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Forbes Wigmore
History / Economic & Social History
4th year
Memory, Performance and Authentic Self-Telling: Re-Appraising African-American Expression in Audio Recorded Slave Narratives
America during the 1930s was in the middle of a crippling economic depression. Splintered by economic hardship, racism and social unrest American society lay fractured. Yet, from this destitute period, a collective effort to seek and define America as a culture emerged. As part of this nationalist reawakening, thousands of Slave narratives were collected by individuals such as John and Alan Lomax; a father and son who have lamented their place as prominent American folklorists. This research project reappraises black sources through the implementation of oral history theory; looking beyond the face value of transcribed narratives. This approach has led to the analysis of a small collection of audio recorded interviews from 1935 to 1941. This research method has emphasised African-American expression, giving agency to a narrative that has so commonly been drowned out by racial biases. Giving precedence to the narratives crafted by former slaves has been at the forefront of this research project; highlighting a dynamic evidence base, borne out of the raw, authentic self-telling’s of former slaves. By studying a small collection of recordings from two of America’s most prominent folklorists; this research has contributed to recent scholarly reinterpretations of slavery; which have challenged traditional white narrative’s whilst re-appraising black sources. By appreciating the unique nature of ‘interviews’ as historical events; we gain an unparalleled history and evidentiary base, not available in a written source.
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