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Title: Self and other in black and white : slaves' letters and the epistolary cultures of American slavery, c1730-1865
Author: Schiller, Ben
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2009
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Letters written by American Slaves constitute a significant corpus of evidence which reveals much about the ways they presented themselves and thought about others, both slave and free, whilst also providing invaluable information about the ways they lived their day to day lives and negotiated their place within social and disciplinary hierarchies. This thesis addresses two issues in parallel: first, it considers the ways we may read slaves’ letters as testaments to the way correspondents and recipients constructed themselves and others, which is to say the way in which the epistolary cultures of slavery that both masters and slaves made served as loci for the production and performance of self; second, it examines the reasons that slaves’ letters have not received the attention that ex-slave testimony, such as the Slave Narratives and the WPA interviews have received, an analysis that proposes that there are both methodological and ideological factors at work which have tended to obscure the value of slaves’ letters or the significance of the epistolary cultures of slavery. Given such attention to both history as event and history as literary process, the thesis is therefore necessarily a conversation between the theory that underpins historiographical and hermeneutic practice and that practice itself. As such it foregrounds methodology and makes explicit the theoretical structures that have shaped my understanding of the letters. By reading not only the letters themselves, but also the archives that contain them and the making of history around them, this thesis therefore profitably complicates our view of the ways in which slaves constructed themselves, each other, their masters and their world whilst also, in may cases for the first time, giving slaves’ own epistolary writings about such subjects a place in the history of their bondage.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available