Remediating Stevenson: Decolonising Robert Louis Stevenson's Pacific Fiction through Graphic Adaptation, Arts Education and Community Engagement

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Literature Languages & Culture


This interdisciplinary project explores the legacies of Robert Louis Stevenson's Pacific writing, investigating the relevance of his work to contemporary readers in Samoa, Scotland and Hawai'i, and producing new art and poetry inspired by the three short stories published in Stevenson's 1893 collection Island Nights' Entertainments. These include 'The Bottle Imp' and 'The Isle of Voices' - set in Hawai'i - and 'The Beach of Falesá', rooted in Stevenson's experience of Samoan culture.

Given that educational institutions throughout the world are actively engaged in decolonising their curricula, Stevenson's work and legacy present a particularly valuable focus of inquiry. Stevenson became actively involved in supporting Samoan and Hawaiian indigenous sovereignty movements at a crucial period just before these islands were annexed by the US and Germany, and yet his Pacific fiction, while iconoclastic in featuring indigenous protagonists with considerable agency and dignity, and offering a critical proto-modernist perspective on western imperialism, still upholds many of the colonial stereotypes typical of fin-de-siecle western literature. This project is unique, in terms of:

(a) developing a set of creative outputs and teaching resources emphasising the relevance of Stevenson's Pacific corpus to explorations of pressing contemporary issues such as globalisation, the transnational, climate change and sustainability,
(b) exploring the rich and complex legacies that Stevenson's Pacific writing, and his historic presence in Hawai'i and Samoa, has left for contemporary Pacific communities, and
(c) producing the first ever graphic adaptation of the three Island Nights' Entertainments stories, translated into Samoan and Hawaiian. Other outputs include new poetry by indigenous authors; a documentary film; an exhibition; a website; and various scholarly publications.

The project contains three major disciplinary strands, focused around visual arts-based practice and research; literary/adaptation studies; and arts education/pedagogy. These inform various project activities and methods, including:

1) On-location and archival research into the environments, cultures and histories depicted in Stevenson's Pacific fiction, and the contexts in which his work was originally published and illustrated, so that the adaptation process takes due account of the fact that Stevenson's Pacific writing was inflected by a desire to develop a literary realism attuned to meticulous observations of Pacific cultures and places also documented in his Pacific travel writing, photography and painting

2) In recognition of Stevenson's own respect for Pacific traditions of cross-cultural reciprocity (informing his practice of sharing Scottish/European folk tales in exchange for narratives from indigenous Pacific interlocutors, and blending European and Pacific storytelling traditions in his writing), indigenous Pacific communities will be involved in every stage of our creative and research processes, using Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) methodologies, including:
(i) semi-structured interviews exploring what Stevenson means to contemporary Pacific communities, as well as project artists/poets
(ii) participatory arts workshops (run by project artists/poets in Samoa, Hawai'i and Scotland) enabling participants to produce an illustrated piece of creative writing engaging with Stevenson's literary legacy and/or the Pacific places/cultures depicted in his fiction
(iii) involving Samoan interns in the making of a documentary film which will draw upon indigenous methodologies

3) Consultations with educators in Samoa, Hawai'i and Scotland that will inform the production of teaching resource packs, attuned to local pedagogical needs and appropriate age groups, to accompany our graphic novel. Partnerships with local educational organisations will enable us to pursue options for our resources to be adopted at national curricular level.


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