Teaching Harriet Wilson's Our Nig (1859): A Milford, New Hampshire, African American Novel in Its New England Contexts
This webpage presents resources for teaching Harriet Wilson's Our Nig: Or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, in a two-story white house, north Showing That Slavery's Shadows Fall Even There (1859). Teachers will find information about Harriet Wilson's life in Milford, New Hampshire, including a tour of sites associated with her, her novel, and abolitionism. Teaching materials, including curriculum and lesson plans, were developed as a result of teacher workshops held at the University of New Hampshire and in Milford. A full range of primary documents, scholarly articles, and book chapters are available as well as more information in a password-protected section. Teachers may email the Center for the Humanities (firstname.lastname@example.org ) to request the password.
Teaching Harriet Wilson's Our Nig presents opportunities and challenges at all levels of instruction. It is a readable and compelling narrative, but it raises issues of racial identity and social values that require careful examination in the contexts of New England culture and African American literature. The first novel published by an African American woman, the book describes the life of Frado, a biracial girl left by her parents to be raised by a prominent Milford, New Hampshire family in the 1830s and 1840s. In a compelling narrative based on her own life, Wilson chronicles the ill treatment she receives as an indentured servant and sketches the "shadow of slavery," or racial prejudice, which overspreads a family and a community despite the presence of famous abolitionists and their activities in Milford. Thus the novel, and this site, will be useful for teachers at all levels who want to learn about African American life and history prior to the Civil War, who want to read and teach African American literature, and who want to discuss a fascinating novel with their students.
The novel raises many questions the teaching materials and the scholarship on this site attempt to address. What is distinctive about the New England experience of enslaved and emancipated African Americans? How is African American experience represented in New England history? How can we connect Our Nig to Antebellum New Hampshire society, especially in reference to domesticity, industrialization, and abolition? How can we connect Our Nig to nineteenth-century African American literature? How were races identified in nineteenth-century America, and what are the implications of those identifications? How can we understand the experience of race from the perspective of gender? How do Harriet Wilson's experiences and her book compare with those of other African American women and writers? How can communities and schools recover local African American history? What does The Harriet Wilson Project reveal about the status of African American history and culture in New Hampshire town and in the educational system? How can we and our students use artifacts in local historical societies to teach history?