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Course & Subject Guides

Literary Field Studies – Oakland Campus: Using Primary Sources

This online guide was created to support students reading and wishing to incorporate primary sources into their research in Professor Brenda Whitney's ENGLIT 0505 Literary Field Studies course.

Archival Collections

Other Publications

Erasure and Recoverability

Archival materials pertaining to enslaved African Americans are often scant. In many cases it was not deemed necessary to maintain such records, and if records were kept, they were often not preserved for long because they may not have been seen as historically important or may have been embarrassing to those who made decisions about what to preserve. The failure to preserve these historical records has contributed to the erasure of people of color from our understanding of history, an example of how cultural memory is shaped by racism.

A case in point is the Foster Hall Collection, the principal collection of materials related to the life and music of Pittsburgh-born composer Stephen Foster. The Foster family's writings and letters, a sampling of which is provided below, indicate that they made use of African American servants who were enslaved in all but name. As is often the case in archival collections, the few references to these enslaved people inform us that these people existed but tell us little about their lives. We know next to nothing about their backgrounds, families, work, or later lives.