VOLUME 21 #2

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DEPARTMENTS

Emancipation Semester explores legacies of slavery

Erica Armstrong Dunbar
Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson
Erica Armstrong Dunbar

ON THE GREEN | Spring semester was also the Emancipation Semester at UD this year, with a variety of events marking the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Anne Boylan, professor of history, says that focusing on the pivotal document for an entire semester was possible because the faculty has such a breadth and depth of specialization in a variety of subjects that relate to slavery, emancipation and the domestic and global legacies of both.

“The University of Delaware has some renowned scholars on these subjects, not just historians but also experts in literature and public policy and other areas,” says Boylan, who also is a professor of women and gender studies and who was instrumental in creating the Emancipation Semester. “When you look at this larger picture of scholarship that all fits together, we decided to bring it into a semester focusing on emancipation.”

President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, as an executive order declaring that all slaves held in the Confederate states at war with the Union were freed. Because the proclamation didn’t apply to border states like Delaware, for example, where slavery continued but which never seceded to join the Confederacy, it was in many ways only symbolic, says Leland Ware, UD’s Louis L. Redding Chair and Professor for the Study of Law and Public Policy.

“But it was a very important symbol that may have turned the tide of the Civil War,” Ware said in a talk at the Emancipation Symposium in Wilmington, Del., one of the culminating events of the semester.

Other featured speakers at the April symposium were Peter Kolchin, Henry Clay Reed Professor of History, and Jonathan Russ, associate professor of history. Kolchin specializes in 19th century U.S. history, the South, slavery and emancipation and has written comparative histories of U.S. slavery and Russian serfdom. Russ, who specializes in the history of Delaware and of modern American business, spoke at the symposium about the legacies of emancipation in 19th and 20th century Delaware.

Earlier in the semester, speaker and workshop series on campus featured talks by UD experts including P. Gabrielle Foreman, Ned B. Allen Professor of English, whose lecture concerned the poetry written on clay vessels by a then-slave known as Dave the Potter; J. Ritchie Garrison, professor of history and director of UD’s Winterthur Program in American Material Culture, who spoke about black regiments that fought in the Charleston, S.C., area during the Civil War; and Adrian Lopez-Denis, assistant professor of history, who discussed the legacies of abolition in the Spanish Caribbean.

PBS examines ‘The Abolitionists’

In January, PBS aired The Abolitionists, a three-part presentation in the “American Experience” series also timed to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

It focuses on five individuals—male and female, black and white—who fought passionately and in the face of danger to themselves to end slavery. It tells their stories through a mix of drama and documentary, interspersed with interviews with noted historians including UD’s Erica Armstrong Dunbar, associate professor of Black American Studies with joint appointments in history and in women and gender studies.

“Most of my involvement was in speaking about Frederick Douglass, who in many ways stands as a unique example of the black abolitionist,” she says. “He represents the idea that abolition was taken by the actions of very brave and passionate people—not just given” by Lincoln’s proclamation.

Article by Ann Manser, AS73

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