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date: 08 April 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The slave narratives have played a major role in the study of American slavery and of more general issues in antebellum American culture. They have been heavily used in efforts to delineate the character of the antebellum American slave community, including internal hierarchies, the nature of family, kinship, and social networks, and cultural forms such as religion and folk traditions. They have also done much to illuminate the character of slavery as a system. The use of the narratives as evidence has not, however, been without complications. Until about the middle of the twentieth century, many historians questioned the narratives’ accuracy and utility. After that time, shifting perspectives on the institution and more complex approaches to the narratives’ evidentiary use has led to their occupying an increasingly important place in slavery studies. Such more complex approaches have also led to their growing importance in the study of abolitionism, nineteenth-century American literary culture, and the composition of the antebellum American public sphere.

Keywords: slavery, slave narratives, slave community, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, slave family, Solomon Northup, William Wells Brown, historiography, Ulrich B. Phillips, George Washington Williams, W. E. B. Du Bois, Journal of Negro History, abolitionism, s

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