Wilkes professor participates in national seminar

Slave narratives in history; new spring course in works


Photo courtesy of Diane Wenger

Wenger, pictured in the bottom left side, along with 24 other applicants participated in the Council of Independent Colleges and Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History seminar in June.

Dr. Diane Wenger, associate professor of history and co-chair of the Global Cultures Division, was involved with a special seminar on “Slave Narratives” in American history this past June at Yale University.

The seminar, which was sponsored by the Council of Independent Colleges and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, focused on works from both literary and historical perspectives. Lead by John Stauffer, professor of English and African American Studies at Harvard University, and Edward Rugemer, professor of African American Studies and history at Yale University, the faculty members used slave narratives and other readings to delve into the lives of slaves both before and after their experiences in bondage. This is an important discussion, as Dr.Wenger says, “I believe it is important that we as Americans understand just how terrible the institution of slavery was in our country, and recognize the important role that enslaved African-Americans played in building our nation”.

“Attending the CIC Slave Narrative Seminar was an extraordinary experience,” Wenger said “It gave me the opportunity to discuss the experiences of enslaved African-Americans, using testimonies from the slaves themselves, who experienced the horrors of slavery firsthand, with a diverse group of college educators from around the country”.

The seminar is open to any institution faculty whose institutions are members of the Council of Independent Colleges. Faculty who are interested in participating in the seminar must submit a letter of application as well as send in a letter of nomination written by a chief academic officer of the institution in support of the faculty member (in Wilkes case, it was Provost and Senior Vice President Anne Skleder).

Of the roughly 75 applications and nominations received from members around the world, only 25, Dr.Wenger included, were selected to participate. “It was a very interesting and diverse group from around the United States” Dr. Wenger remarked, “There was even a professor who flew in from Hawaii to participate”

Speaking about groups who have been silenced in history is a matter Dr.Wenger feels very strongly about. “I am passionate about teaching about minority groups” she said”People whose voices have not always been heard and whose stories were not included in history books for a long time”.

Dr.Wenger will be taking that passion with her in a new class she is developing for the 2017 spring semester. The class, entitled “Slave Narratives in American History”, will focus on excerpts from slave and post slavery narratives, including the works of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Harriot Jacobs, and Solomon Northrup. “The current racial climate in our country is not good” she states, “almost every week we see headlines about confrontations between police and minority groups”.

Wenger sees this class as an opportunity to educate students on how we got to this point. “Having knowledge of the history of race relations in our country, going back to slavery, emancipation, and the Jim Crow era, can help us all understand better the current state of affairs” she said about the course. The 300 level course will be open to all interested students, regardless of major and with no prerequisites.