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In this bonus edition of The History of American Slavery, a Slate Academy, special guest Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. joins hosts Jamelle Bouie and Rebecca Onion to discuss slave narratives.
Dr. Gates recounts his own experience as a graduate student in the 1970s, when many historians were only beginning to accept the veracity and legitimacy of firsthand accounts of slavery. He also talks about how slave narratives influenced contemporary black literature and about whether using the accounts of exceptional individuals might distort our understanding of what an average enslaved person experienced.
This is the first edition of Office Hours, a series of bonus episodes of The History of American Slavery, a Slate Academy. Jamelle and Rebecca will use these miniepisodes to explore some of the larger, recurrent questions they’ve encountered while making the Academy.
Our guest this episode:
Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. is an Alphonse Fletcher university professor and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.
Here are some of the links discussed in this episode:
- The NYT’s Times Topic page about Dr. Gates is a useful place to find links to Gates’ writing and TV work, and to coverage of him as a public intellectual.
- When John W. Blassingame published The Slave Community in 1972, many historians criticized his use of antebellum slave narratives.
- A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, one of the earliest autobiographical accounts of slavery.
- The Signifying Monkey, published in 1988, is Gates’ pathbreaking study of the origins of African American literature.
- Gates on what James Baldwin can and can’t teach America, and Baldwin’s “burden of representation.”
- Access all features of the Slate Academy at Slate.com/Academy
Next time, on Episode 5 of The History of American Slavery, Jamelle and Rebecca remember the life of Charles Deslondes (unknown–1811). They’ll talk to Edward Baptist and Joshua Rothman about slavery’s role in the settlement of America’s frontier in the 19th century. Your homework, should you choose to accept it: Read an excerpt from Rothman’s book, Flush Times and Fever Dreams: A Story of Capitalism and Slavery in the Age of Jackson.
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This episode was originally published on July 22, 2015.