The Documents

[one_half]History is the use of the written record to draw conclusions and tell stories about the past. Historians rely on a wealth of documentation, preserved through the years in libraries, archives, and attics throughout the world, to inform them about the lives of those who lived before us. Diaries, newspapers, court records, wills, books, memoirs and oral histories make up just a few of what historians call “primary sources”. These sources are documents that were created during the time period that the historian is choosing to study. Using primary documents, however, must be done carefully, as they all are the product of their own historical context, and were produced by an individual who was living, acting, and thinking within that context. This raises the important issue of bias: primary documents were only created by literate individuals who had access to the tools, skills, and time to commit their thoughts and opinions to the written record, as well as access to the appropriate repositories to ensure that these documents were preserved over time. [/one_half]

[one_half_last]When considering the history of African Americans, concerns such as bias and access are particularly important. Few slaves were allowed to write, and many post-slavery blacks had the time, tools, or know-how to produce, publish, or preserve their own writing. In most instances, the written record that pertains to the black experience during the 19th century comes through documentation about African Americans, written by white planters, not by blacks themselves. In most cases, these documents pertain to the business of slavery and agriculture: lists of slaves, slave runaway notices, orphan court documents, or judicial documents relating to property or contract disputes. Examining the historical record for glimpses of the African American past, therefore, can be a delicate and frustrating task.

Click on the images below to learn more about the documents used at St. Mary’s City to learn about the black past.[/one_half_last]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *