Comp Lit 203 – Archival Research Group Project – DIS301 Group #4

Group Members: Avigael Gomez-Flores, Darahnea Moua, Lauryn Rae Kinney,  Marah Renee Williams, and Natalie Elizabeth Rojas

1. Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Photos of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe from UW-Madison & Wisconsin Historical Society Archives & Special Collections
  1. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” or “Life Among the Lowly” by Harriet Beecher Stove, 1896. This book, written amongst the slavery era, depicts in detail the life of a slave and the hardships that enslaved men and women had to encounter. This edition in particular is meant for an adult read and explains the attitudes towards African Americans during that time. It is intended to unravel the unheard sides of slavery and elicit a sense of sympathy from the reader for those of the African race. The book is known for helping shape a piece of the Civil War. It is written by a woman named Harriet Beecher Stowe who describes herself right away as “…a little bit of a woman—about as thin and dry as a pinch of snuff..”
  2. The tone of this book is in the 3rd person and telling the story of a family, focusing on a woman/mother named Eliza. The words used in it and phrases reflect a southern tone and accent. Being written so long ago, terminology is not up to date in the sense of respect. As a person is reading it, it is in hopes that they develop a sense of sympathy and remembrance for what happened during this time era. Utilizing a mother and child within the book makes the reader perhaps relate it to their own life and how they would feel if their entire family’s life was on edge all the time. This can be related to books like “The Bluest Eye” and “Addy” that we will read in class because both of those offer insight and relay stories of what it was like to be an African American during that time period of slavery.
  3. To understand Uncle Tom’s Cabin, one must understand the concept of slavery and the idea that perpetual race-based slavery was happening during that time and effected many. It is ideal to have compassion for those living in that time while reading it as most things that are written about actually happened to a multitude of enslaved people during the time period. This book can be related to keywords that we discussed in class such as “home”, “childhood”, “value” and “culture.”
  4. The author, Harriet Beecher Stowe is a white woman who is very well known for her writing of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and was an American abolitionist. She wrote 30 novels, three memoirs and collections of articles during her time as an author and was very well known for writing about debatable topics and social issues of the time. She was a part of the underground railroad and even housed enslaved runaways in her home sometime.
  5. This archival piece has been put into the “Cairns” or reading room of the archives. This edition is known to be from 1896, and its catalog ID states “Bookplate: Caldicot Schools presented to James Dr.”
  6. This particular piece of writing was written during the times of slavery and was used to give people an insight of what was happening to enslaved people and their families. To understand this piece, one must understand that slaves were put through many hardships beyond what we always hear in school. It was far worse than we can imagine and books like these allow us to get a better understanding.
  7. This piece should elicit information about slavery and the abolitionists. It would be helpful to gain more information about abolitionists, and slavery during that time. The book talks about a family’s life and the separation tactics used against slaves. Leaning further into the history of slavery and the hardships they were put through would be helpful in understanding Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
  8. This piece is relevant in American girlhood as it gives some insight into what it was like to be a young girl during the slavery era using the character of Topsy and the effects it has on one’s family and sense of home. This piece is intriguing to readers now because of the huge difference in lifestyle today versus back then. This was chosen to present to classmates because this was a book we never got the chance to in school except now. It is really cool that the archives have so many different editions to the book and to compare the slight differences in them. We would recommend it to be taught in future classes so kids will never forget the history of our country and the hardships people went through during the slavery era.

2. Topsy Doll

Photos of Topsy paper dolls from UW-Madison & Wisconsin Historical Society Archives & Special Collections
  1. The item is Topsy Paper dolls possibly made in New York around 1865. The paper doll was made based off of Topsy the Slave character, from Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
  2. This doll was obviously made during the Slave Era and it is important to understand racism in this situation. This paper doll has big lips and large feet and it is over exaggerated to be a destructive caricature of an African American. When looking and doing more research it is found that Topsy was with another paper doll sold together with Eva. Topsy in other sources show Topsy being much taller than Eva, and more spread out. Eva looks as if she is small, innocent and neat. The pouch that they were sold in had Eva on the front as wealthier white families probably would be more likely to buy it if it had Eva on the front.
  3. After speaking with the librarian, the pieces were believed to be acquired through an auction of some sort. The Special Collections group was reached out to, but they have not sent any more information about how they were acquired.  They were acquired for the Cairns Collection of American Women Writers because of the Harriet Beecher Stowe and Uncle Tom’s Cabin connection, however.
  4. The significance of these items is that they were used for play with children, and it gives us a sense of what children were using for play during that time. It also gives insight of what people were thinking about African Americans during that time. The pieces were chosen because they were thought to be very interesting.  They were fairly fragile, but it shocked me that they were still around just being paper and being a toy. They were chosen by our classmates because it is important to see what children were playing with back in those times.

3. Finding Freedom: An Addy Classic

  1. Connie Porter’s “Finding Freedom: An Addy Classic” follows the life of a nine-year-old girl named Addy and her family. The story begins with the family as slaves and as the story progresses Addy and her mother escape to the north for freedom. However, before Addy and her mother escaped, her father and her older brother, Sam, were sold to another slave owner. This caused her family to be separated and later on when Addy and her mother decided to make their journey to the safe house, they left her little sister, Esther behind. Although, in the end, Addy and her mother were reunited with her father again. In the beginning of the story, we see the responsibilities, hardships, and consequences Addy and her family face as slaves. Later, when Addy and her mother are free, we see them face different responsibilities, hardships, and consequences as they learn how to live their new life. Addy learns how to read, write, and the cost of freedom.
  2. The style of the story is told in 3rd person, depicting what life was like for an enslaved family during this time. From the tone of the story and simply the title, you can tell it is written for a younger audience, specifically young girls. The tone depicts Addy as an innocence, hopeful, kind, and smart girl. The story is meant to teach young girls about slavery in 1864, providing them with an understanding of the challenges and dangers African Americans faced. 
  3. Topics that are important for understanding this item are girlhood, childhood, and class. These topics align perfectly for the things that we have read and discussed in class. For girlhood, this story brings up the question of “what does it mean to be a girl?” Addy wears dresses and plays with a doll, but also does more than just domestic work. For childhood, the story questions society’s idea of childhood. Addy is only nine years old but because she is a slave, she is forced to do labor everyday and all day. If she does something incorrectly, she gets punished. At the age of nine, children should be playing and have little to no responsibilities. Lastly, for class, again because they are slaves, Addy and her are treated unfairly and inhumanely. They aren’t paid to work, they are only fed a little, they have to work everyday and all day, and if they aren’t doing what they are supposed to be doing they get whipped. Even later when Addy and her mother escaped, Addy’s schoolmate, Harriet, looked down on Addy because her family were never slaves.
  4. The author of this piece is Connie Porter, and she grew up in Buffalo, New York. She grew up with an attachment to reading, and now currently lives in Pennsylvania with her family. She has written the Addy Book series, and another coming of age book called Imani All Mine, and a book titled All-Bright Court. Since the author is described to grow up in hard times, it’s most likely she relates to stories on coming of age, especially because she has a strong connection to her own childhood hardships. It’s also important to mention the advisory board accompanied by the writer, which were seven members devoted to historical events that helped accurately portray Addy during this time period, guiding the author in creating an authentic story.
  5. We know that this piece appears in the classic addition and is published by American Girl Publishing. Given where it comes from, we know that the specific book was marketed for children by the American Girl company, and the current 2020 abridged version is sold alongside the matching Addy doll. 
  6. Addy’s original book was published in 1993 by the American Girl company. During this time the American Girl company’s assortment of dolls consisted mainly of caucasian dolls and they wanted to expand the diversity of dolls they offered. According to a guest lecturer, originally the idea of making a black doll with a slave backstory did not appeal to the executives working at American Girl during the time. However, Addy’s was still created because they were convinced that her story was an important one to tell.
  7. Addy’s story takes place during the American Civil War. This was an important time for slavery and African American people who had been raised as slaves or had become slaves at some point in their lives. Some historical research that can be done is on the actual accuracy of Addy’s story and whether or not a story like hers is historically factual or realistic.
  8. This piece is relevant to American girlhood because it relates to the archival pieces we’ve chosen, specifically relating to the perspective of a young girl in this time period. Even today, girlhood that stems from slave ancestry is still impacted by this history, and it is extremely interesting to see that history being taught to a younger demographic. I think this form of education from a young age is important, and studying it from a children’s perspective in classes like this is important and I would recommend it.

4. Uncle Tom’s Cabin Poster

Lithograph poster created by Russel Morgan Print for Al W. Martin’s Mammoth production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  1. This is a Color lithograph poster for “Al. W. Martin’s Mammoth Production Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. This image was created by Russel Morgan Print in 1905. It was used in the United States, where is not exact due to Russel Morgan Print being a company that was nationwide.
  2. This was made during slavery because of the slaves on the poster. The slaves in the image have dramatic facial expressions and are dancing around. They seem to be making dramatic dance moves and this could be seen as something that people would laugh at them for. We need to be familiar with what racism was like back in the time and how slaves were normally treated, and it is interesting that on the front of this poster they are in fancy clothes rather than plain torn worn down clothes.
  3. This image appears to be everywhere, when search you can order prints of this image still. This image was originally found on Tom Show Lithograph Posters: Electronic Edition by Stephen Railton with the University of Virginia. It does not say how the items were obtained but it was prepared for Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture.
  4. This is significant because it shows what a poster was like for a stage production that was about Uncle Tom’s Cabin and how they represented slaves back then. It allows us to see what some representations of racism was for that time and what children would have been exposed to as a societal normal.  This piece is interesting, as previously stated, the slaves in this image are dressed up more than usual. This piece was chosen because it adds to the conversation about slavery and childhood.

5. Reflection Essay

All four of our research items revolve around the era of slavery. The items show the impact of racism and the Topsy dolls are based on our other research item of Uncle Tom’s cabin. They represent Topsy the Slave character, from Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.Each one shows a different aspect of life and way of living during that time period. The image ad of the Uncle Tom’s Cabin production shows the humiliation brought upon African Americans during the time, Uncle Tom’s cabin delivers the story of a man living as a slave during that era and the Topsy dolls, being made in New York, shows the racist view of African Americans by white Americans during that era. 

This array of items can be related back to the keywords of America, and childhood. As the items are related back to the era of slavery, the keyword of America comes into play because when we think of America we think of the land of the free and people living their best lives, but back then, that was not the case of everyone and these items example that. In Addy for example, she is just a young girl who although is growing up much different than the free children during that time, she still holds hopes and dreams just as any little girl would. Just as in Uncle Tom’s cabin, although a slave with little to no rights, he still held the same dreams as a freeman would and wanted to achieve the “American dream” in his own way.  America is supposed to be the land of the free and the keyword here is “supposed” as for people of African descent during that time were treated unequally despite having the same hopes and goals as the person next to them. The Topsy dolls especially can be related back to the keyword of childhood along with both books and ad because the dolls for example would have been played with by young children. Young children are very susceptible to suggestion and during that era, would see ads as shown and assume that was the normal. The dolls with their racist features could have then been treated differently just as in the story of the “Gollies,” The author throughout the text explains his disliking of the gollies in the sense of their color and look. By seeing them in this viewpoint, he would soon grow up understanding that his own whiteness was the normality and the gollies, due to their skin color and look, were the outcasts. The overall theme of this article is how dolls can depict a certain behavior (script) and the race and look of these dolls pulled a sense of discomfort from the child and in the end made him treat these dolls out of pity. 

Our focus with these items was to deliver the message of what life was like during slavery and how it carried over into our literature and learning today. These items show the racism during the time and the ignorance white citizens had towards it. We highlighted items that a child may normally see or read and chose two different books of different time periods to show how even the teaching of this era has changed. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” provides more in depth detail of how a person would been treated and the torture they went through where as “Addy” is more appropriate read for a young child to learn about that era of history as it leaves out the more horrific side slavery had during that time. The ad was an interesting item to choose as it in a sense contradicts the purpose of Uncle Tom and adds more racism and ignorance as they are depicting African Americans in a crude way and how this image was seen as a normal view of African Americans. 

Leave a Reply