Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.


The Lost Prince of American Bohemians: The Strange Life and Mysterious Death of Ralph Keeler, Literary Vagabond

Ralph Keeler is the most extraordinary American that you’ve never heard of—a performer, traveler and writer who blazed a trail through the heart of literary scene on both sides of the continent in the decade after the Civil War. His astonishing adventures—and, particularly, his equally enigmatic end—can be traced through the pages of America’s Historical Newspapers.

 

A potted biography can hardly do justice to the vicissitudes of Keeler’s short life: as a runaway child, Keeler became part of a minstrel troupe that travelled around the country, including a stint along the Mississippi River in a showboat. Leaving that life behind to pursue an education, he made his way to Europe where he enrolled as a student at Heidelberg University. Returning to America after the Civil War, he gravitated to San Francisco—at that moment, the capital of Bohemian life in the newly reunited nation. It was an apt choice: Keeler’s flamboyant personal style soon captured the attention of the city’s literati, and he became friends with writers like Mark Twain, Bret Harte and Charles Warren Stoddard. At first he worked as a teacher: notice of his address to the “The State Teachers’ Institute,” in his role as “Principal of the Foreign Evening School,” appeared in the Weekly Alta-California, the city’s leading newspaper, in May 1867.

The Lost Prince of American Bohemians: The Strange Life and Mysterious Death of Ralph Keeler, Literary Vagabond


Unlearning from Uncle Tom's Cabin in Black Literary Studies After Ferguson: Perspectives from a Graduate Seminar Utilizing Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

 

Most important, Stowe’s text allows whites to talk to other whites about the personal and national issues surrounding the slave [and current] black experience and establishes the character types usually associated with African Americans.

Sophia Contave, “Who Gets to Create the Lasting Images?”

 

During the very first session of my Spring 2015 graduate seminar on “Revising Uncle Tom's Cabin: 19th-Century African American Novelists Respond,” I asked the students enrolled to begin generating ideas for the collaboratively authored papers they would later publish in The Readex Report. To stimulate use of the online resource Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia, I assigned a focused timeline project. Because my seminar first met on Thursday, January 22, 2015, the course objectives included: “[To] Help students learn to situate themselves in the academy as raced sociopolitical beings.” To this goal, I added two online resources, Race—The Power of an Illusion and 12 Things White People Can Do Now Because Ferguson. If I were to generate now a timeline pinpointing political and cultural events surrounding the months during which my seminar students generated very different timelines, my own would include:

Unlearning from Uncle Tom's Cabin in Black Literary Studies After Ferguson: Perspectives from a Graduate Seminar Utilizing Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922


Antebellum Christian Tracts and the “Africanist Presence”: A Lesson Plan for African American Literature Courses

 

Introduction: “Christians, attend, while I relate…” [1]

Legh Richmond’s The African Widow, a pamphlet circulated by the Christian-based American Tract Society in 1827, unwittingly displays a poignant example of the role Christianity has played in the creation and continuation of stereotypes of African Americans. The stereotypes invoked in the readable didactic poetry of The African Widow depict what Toni Morrison has named the “Africanist presence.”[2] While white supremacists and other proponents of slavery used Christianity to dehumanize and subjugate black people, antebellum abolitionists ironically also exploited Christian networks as venues for their own sociopolitical agendas.

The African Widow, a 25-page pamphlet included in the Readex collection Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922, exposes an Africanist presence lurking in the published works of Christian-based organizations, including the American Tract Society (ATS). While instructing readers in Christian values, this tract synchronously appropriates enslaved black people’s stories of their experiences outside Africa. Richmond’s pamphlet allows various insights into how an exploitation of Christian networks and incorporation of an Africanist presence compounded the continuation of negative stereotypes of African Americans. Reading this pamphlet, students are able to evaluate three of its poems that center on the eponymous African woman character and her relationship with the tragedy of slavery. In addition, reading the pamphlet allows students to understand how early abolitionists taught white moral development and white superiority to children through Christianity.

Antebellum Christian Tracts and the “Africanist Presence”: A Lesson Plan for African American Literature Courses


Advocating Activisms: Teaching Interracial Political Activist Models in Contemporary College Classrooms

Black and White women during the U.S. antebellum period participated in abolitionist and social activist work through a variety of organizational outlets. One of those outlets was the 1837 interracial Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women, documents of which—Proceedings of the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women (1837) and An Appeal to the Women of the Nominally Free States Issued by an Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women (1837)—appear in Readex’s online collection Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia.  Understanding how women from racially diverse backgrounds worked together toward social change in the U.S. could serve today as an illuminating example for students concerned with racial discord and interracial relations in our nation, both then and now.  Afro-Americana Imprints gives us the opportunity to look back at these particular documents and analyze them for useful activist strategies for working toward progressive social change—negotiation of interracial relations, strategies of self-representation, representations of others—but also for missteps, including cultural miscommunications. These two documents, among the thousands available in this online collection, can help us strengthen ways we engage in meaningful and effective interracial work. Moreover, they can enrich our opportunities to enact significant changes to our contemporary activism(s).

Advocating Activisms: Teaching Interracial Political Activist Models in Contemporary College Classrooms


African American Education and Postbellum Ambivalence: A Look at the Relationship between the Presbyterian Church and Lincoln University

 

As for intellect, all I can say is, if a woman have a pint and a man a quart—why cant she have her little pint full? You need not be afraid to give us our rights for fear we will take too much,—for we cant take more than our pint'll hold.

— Attributed to Sojourner Truth (June 21, 1851)[1]

African American Education and Postbellum Ambivalence: A Look at the Relationship between the Presbyterian Church and Lincoln University


Reading between the Lines: Exploring Postbellum Plantation Memoirists through Digitized Newspaper Collections

Late nineteenth and early twentieth-century plantation memoirs and reminiscences are an important, though often overlooked, genus of Lost Cause apologia. Printed by some of the nation’s leading publishing houses, these narrative sources tend to foreground a conspicuous nostalgia for the plantation-era South, adopting literary strategies that connect with discourses of paternalism and carefully fashioned vignettes on close affinities, real or imagined, between master and slave.

Despite a recent plethora of books on the southern autobiographical impulse, critical assessment of plantation memoirs and reminiscences has not been forthcoming to date. This is unfortunate, not least because the potential scope of such analysis affords an excellent opportunity to reveal the ways in which white elites used a lifetime’s memories to underpin southern regional identity and history in the years following the Civil War and Reconstruction. This absence of scholarly attention may indicate the unfashionable status of a cluster of authors who, writing many years after the events they describe, privilege fond memories of plantation life and lifestyle. Much ink was spilled in an effort to capture everyday relationships and social interactions between ruling landowners and their dependents that from today’s vantage point can appear overblown, obtuse or outdated.

Reading between the Lines: Exploring Postbellum Plantation Memoirists through Digitized Newspaper Collections


Teaching Bibliography and Research: Using Early American Imprints in an Online Graduate Class

The Charles Brockden Brown Electronic Archive and Scholarly Edition is currently preparing for its archive nearly 900 periodical texts, many of which were published anonymously or under a pseudonym. Our goal is to identify these texts, and make them available electronically in the archive. During the course of locating Charles Brockden Brown’s political pamphlets on the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and Jefferson’s Embargo (1807), I first came to use the four Archive of Americana collections of Early American Imprints. That initial encounter with Early American Imprints, Series II and its Supplement from the Library Company of Philadelphia (LCP) would lead me to incorporate its companions—Early American Imprints, Series I and its Supplement from LCP—into my online ENG 5009 Bibliography and Research class and to explore how all four series can complement the assignment on library research tools.

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Teaching Bibliography and Research: Using Early American Imprints in an Online Graduate Class


Bay Mares, Coquettes, and Plumage: Naming and Novel Celebrity

For most present-day racetrack goers, it seems unlikely that a horse named Eliza Wharton might cause a flash of recognition, a knowing smile, or a startle at the potential impropriety. But for nineteenth-century racing fans, this was not the case.

“Eliza Wharton” was the heroine of Hannah Webster Foster’s 1797 best-selling novel, The Coquette, loosely based on a New England scandal of the previous decade involving Elizabeth Whitman, the daughter of a well-known minister in Hartford, Connecticut. The novel’s heroine, likewise a minister’s daughter, spurns the advances of a rather staid minister, only to succumb to the seductive wiles of a well-known rake, fall pregnant, and flee her parents’ home for Danvers, Massachusetts, where she eventually dies after delivering a stillborn child. Readers who might have been expected to condemn the fallen woman instead sympathized with her.

Why exactly the name Eliza Wharton was chosen for the bay mare, we can’t be sure: was the novel a particular favorite of her owner, Thomas Doswell of Virginia, or his wife, Susan Brown Christian? Did the horse remind them of the novel’s well-bred and refined heroine? Or was there a bawdier reason, suggesting both the horse and the novel’s heroine were “fast”? Regardless, the horse serves as a marker of the novel’s saturation in the American imaginary. It is unlikely that anyone who read its name in a newspaper of the 1830s did not immediately grasp the association.

Bay Mares, Coquettes, and Plumage: Naming and Novel Celebrity


Dirty Searching and Roundabout Paths: Using Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922, in a Master's Level Seminar

Would you consider sealing your next envelope with a sticker that read: “Be not partakers in other men’s sins.” More pointedly if you received such a missive, by ripping the seal would you be endorsing or decrying the maxim? I’m not sure, myself. But I was glad to learn about and see the page of gummed Abolitionist labels that my student placed within the discourse of indulgence and sin during the nineteenth century.

In fall 2013 my graduate students explored the online collection Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia. They were instructed to construct a historically informed narrative from what they found—a narrative that could demonstrate what possibilities the collection might offer future users: students, scholars, and archival tourists alike. Since I was teaching this Clemson University Master’s level seminar, English 8200, The Slave Narrative in English, I directed students to primarily read texts as representations of a cultural and literary imagination. Nonetheless, I also instructed them to relentlessly frame questions of storytelling with rich contextual shaping of cultural truths, historical events, and material culture studies. While we focused mainly upon reading history and theory of the narrative tradition, as well as on contemporary iterations within important Neo Slave novels, the class was designed to explore the language and culture of racial power and social change more generally for the 19th century.

Dirty Searching and Roundabout Paths: Using Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922, in a Master's Level Seminar


Dismantling the Minstrel: A Pedagogical Approach

Introduction: Stains of Cork

A buffoon is a figure who cannot succeed in his performance without “failing” in his role. In minstrelsy, many of the characters are buffoons whose failure elides the actor’s identity so that blacks are stereotyped as a race that cannot control their behavior and thus become objects of derision. Blackface extends negative perceptions, regardless of the actor’s race beneath the burnt cork, because these roles are meant to reify stereotypes.

De Vere’s Negro Sketches, End Men’s Gags, and Conundrums.
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The performances I have chosen for this lesson plan are geared toward the construction of “black” men unable to act seriously. This lesson plan aims to teach notions of blackface as well as the cultural construction of minstrelsy that has incorporated the stereotypes beneath the cork. I have included three transcripts of short minstrel shows from the book De Vere’s Negro Sketches, End Men’s Gags, and Conundrums, which are available in Readex’s online collection Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia. These sketches include “Bones as a Legitimate Actor,” “He Would Be an Actor,” and “Dar’s De Money” (a malapropism for “Desdemona”).

Dismantling the Minstrel: A Pedagogical Approach


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