Fellowship Allows Professor to Study Lives of Former Slaves

Dr. Dan Livesay, assistant history professor at Drury, will spend July 2014 piecing together bits of history in hopes to uncover the life stories of slaves living during the colonial era.

Livesay was awarded the National Endowment for the Humanities “We the People” Fellowship in African American History, a completive fellowship at the Rockefeller Library in Williamsburg, Va. The library contains the only existing records for several prominent Virginia planters of the eighteenth century. It also contains a specialized collection of books, manuscripts, letters and records from colonial America.

It is difficult for historians to understand the everyday struggles of those who lived through slavery — partially because many slaves could not write, did not have the resources to write, or simply because the records did not survive history.

Livesay hopes to illuminate the lives of slaves beyond the time they spent laboring.

“Scholars have looked at slaves’ lives primarily through the work that they did — picking cotton, cutting tobacco, harvesting sugarcane, etc.,” Livesay says. “My hope is that by fleshing out that later period in slaves’ lives, we can continue to uncover the humanity and lived experiences of those individuals whose lives were spent in extreme oppression.”

Daniel Livesay

A veteran of the research process, Livesay expects some tedious work, but he is excited by the possibility of what he may uncover.

“You never know what you’ll find,” he says. “Sometimes you can go days without turning up any relevant information. And some days you can be overwhelmed with information, and not have enough time to take it down. That’s both the frustration and thrill of doing work in the archives.”

Livesay received his Ph.D. in History from the University of Michigan in 2010 and came to Drury in 2012. He teaches courses on the history of early America, transatlantic slavery and indigenous people in the Americas.

Livesay hopes to present his findings to the university and public this fall.

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Story by Kaleigh Jurgensmeyer, a junior English and writing major at Drury. A version of this story first ran in the Springfield News-Leader.