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date: 21 June 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This essay examines the problematic nature of individual memory in the writing of slave narratives; considers scholars’ attention to both individual and collective memory in their interpretations of slave narratives; and evaluates slave narratives’ changing role in shaping the broader public’s understanding of slavery in American history. Scholars and general readers largely ignored slave narratives from the late nineteenth century until oral interviews with former slaves conducted in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration became widely available in the 1970s. Since that time, slave narratives have become central to our collective cultural memory of slaves and slavery.

Keywords: slave narratives, collective memory, autobiographical memory, traumatic memory, oral history, historiography, Works Progress Administration

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