Theses Doctoral

Sovereign Fictions: Self-Determination and the Literature of the Nigeria-Biafra War

Engebretson, Jess

This dissertation explores questions of African literature and international law through the lens of the Nigeria-Biafra war (1967-1970). A defining trauma of modern Nigerian history, the war produced a rich and sustained vein of writing that stretches from the late 1960s through the present day, encompassing canonical Nigerian novels as well as a number of British and diasporic texts. Drawing on both literary and legal theory, I argue that this body of work mobilizes particular literary features—including narrative, analogy, allegory, and genre—to articulate both familiar and innovative logics of sovereignty. The structure of the project is primarily conceptual and loosely chronological. The first half explores narratives of development in relation to international law’s standard of civilization, focusing on British colonial writing (Chapter 1) and postwar allegorical novels (Chapter 2). The second half attends to how narrative fiction formally registers mid-20th century developments in international law, focusing on writers' use of analogy as a mode of theorizing genocide (Chapter 3) and the role of genre fiction in imagining economic sovereignty (Chapter 4). Throughout, I show how novelists pick up and transform literary tropes first articulated in wartime journalism, propaganda, and activist pamphlets.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Hart, Matthew
Slaughter, Joseph R.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 8, 2021