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Teaching with Special Collections

Abolition, Antebellum Newspapers, and the "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass"


Author: Lauren Coats, Department of English and Director, Digital Scholarship Lab, LSU

(Originally created for English 3070, American Literature I, Spring 2010)

Your assignment is to write a research paper that combines your own archival research on abolitionist and/or pro-slavery newspapers from LSU's Hill Memorial Library with an analysis of Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.

1. First, you will research and investigate one newspaper in the LSU Libraries' Special Collections, using the Lemuel P. Conner Papers.  You will conduct background research on the newspaper, completing and submitting the accompanying worksheet.  You will submit the completed worksheet on Moodle as a word document. (Handwritten worksheets will not be accepted.)  The worksheet is 20% of your final paper grade.

2. You will then choose one article from that newspaper that you will use in your paper.  Note that you must provide a transcription or reproduction of the article.  [No two students can use the same article or essay. Post your selection (with complete information on author, article title, and newspaper) on Moodle, making sure that it has not already been chosen.]  You should pick an article that you want to put in conversation with the slave narrative we read for class, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.  Your article selection will be key to your final paper, so make sure you choose something that gives you insight into abolitionist discourse and/or slave narratives.  In short, choose an article that will help you say something interesting about Douglass, and formulate an argument that you could not make without the article you selected.   

3. The final step of the assignment is to write a paper that combines your original research on a newspaper and article with your reading of Frederick Douglass (you may also include Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl).  While your research will primarily consist of your work in Hill Memorial Library, you are expected to do additional research as necessary to understand and contextualize the events, people, places and/or concepts discussed in your selected article.

4. In other words, your final paper will analyze at least two texts in conjunction: the newspaper article and Douglass’s autobiography.

Background Research Resources

The following sources are a good place to start your research, although the list is by no means comprehensive:

Louisiana Newspaper Project

Link to Finding Aid for Lemuel Conner Papers

Oxford African American Studies Center (database available via LSU library)

Accessible Archives (database available via LSU library)

C19: The Nineteenth Century Index (database available LSU library)

Encyclopedia of African-American History
LSU Libraries e-book

Antislavery Newspapers and Periodicals, ed. John Blassingame and Mae Henderson
LSU Library Reference Collection, AI3 .A5 Vol. 1-4


Archival Research Worksheet   

A. Bibliographic Information

1. Newspaper Title:
2. Publisher:
3. Place of Publication:
4. Date of Publication:

B. Description of Physical Object

1. Paper (condition, description):
2. Overall item (condition, description):
3. Other (e.g., signatures, library stamps, handwritten marks, seals, marginalia, other features):

C. Article of your choice:

1. Title:
2. Author:
3. Location in newspaper:
4. Transcription/Reproduction:

D. Other questions

Write at least 100 words for each question.

1. What do you find most interesting about the newspaper?
2. How does your analysis of the physical item affect your interpretation of the information it contains?  In other words, does having the original nineteenth-century paper in your hands affect how you read the newspaper’s content?

E. Background Research on newspaper

Write 1-2 pages on the history of the newspaper, making sure to answer the following questions.   You need not limit yourself to the questions below.  You will need to do outside research to answer these questions. Make sure you cite your sources.  See the previous page for places to begin your research.

1. What is newspaper’s run (what is the date span of its publication)?
2. Who edited the newspaper (it may have had more than one editor over time)? Are there any famous people or authors who wrote for the paper?
3. Did this newspaper change names?
4. What is the scope of the newspaper’s coverage – local, regional, national, international?
5. What is this newspaper’s historical significance?  Did it play a key role in the abolitionist movement, or the pro-slavery movement?
6. Was this paper pro-slavery or anti-slavery?  How do you know (e.g., was it founded as such, was its stance on slavery part of its editorial mission, or can you tell by the content of the articles)?


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