This week I continued the evolution of the concept for my film. As I’ve done more research, I’ve come to realize some of the nuances of Shadd’s history, Black history more broadly, and the history of the documentary evidence of subaltern communities.
I still want to consider, in the film, the intriguing story of the demolition of the house and the discovery of Shadd’s letters. I want to use this as a way to consider the importance of the letters to understanding her private life. I will link the discovery of the letters to some other famous documentary losses like Lincoln’s first speech, Lewis Carroll’s diaries, and an early version of Hamlet.
Then I want to go back to the significance of the Shadd collection and use it to introduce the fact of the burying of Black Canadian history until relatively recently by predominantly white institutions. I will consider the argument that Black history went unnoticed because, like other poor and sometimes illiterate peoples, Black fugitives in Canada may not always have had the resources to document their histories. But, I will refute this argument, since, to the contrary, many Black fugitives were prosperous and well educated, and they actively recorded their own histories. And I will also introduce the argument that there was a great public interest during the 19th and 20th centuries about the experiences of slaves and fugitives that led to the collection of hundreds of so-called ‘slave narratives’. So in fact there was more documentation about the lives of slaves and fugitives than of poor, uneducated whites.
But nevertheless, Black history was ignored. I want to introduce the coincidence of the rediscovery of Shadd’s letters in the 1970s, paralleling the emergence of Black history starting in the 1960s and 70s with the Black Civil Rights movement, as well as the emergence of a wider interest in social histories…history from the bottom up. Had it not been for this lucky coincidence, there might have been less interest in Shadd’s letters by the archival institutions when they were discovered in 1974.
Then I want to return to the fact that we know relatively more about Shadd’s life because she was widely published and became a relatively high profile person in Canada West and in Washington D.C. But we know less about her personal life. I will use some passages from the letters to explore her personal situation – her family life, her husband, and her children – reflecting on the challenges of being a professional woman with a family to care for in the 1850s.
Finally, I want to explore why she would have abandoned the letters: whether she forgot them, got busy, or didn’t care about them. Although we will never know for sure, we do know that she packed up and left Canada when the country of her birth was in the midst of a Civil War that would determine the fate of the African American community. This war would ultimately result in a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery – a project that had been Shadd’s focus for her entire adult life. This amendment would render emigration to Canada unnecessary. But it would open up a new chapter in her life: her study of the law and her pursuit of equality for women in America. And being a woman with a mission, she may have simply moved on and not looked back.
So at this point, this is the concept that I’m leaning towards. Also this past week I was able to finish transcribing the content of the three interviews I obtained while in Chatham and North Buxton, and had a peak at a few more of the letters in the expanded collection.
This coming week I want to complete the majority of the Concept Proposal, including starting to find some visual imagery to use in the film, as it is still my intent to have it done and submitted to Drs. Miller and Walsh by November 6.