Everbody's folk: Representations of southern black culture in nineteenth-century ethnography and literature

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Sandra Pouchet Paquet - Committee Chair


This dissertation examines the nineteenth and early twentieth century roots of American ethnography and its engagements with southern black folk culture. Nineteenth century ethnographic writings on black folk culture constituted a public discourse. Published in a wide range of periodicals and authored by a diverse body of predominantly white authors, the images and elements of the black folk that they popularized had a tremendous impact on African-American literature---one that has gone largely unacknowledged by modern critics. Examining writings from slave narratives such as Frederick Douglass' Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass to black ethnographic contributions such as Octavia Albert's The House of Bondage and turn-of-the century novels by Charles Chesnutt and Pauline Hopkins against this background, I find that African-American writers and ethnographers engaged, challenged, and attempted to ameliorate the constructions of southern black culture created in these early ethnographic writings. In doing so, African-American writers and ethnographers anticipated the central issues underlining the crisis of representation in the modern discourse on ethnography by almost seventy years.


Black Studies; Folklore; Literature, American

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