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In 2019 Wake Forest University’s “Slavery, Race and Memory Project” started to “guide the research, preservation, and communication of an accurate depiction of the University’s relationship to slavery and its implications across Wake Forest’s history.” Questions about the relationships between Universities and the enslaved people whose unpaid labor they profited from are impacting campuses across and beyond the US South, from Georgetown students starting a reparations fund to the existence of a Universities Studying Slavery consortium. But in thinking about the multitude of ways that Wake Forest has profited from slave labor students in these sections of ENG 175, “Slave Narratives, Global and Local,” looked beyond our campus and to the broader community, or the history of Winston-Salem. They did this by considering not just a series of the most famous slave narratives ever written but by turning to local narratives and accounts of the lives of enslaved people in Salem, NC. 

Literature courses often focus on famous canonical texts, especially at the introductory level. But in this section of “Interpreting American Literature” students had the opportunity to be part of new attempts to help interpret materials that have not been discussed in as much depth as now seems important, if not essential. They told the stories of objects and documents that have been left out of the history of Salem, the narratives traditionally told at Old Salem, and our collective inherited histories. To do this they worked with Old Salem’s Hidden Town Project: a groundbreaking initiative that works to research and reveal the history of a community of enslaved and freed Africans and African Americans who lived in what we now call “Old Salem.” This website represents students’ work to produce a digital exhibit that interprets and helps contextualize these lost and repressed stories with both research and creative responses to a series of objects in the museum that have been linked to this project. Our hope is that this exhibit will be especially useful to students preparing to visit Old Salem, their teachers, and their families—along with anyone who finds themselves interested in recovering this lost history.

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