Laura T. Murphy, “Modern Slave Narratives” | National Humanities Center


Laura T. Murphy, “Modern Slave Narratives”

April 4, 2018

Legalized slavery has been abolished around the world, yet human trafficking remains a significant problem. Though slavery may not take the exact forms it did in the nineteenth century, approximately 45.8 million persons in 167 countries endure modern forms of slavery. Fellow Laura Murphy, Associate Professor of English and Director of the Modern Slavery Research Project at Loyola University New Orleans, is currently at work on a book about the way survivors of forced labor have mobilized the discourse of slavery in the twenty-first century to reinvigorate their struggles for freedom.

In this podcast, Murphy discusses the generic conventions of the slave narrative and how they complicate our notions of what it means to be free. For instance, in what she terms the “not-yet-freedom narrative,” survivors of slavery find their lives still circumscribed by systemic injustices, even after emancipation. By approaching the topic of slavery through the lens provided by literary analysis, Murphy argues it is possible to discover new insights into the conventions surrounding modern enslavement and more fully understand the experiences of those caught up in them.

Laura Murphy
Laura Murphy, Loyola University New Orleans
Laura Murphy studies historical and modern slavery and postcolonial studies and applies her research in a variety of projects. She is the lead researcher for Loyola’s Modern Slavery Research Project, and recently co-authored a report entitled “Human Trafficking and Exploitative Labor Among Homeless Youth in New Orleans.” She won the 2014 African Literature Association First Book Prize for Metaphor and the Slave Trade in West African Literature, which examines the coded ways West African writers have memorialized the trauma of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Her book Survivors of Slavery: Modern-Day Slave Narratives explores human trafficking through the first-person testimony of nearly forty people who have been enslaved in the last twenty years. She is currently working on a new book, The New Slave Narrative, a literary critical analysis of the reemergence of the slave narrative tradition in the late twentieth century.