First-Person Narratives of the American South, 1860-1920

About the Collection

"First-Person Narratives of the American South, 1860-1920" documents the American South from the viewpoint of Southerners. It includes over one hundred diaries, autobiographies, memoirs, travel accounts, and ex-slave narratives published during and after the Civil War. Beyond these titles digitized under the award from the Library of Congress/Ameritech National Digital Competition web site, this American Memory presentation provides access to another forty first-person narratives, many published before 1860. These titles, and many more, are mounted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as part of the digital library project Documenting the American South.

Southerners comprise one third of the U. S. population, but only in recent decades have scholars and the general public begun to explore fully the richness and diversity of Southern experience. These first-person narratives describe Southern life between 1860 and 1920, a period of enormous change. Defeat in the Civil War destroyed slavery-based social, political, and economic hierarchies, and Southerners had to create new ones. Many farmers, confronted by periodic depressions and market turmoil, joined political and social protest movements. For African Americans, the end of slavery brought hope for unprecedented control of their own lives. After Emancipation, however, most were pulled into a Darwinistic sharecropper system and saw their lives circumscribed by the rise of segregation and the "Jim Crow" system of race control. As conservative views faced a growing challenge from Modernist thought, Southern arts, sciences, and religion also reflected the considerable tensions manifested throughout Southern society.

Southerners recorded their stories of these tumultuous times in print, diaries, and letters, but few first-person narratives, other than those written by the social and economic elite, found their way into the national print culture. In addition, many members of Southern society were almost invisible in the works Southerners did publish. This digital collection focuses primarily on the first-person narratives of some of the relatively inaccessible populations. The voices of women, African Americans, enlisted men, laborers, and Native Americans take precedence over those of general officers and notable politicians. Similarly, accounts of life on the farm or in the servants' quarters or in a cotton mill have priority over accounts of battles and public lives. The first-person narratives left by these Southerners of diverse backgrounds are an unequaled resource for students of American history and culture.

The texts for "First-Person Narratives of the American South, 1860-1920" come from the Academic Affairs Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Southern Historical Collection is one of the largest collections of Southern manuscripts in the country, while the North Carolina Collection provides the most complete printed documentation of a single state anywhere. Their materials, along with printed titles on the rest of the South from the Rare Book Collection and Davis Library, offer excellent coverage of the region. An Editorial Board composed of University faculty, librarians, and UNC Press staff guides all phases of Documenting the American South, including "First-Person Narratives of the American South, 1860-1920".

"First-Person Narratives of the American South, 1860-1920" was a 1996/97 Award Winner of The Library of Congress/Ameritech National Digital Library Competition, which funded the digitization of 101 texts (approximately 24,000 pages).

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