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Christopher Hager
Trinity College (Hartford, CT 06106-3100)
A Colored Man's Constitution: Emancipation and the Act of Writing

My project examines the writings of marginally literate former slaves during the era of emancipation. It investigates how the acquisition and practice of written literacy shaped African Americans' self-conception during their transition from slavery to freedom. I analyze manuscript writings by ordinary African Americans during and shortly after the Civil War (many of which I identified through the NEH-funded Freedmen and Southern Society Project). These sources, though known to historians, have not been considered as literary texts. My book manuscript (a new project undertaken since my doctoral dissertation) introduces readers to this largely neglected moment in the history of African American writing and argues that, whereas Frederick Douglass's famous narrative associates literacy with an individualistic conception of freedom, ordinary African Americans' struggles to write led them to imagine freedom as a collective responsibility.

[Grant products][Prizes]

Project fields:
American Literature

Fellowships for College Teachers and Independent Scholars

Research Programs

$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
1/1/2011 – 12/31/2011