Wilkes University


Wilkes University History Professor Diane Wenger Attends National Seminar Studying Use of Slave Narratives In History

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Diane Wenger, Wilkes University associate professor of history and co-chair of the Division of Global Cultures, participated in a special Diane Wenger, Wilkes University associate professor of history and co-chair of the Division of Global Cultures, participated in a special American history seminar on “Slave Narratives.” It was sponsored by the Council of Independent Colleges and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Wenger was selected from a pool of 66 highly competitive nominations nationwide.
Twenty-seven faculty members in history, English, and related fields participated in the seminar which was held at Yale University June 19-24. The faculty members used slave narratives as well as secondary readings to examine the lived experience of slaves themselves in the transition from bondage to freedom. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funded the seminar.
“Attending the CIC Slave Narrative Seminar was an extraordinary experience,” Wenger said. “It gave me the opportunity to discuss the experiences of enslaved African-Americans, using testimonies from slaves themselves, who experienced slavery's horrors firsthand, with a diverse group of college educators from around the country as well as with Yale and Harvard professors who are specialists in this discipline.”
Wenger reviewed works from both literary and historical perspectives, examining how the legacy of slavery continues to impact American society and attitudes towards race today. Throughout the seminar, faculty shared effective ways to use the assigned works to teach and create assignments for students.
Wenger will use excerpts from the selected slave narratives in her First Year Foundations course and American History courses in the fall. She also plans to create a new class related to the seminar information. 
“The main product of my experience at the seminar will be to develop a new special topics class on Slave Narratives in American History that I will offer in Spring 2017,” Wenger explained. “I am really excited about teaching this course and I am very grateful to CIC and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History for the opportunity to attend the seminar and bring back what I learned to my students at Wilkes.”
The seminar participants examined antebellum and postbellum narratives including 65 narratives published prior to the Civil War which focused on the oppression of slavery and former slaves’ indictment of the institution of bondage as a means of advancing the antislavery argument. They also studied 55 post-emancipation narratives which contained success stories on triumphs of the past and visions of a prosperous future. Faculty also examined the pre-war narrative of Frederick Douglass and the post-war narrative of Booker T. Washington along with several other books including A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Narratives of Emancipation by David W. Blight, professor of American History at Yale University. John Stauffer, professor of English and of African American Studies at Harvard University and Edward Rugemer, professor of African American Studies and history at Yale University led the seminar.