Primary Sources in American History and Culture

American Narrative Tradition

"Reader, be assured this narrative is no fiction. I am aware that some of my adventures may seem incredible; but they are, nevertheless, strictly true. I have not exaggerated the wrongs inflicted by Slavery; on the contrary, my descriptions fall far short of the facts. I have concealed the names of places, and given persons fictitious names. I had no motive for secrecy on my own account, but I deemed it kind and considerate towards others to pursue this course." Harriet A. Jacobs, Incidents in the life of a slave girl. Written by herself . (1861), p.5.

Telling one's own story often acts as a catharsis for one who has undergone trauma, or as a document of a life for those just wanting to share their experiences. However for the researcher these records can become an historical document, providing a window into life at a different time. Included among these records are diaries, letters, autobiographies, narrative accounts, spiritual confessions, slave narratives, captivity stories and travel accounts. All of these documents can be found in archives, and can be used for study by historians, sociologists, economists, folklorists and psychologists.

Sources for Studying theAmerican Narrative Tradition

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Jessica Wagner Webster
Newman Library, 523