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Franklin Research Center - Teaching with Primary Sources

This guide contains modules for remote learning with primary sources held in the Rubenstein Library with collections from the John Hope Franklin Research Center

Slavery in the United States

The Rubenstein Library holds many collections related to the American South; a collecting focus that dates back to the library's inception in the 1930's. The focus of this exercise will be centered on a specific resource - The American Slavery Documents Collection.

Learning Objectives:

  • Find, view, and study primary sources related to the period of slavery in the United States
  • Understand how archivists organize archival collections
  • Navigate an archival collection guide with digitized materials
  • Understand the experience of African American documented in the transactions of slave sales, manumissions, and trading


About the American Slavery Documents Collection

This collection is what archivists call an artificial collection. That means the materials were not collected or collated organically, but pulled together over time by archivist/librarian(s) who were attempting to create a collection around a singular topic. This collection was likely curated in this manner because of the growth of research interest in African American history; in fact it was once called the African American Miscellany collection.

This is not the most common practice in the archives field today. And in an effort to better describe the collection, the Rubenstein Library's Technical Service staff reprocessed the materials and the DUL's Digital Production Center digitized the contents. The collection name was changed to its current title in 2015. Keep in mind that the items in the guide are not connected the way a traditional collection might be and each item can be considered a collection unto itself. Recently, the Rubenstein's Technical Services team is undertaking a project to individually catalog the items in the collection to center the description on the names the African American lives in the collection.

Things to keep in mind when using the collection guide -

  • The inventory reflects the title of the content, geographic origin, and date (if known)
  • There are 205 items in the entire collection
  • One can browse the collection contents under the "Navigate the Collection" and clicking "Slavery Series, 1757-1867" link
  • Researchers can also search for keywords in the search box at the top of the page


Collection Citation: American Slavery Documents Collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University

Research Exercise

Getting Started:

Step 1. Open link to the American Slavery Documents Collection -

Step 2. Use the Slavery Series link on the left side of the page (under Navigate the Collection)


Activity 1: Identify a bill of sale for an enslaved person/people in the collection

Activity 2: Identify a manumission/emancipation record for an enslaved person/people in the collection

Activity 3: Locate a record a that documents family/kinship connections among enslaved people

Activity 4: Identify three differences between these two bill of sale records: