Exploring the legacies of Robert Louis Stevenson's Pacific writing
We hear from the researchers behind Remediating Stevenson, a new three-year project to engage contemporary readers in Samoa, Scotland and Hawai'i.
A team from the Universities of Edinburgh and Chester has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to decolonise Robert Louis Stevenson's Pacific fiction through graphic adaptation, arts education and community engagement.
The three-year project (2022 to 2025) will explore the legacies of Stevenson's Pacific writing, specifically the three short stories published in his 1893 collection ‘Island Nights' Entertainments’.
In investigating the Scottish writer’s relevance to contemporary readers in Samoa and Hawai'i, as well as Scotland itself, the team will work in partnership with educators, non-profit organisations, artists and writers on a multimodal programme of community-based participatory research.
The project’s Principal Investigator is Professor Michelle Keown of the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC), working alongside Dr Shari Sabeti (Moray House School of Education and Sport, University of Edinburgh) and Dr Simon Grennan (University of Chester).
Situating Stevenson in his multimodal context
As the researchers point out, Stevenson was actively involved in supporting Samoan and Hawaiian indigenous sovereignty movements, and the indigenous protagonists in his Pacific fiction have considerable agency and dignity - yet his stories still uphold many of the colonial stereotypes typical of fin-de-siecle western literature.
In their research, they will be analysing the relationship between Stevenson's Pacific fiction (including 'The Isle of Voices', 'The Beach of Falesá' and 'The Bottle Imp') and his Pacific travel writing; ethnography; historiography; photography; letters and painting.
Crucially, they will be engaging extensively with contemporary members of the indigenous communities depicted in the fiction to create new editions and cultural responses, such as the first ever multilingual graphic adaptation of the three stories from ‘Island Nights' Entertainments’.
Alongside an edited collection of essays and journal articles, they will publish new poetry by indigenous Pacific authors, teaching resources for use in Samoa, Hawai’i and Scotland, and interviews with contributors, and produce a unique documentary film exploring contemporary Samoan perspectives on Stevenson.
Building capacity and confidence
Michelle Keown researches, teaches, and supervises student research on Postcolonial Writing, Pacific literature and film, and the relationship between literary Modernism and the British Empire.
In her teaching, she has previously involved English Literature students in a collaboration with Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) Illustration MA students, to produce pilot graphic adaptations of the three Stevenson stories featured in this new AHRC project.
She has worked with Dr Shari Sabeti on the Marshallese Arts Project (MAP), collaborating with artists Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Solomon Enos and Munro Te Whata on participatory arts workshops with school-aged children to better understand the Marshallese experience of displacement, including in Hawai’i.
Through this new project, she is looking forward to further building capacity and confidence among aspiring indigenous creative writers and artists, as well as supporting the decolonisation of collections within participating museums through an exhibition and linked online event.
The project has been awarded just over £1m in funding, with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) contributing £809k.