Faculty Members Examine Slave Narratives in American History Seminar

​Twenty-four faculty members from a variety of disciplines participated in CIC’s popular and long-running American history seminar, focused again on “Slave Narratives” and held at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, June 19–24. Cosponsored by CIC and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the seminar series is designed to help faculty members both strengthen their teaching and advance their research.

Renowned experts facilitated an exceptional seminar, which was organized by David W. Blight, Class of 1954 Professor of American History at Yale University and the director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. Due to a medical emergency, Blight was unable to lead the seminar this year. Edward Rugemer, professor of African American studies and history at Yale University, led the seminar, examining both antebellum and postbellum narratives and using slave narratives and other readings to establish the lived experience of slaves in the transition from bondage to freedom. Throughout the seminar, participants discussed Twelve Years a Slave, Abraham Lincoln’s policies and processes with regards to emancipation, and ways of reading, interpreting, and teaching Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

A special guest presenter, John Stauffer, professor of English and of African American studies at Harvard University, discussed the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and Douglass’s development as a writer, orator, and artist. The discussion wove together history, biography, source materials important to Douglass, and anecdotes. Stauffer examined the narrative and novelistic strategies that Douglass used, his complicated relationship with abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, and why Douglass’s wife Anna Murray is mentioned only once—which has much to do with the gender politics of the time. Stauffer read aloud some of his favorite passages and spoke of Douglass’s legacy as a writer and artist. He also shared thoughts and strategies about how to teach Douglass to undergraduates and emphasized that he faces the same challenges to reach students at Harvard as faculty everywhere.

Seminar participants visited the archives in the Special Collections Workshop in Yale’s Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Library where nearly 50 antebellum documents related to slavery—letters, bills of sale, contracts, trial documents, account books, and broadsides—are displayed. After surveying and selecting materials to discuss, participants each talked about “their” document, noting interested features and suggesting how they might use it in their teaching. Bill Landis, head of public services in Manuscripts and Archives, a special collections department within Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library, led the hands-on exercise and offered helpful commentary throughout. In addition, David Spatz, assistant director of Yale’s Gilder Lehrman Center, led participants on a walking tour of the library, campus, and the Amistad Memorial located in front of New Haven City Hall.

Seminar participant Jonathan Blandford, assistant professor of English at Bellarmine University (KY), commented, “For me, the most beneficial part of the seminar was being around a smart group of colleagues from other liberal arts institutions. I learned so much not just from the discussions at the seminar, but in conversations during meals and in walks between buildings. Some of that new knowledge will immediately enrich the literatures of slavery and abolition course that I’m teaching this July. But I also know that what I learned is going to inform and enrich my teaching and scholarship for years to come.”

The seminar was generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. CIC and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History will announce the 2017 seminar on American History this fall. For more information about the seminar series, visit www.cic.edu/AmericanHistory.

2016 “Slave Narratives” Participants

Alice Lloyd College (KY)
Cynthia Salmons
Assistant Professor of English

Baylor University (TX)
Elizabeth Dell
Senior Lecturer of English

Bellarmine University (KY)
Jon Blandford
Assistant Professor of English

Birmingham-Southern College (AL)
William Hustwit
Assistant Professor of History

Bloomfield College (NJ)
Ada Mckenzie
Assistant Professor of English and World Literature

Centenary University (NJ)
Raymond Frey
Professor of Social Science

Chaminade University of Honolulu (HI)
Allison Paynter
Associate Professor of English

Coe College (IA)
Brie Swenson Arnold
Associate Professor of History

Colorado College
Jared Richman
Associate Professor of English

Ferrum College (VA)
Melvin Macklin
Assistant Professor of English

Florida Memorial University
Tameka Hobbs
Assistant Professor of Arts and Sciences

Gardner-Webb University (NC)
Joseph Moore
Assistant Professor of Social Sciences

Goucher College (MD)
James Dator
Assistant Professor of History

Hastings College (NE)
Glenn Avent
Associate Professor of History

Lewis & Clark College (OR)
Rachel Cole
Associate Professor of English

Luther College (IA)
Lauren Anderson
Assistant Professor of Africana Studies and History

Maryville College (TN)
Aaron Astor
Associate Professor of History

Methodist University (NC)
Kelly Carney
Associate Professor of English

Molloy College (NY)
Mark James
Assistant Professor of English

Mount Holyoke College (MA)
Dorothy Mosby
Professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies

Muskingum University (OH)
William Kerrigan
Professor of History

Saint Xavier University (IL)
Graham Peck
Professor of History and Political Science

Shimer College (IL)
Daniela Barberis
Associate Professor of Social Sciences

Wilkes University (PA)
Diane Wenger
Associate Professor of Global History and Languages