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May 7, 2012

Born in Slavery

The Library of Congress is doing some interesting things by digitizing collections. The site can be a bit difficult to get around but, if you know where to go, there are primary documents, lesson plans and many, many multimedia resources to choose from. Case in point: Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project.  

The primary resources offered on this site can help students make personal connections to a subject matter that can be difficult to discuss, difficult to understand and, for many students, difficult to fathom. The site can be hard to navigate. Here are the most important links, in my opinion:

Born in Slavery: The main page of the collection.
Subject Index: An index of photos only, organized alphabetically
Classroom Connections: An overview of the collection and different ways to use the collection in the classroom. There are no formal lesson plans but, there is more than enough information to inspire.
Voices and Faces: First person narratives paired with photos. A great place to start a discussion or a project.

There are some accounts that are graphic in their description of the cruelty these individuals faced so, for younger students, previewing the narratives is a must but, if a middle school classroom these photographs and narratives could be used to discuss the historic significance of slavery in this county. In a high school history classroom, the same process could be used and, in an English classroom, when reading a novel like the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn the narratives could be used to discuss the life of Jim and his interactions with Finn.

What are your thoughts on how a collection like this could be used in the classroom?


  1. Just a thought, but do you ever access the resources available through the school or public library or make students aware? As a school librarian for fourteen years, I am amazed by how few teachers bring their classes into the physical library that gives them access to many free resources, print and non-print. Have you ever looked at your school or public library webpages, where databases and links, no doubt, give students access to primary resources? I am constantly trying to break down this wall by pushing the library program out into the physical and virtual classrooms, trying to get teachers to work with me in collaboration on projects and/or papers.There is no doubt that library programs and services have to change to keep pace with technology and the variety of ways people access, evaluate, and use information. But it is surprising that many teachers fail to see the relevance or possibilities inherent in and through the library.

  2. Librarians are an amazing resource and I, unfortunately, did not learn this until I met the research librarians in undergrad. When I was teaching I made sure to talk to my new teachers about the resources the school and district offered and within the first three was always the school librarian. In Texas the state is broken up into regions and school districts and the regional offices have amazing resources that teachers are not taking advantage of. I also participated in a wonderful program that sent me to the Smithsonian Institute for a week. I came back from that believing and wanting to share that libraries and museums were a huge wealth of information and librarians, even more than museum curators (at the time) had the time and resources to help teachers. But, that was 12 years ago. Now, so many museums are getting primary documents digitized and many museums have education centers and so, the combination of the two: libraries and museums, should allow for some fantastic curriculum offerings and learning opportunities.

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