The Lives of the Slaves
Phrases such as "the slave experience," "the slave personality," and "the slave culture" have now become part of the common currency of all discussion of the subject. They are signs of the massive shift of focus in the historiography of slavery over the last generation toward the lives of the slaves themselves. The attempt to arrive at a slave's-eye view of slavery lies behind much recent work, but it is fraught with dangers and difficulties. It becomes all too easily entangled in contemporary political and ideological controversy. It also faces, to an unusually high degree, all the problems involved in writing history "from the bottom up"--that is, the attempt to see and understand the past through the eyes of the poor, the underprivileged, the deprived, or the illiterate. Whatever the problems, the search for a fuller understanding of slave life has yielded some remarkable results during the last two decades.
Inevitably, such terms as "the slave personality" or "slave culture" mean different things to different people, and their free and easy use (even in the hands of able and sympathetic historians) comes close at times to denying to slaves even a share of the varieties of experience, the vagaries of personality, and the diversity of culture other people are assumed to have. The search for some understanding of slave life involves digging through several layers of formative influences: material living conditions, the physical environment, the psychological impact of generations of bondage, the personal factors in the master-slave relationship, the survival of an African heritage, the pervading influence of white American society, and the shared experience of the slave community.
The material standards of slave life were modest, sometimes stark,
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Publication information: Book title: Slavery:History and Historians. Contributors: Peter J. Parish - Author. Publisher: Westview Press. Place of publication: Boulder, CO. Publication year: 1989. Page number: 64.