Chapter I.

The Introduction to Remembering Slavery, Part 1
(Issues of Memory, History, and Historical Sources)

Noted historians and scholars Ira Berlin, Marc Favreau, and Steven F. Miller, the editors of Remembering Slavery, have written an introduction (that you'll find at the start of the book portion of Remembering Slavery) that raises important questions regarding the nature of history, historical sources, and historical research. The introduction, titled "Slavery as History and Memory" begins by describing the origins of the tapes and transcribed interviews with former slaves, as well as the different ways they were viewed and critiqued by historians and scholars in different periods. This introduction provides an important critical context both to the books and tapes/broadcasts; while attesting to the vital contribution these interviews with former slaves make to our knowledge and understanding of slavery, the introduction emphasizes how all historical sources have their "strengths and weaknesses" and should be read "critically and cautiously." Before encountering the interviews themselves, it is well worth the time to read and think about the introduction, particularly in terms of considering what history is, who documents it, how it is interpreted, and how we can best respond to and learn from it.

PREVIEW: Before reading the introduction to Remembering Slavery, start considering the issues it raises by thinking, writing, and talking about these exercises and questions:

READ THE FIRST HALF OF THE INTRODUCTION: You'll find it easier to concentrate and absorb the points raised in the introduction if you read it in at least two sessions. Start by reading the first half which addresses the origins and interpretations of the interviews with former slaves. The second half of the introduction is discussed separately later.

READING GOAL: As you read, try to identify the various ways in which the accounts of former slaves were valued, criticized, defined, and interpreted by different scholars, historians, and groups of people at different times. Why, as the authors state at the start of the introduction, was remembering slavery a source of "struggle"?

FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS: After you've read the first part of the introduction, take the time to think about some or all of these questions. You might want to try "freewriting" in response to them, writing down whatever thoughts come to mind in a book for your eyes only, without worrying about other people reading it. Working out your thoughts, feelings, and opinions on paper encourages you to focus more directly on your response to the material. If you know others who are reading or listening Remembering Slavery, you might share some of your responses to these questions and use them as the basis for an open discussion.

ADDITIONAL ACTIVITIES: Here are some activities that build upon the questions raised in the introduction to encourage you to pursue your own interests and questions. Teachers should note that these activities make good assignments and projects for students.


One of the most important issues the introduction raises is how historian and interviewers' beliefs and assumptions affected the interviews and/or the way in which they were interpreted, sometimes inadvertently. This highlights the importance of acknowledging how our own backgrounds, experiences, and personal biases can influence the way we read, listen, and interpret just about anything we encounter.

After reading the introduction, take some time to think and write about yourself and your own relationship to slavery and the Civil War. Begin by writing a brief profile or biography of yourself in which you describe your: ethnicity, culture, religion, nationality, region, family background, knowledge, and experiences. Then consider these questions:

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