Chaminade University associate professor of English Allison E. Paynter, Ph.D. was one of a select group of faculty members chosen nationwide by the Council of Independent Colleges and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History to participate in a special American history seminar on “Slave Narratives.” The multidisciplinary seminar for faculty members in history, English, and related fields used the slave narrative–as well as some other assigned secondary reading–to comprehend the lived experience of slaves in the transition from bondage to freedom. From a pool of 66 highly competitive nominations, 27 faculty members were selected to participate in the seminar held June 19-24, 2016 at Yale University.

The Gilder Lehrman Yale Fellow presented her findings to her Chaminade colleagues at the March 8 Vita in Verbo session. Her PowerPoint presentation titled “Why Teach Slave Narratives?” introduced different narrative forms: confessions, memoirs, and autobiography.  At Yale, she studied the slave narrative approach and its importance as a genre in studies, regardless of the discipline or field.

Paynter demonstrated that slave narrative was integral to pre- and post-Civil War American history and culture.  Rhetorical choices and stylistic techniques informed American literature during the post-Civil War through dialogue, American sensibility, and the psychology of escape and freedom.  American writers influenced by slave narratives included Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mary Todd, Harriet Wilson, Mark Twain, William Edward Burghardt “W. E. B.” Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, and Ralph Ellison. Contemporary films inspired by slave narratives included Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives (2003); Manderlay (2005); 12 Years a Slave (2013); Tula: The Revolt (2013); Birth of a Nation (2016); Free State of Jones (2016); 13th (2016); Roots and Underground miniseries (2016).

Paynter pointed out that slavery continues to inform popular culture in America, but stereotypes and fallacies abound. Students should have a foundation by which to analyze this “American institution” called slavery. She gave stereotype examples such as Uncle Tom, Aunt Jemima, Zip Coon, Sambo, and Pickaninny.

Paynter is currently writing an article on the powerful and disturbing book Kindred, which she teaches in her class. She also recommended the novel Underground Airlines: What Price Freedom? for additional reading. She noted that though the 13th amendment was created in 1865 to ensure slavery would never return to America, there was still in existence modern slavery in the form of sex trafficking.