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African-American Family Dynamics Under Slavery

Description of Research Project:

My dissertation research broadly involves the study of absent fatherhood among African American men. In conducting this research, I employ both qualitative (interviews) and historical methods. The qualitative component involves interviewing low-income African American men about their experiences growing up with a non-resident father. The SURO student researcher will be tasked with working with me on the historical portion. The historical segment involves a review and analysis of the extent to which—as well as the ways in which—father absence among African American households has occurred over time. For the historical portion, I am presently reviewing archived interviews with ex-slaves recorded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) between 1936 and 1938. This ex-slave narrative analysis is part of a broader historical review of black father absence for my research. The review spans the years from slavery up until the early 20th century. Overall the review of ex-slave narratives will be a vital part of my dissertation research and a critical task in assessing the broader historical legacy of black father absence.


Description of work involved:

Students will be tasked with three major responsibilities: reading, coding, and writing/analyzing. For the reading portion, students will be responsible for reading chapters from selected volumes of ex-slave narratives. Each volume is linked to the state in which the interviews took place. Some volumes have multiple chapters, while others only have one. Each chapter can range between 80 and 350 pages and can contain between 40 and 100 interviews. For coding, students will be responsible for assigning codes to relevant sections in the readings. Specifically, students will be tasked with mining the data for any mention/discussion of the occurrence of father absence by ex-slaves. Students will code each mention of father absence based on a coding template I have developed. Students will also have the opportunity to expand and adjust the coding spreadsheet if needed. Lastly, students will have two writing and analysis requirements. First, students will write and discuss a series of short memos summarizing the results and their thoughts from the reading and coding. Lastly, along with me, students will be tasked with managing their coding tasks in a shared excel spreadsheet. In addition to the 3 major responsibilities, students will be required to have a weekly check-in meeting to discuss their progress and any other thoughts, questions, or issues they might be having with the project.


Contact info:
Matthew Alemu

Supervising faculty member: Alford Young, Jr.

Average hours of Work Per Week:
• Hours will be decided based on the student research experience
• 3-8 hours of work per week, including check-ins

Range of credit hours:
• 1-3 credit hours

Number of positions:
• 1