Stewart interviewed in The Atlantic
The article is about the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal effort to interview the last generation of formerly enslaved people. The Project is the subject of Stewart’s book, “Long Past Slavery: Representing Race in the Federal Writer’s Project.”
The project created the largest collection of interviews with those who had experienced enslavement; more than 2,300 narratives are available to scholars and the public through the Library of Congress website. As Stewart points out in her book, despite the ways the interviews were shaped by the racial politics of segregation and discrimination during the 1930s, this federal project created an unprecedented opportunity for Black Americans to contribute their voices, memories, and experiences to the historical record.
The Atlantic article reads, in part:
Because these narratives are not often taught in school, many people come across them for the first time later in life. Several historians told me that their encounters with these stories had shifted the trajectory of their personal and intellectual lives. Catherine A. Stewart, a historian at Cornell College, in Iowa, and the author of Long Past Slavery: Representing Race in the Federal Writers’ Project, remembers sitting in the basement of the university library as a graduate student, making her way through reels of microfilm. “I will just never forget this sensation I had of these stories—of these life histories of these individuals, personal stories and experiences of enslavement—just leaping off the page,” she said.
Stewart is a professor of history at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, where she teaches courses in late 19th and 20th-century U.S. social and cultural history, such as The Documentary Imagination during the Great Depression, Public Memory and Public History, Work and Leisure in Modern America, Reel History: The Cold War and American Film, and African American Autobiography and Film. She is currently working on her next book, which focuses on African American women and household labor during the Great Depression.
Stewart was also recently interviewed by the Columbia Journalism Review.