Frederick Douglass Papers Edition

Project History

Douglass Biography

Editorial Practices


Schedule of Publications

Series 1: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews
Series 2: Autobiography
Series 3: Correspondence
Series 4: Editorials


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About the Frederick Douglass Papers Edition

John W. Blassingame

John W. Blassingame, Founding Editor

The Frederick Douglass Papers Edition originated in 1973 at Yale University, as a result of consultations among the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History and John W. Blassingame, Professor of History at Yale. With Blassingame serving as editor, the project began work in 1973. For almost twenty years project was housed at Yale University, staffed by scholars at that institution. From 1992-98, West Virginia University housed the project, and now the Frederick Douglass Papers resides at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI). 

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission has been crucial not only in the launch of the project, but also in sustaining its work with more than $1,000,000 in funding since 1973.  The Douglass Papers is also grateful for generous financial support over the years from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Yale University, West Virginia University, and IUPUI.

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Focus of the Edition

The founding editor of the Edition, John W. Blassingame (1940-2000), Professor of History and African American Studies at Yale, began in the mid-1970s to focus his research on the recovery and preservation of primary source material documenting the African American experience. He became editor of the Frederick Douglass Papers during that time, directing the research and production of the edition's first six volumes published by Yale University Press between 1979 and 1994-99. His best known work, The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South (1972), which used slaves themselves as sources, remains widely used by scholars today. His other works include: editor, New Perspectives on Black Studies (1971); Black New Orleans, 1860-1880 (1973); Slave Testimony: Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches, Interviews, and Autobiographies (1977); Long Memory: The Black Experience in America, (with Mary Frances Berry, 1982).

The edition's aim remains true to Blassingame's vision: to make the papers of this prolific African American figure in his historical context available to a broad audience, much as similar projects have done for the papers of notable white historical and literary figures. The heart of the project is the publication of fourteen volumes of Douglass’s speeches and writings, but the project has also begun exploring the use of electronic texts and of web sites to broaden access to the project’s resources. The Frederick Douglass Papers is one of the few major documentary editing projects in progress devoted to an African American figure, the others including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers at the University of California-Berkeley, the Freedman and Southern Society Project at the University of Maryland, and the Harriet Jacobs Papers at Pace University.

Edition Volumes

Currently, the project is completing the tenth and eleventh volumes of the four series set. The first series, five volumes of Speeches, Debates, and Interviews, was completed in 1992 and praised in The Journal of American History as “an important resource for Douglass scholars as well as all those interested in unraveling the intricate web of nineteenth-century reform.” (Carol V.R. George, “The Frederick Douglass Papers. Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. Vol. 1: 1841-46,” The Journal of American (Dec., 1980) 67:681-83.)

The volumes of Series Two: Autobiographical Writings, Narrative (Yale University Press, 1999), and My Bondage and My Freedom (Yale University Press, 2003), and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (Yale University Press, 2012), have been published. The text of each volume received the prestigious "Approved Text" imprimatur of the Modern Language Association's Committee on Scholarly Editions. In addition, a paperback edition of the Narrative was also published by Yale University Press in 2001 and is currently being revised for a second edition.

Of the third series, four volumes of Correspondence, the first volume, Correspondence of Frederick Douglass, Volume 1: 1842-1852 was published by Yale University Press in 2009, and the second, covering the years 1853-65, is currently being prepared by the staff of the Frederick Douglass Papers.

Series Four, Editorials, Essays, and Other Writings will consist of two volumes containing selections from Douglass's published and unpublished works, including his novella The Heroic Slave (1853). The project is currently working on the first volume of this series.



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Frederick Douglass Papers Edition
Institute for American Thought
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Indianapolis, Indiana 46202 ES0010
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