VIENNA - A professor of history at Ohio Valley University will make a presentation in a seminar on slavery June 10-13 at Yale University.
Phil Sturm will participate in the Slave Narratives program, part of a seminar on American history sponsored each summer by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and Council of Independent Colleges. The seminar is open to full-time faculty members in history, English and related fields at CIC member institutions.
Sturm, an avid civil rights advocate, became more intensely involved in Black Studies 13 years ago when the first of seven biracial and African-Americans joined his immediate family, now comprising seven of 17.
"I had long believed from the best historians of West Virginia, like Charles Ambler and Festus Summers, that slavery existed in the counties of the Valley of Virginia and in the Kanawha Salines but that there were few slaves elsewhere," Sturm said.
"I assumed that western Virginians were the typical Southern frontiersmen of Frederick Jackson Turner, illiterate backwoodsmen who lived non-communally and who disliked slavery but would never champion the slave," he said. "I believed that slavery along the Virginia side of the Ohio River was almost non-existent-that was until I examined census records of river counties where I discovered that Wood County where I was born and live had a high incidence of slavery: one in seven residents from 1800 to 1830 were slaves and one in seven families were slaveholders, including several families from the Northern Neck of Virginia who owned 20 or more slaves."
Sturm has researched and written about slavery in Northwestern Virginia. Entire chapters in his 2004 dissertation and his 2005 book "Wood County Reflections" are devoted to slavery in the area. The latter includes a portion of a slave narrative, "The Autobiography of John Malvin," a slave apprentice who lived and worked on a plantation 20 miles from Ohio Valley University, Sturm said.
His research has changed his life and teaching.
"I now incorporate primary source materials related to regional slavery in all my U.S. history classes and in West Virginia history, teaching students how to use local primary sources, like slave inventories, estate administration records, estate inventories, deeds of manumission, and census records to discover 'nearby history,'" Sturm said.
Sturm said he was anxious and excited to participate in the seminar.
"It will further my own knowledge and make more resources available to my students and the audiences I address in the region," he said.
The most famous prewar narrative is that of Frederick Douglass, and the most famous postwar narrative is that of Booker T. Washington. The seminar will cover both of these and several other books, including A Slave No More, which reveals two unique postbellum narratives as a means of understanding the experience of emancipation itself. Moreover, the seminar will use the slave narratives, as well as some other assigned secondary reading, to comprehend the lived experience of slaves themselves in the transition from bondage to freedom.
David W. Blight, a professor of American history at Yale, will lead the 2012 seminar on Slave Narratives. The seminar is made possible through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and participants will have their lodging, meals, books and a portion of travel expenses provided.
"The degree of competition for participation was intense-more than three times as many nominations were received as there are places-and Dr. Sturm was one of only 28 faculty members selected for this seminar," said Richard Ekman, Council of Independent Colleges president.
Sturm has conducted numerous lectures, seminars and workshops on the subject throughout West Virginia, most recently this past fall at a lecture for the West Virginia State Archives and Library at the Cultural Center in Charleston., said jim Bullock, Ohio Valley vice president for academic affairs.
"When news of this particular seminar came across my email screen, I knew that I would nominate Dr. Sturm," Bullock said.