our own time—its poetic ideals as well as its painful realities. In this way, the book makes a distinct contribution to the national conversation about British history and culture in the wake of calls to decolonise the curriculum and remove statues celebrating slavers and colonisers.
This event is in-person at Birkbeck’s School of Arts, as part of Arts Week 2022.