Kaye Whitehead, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication at Loyola University Maryland, has been awarded a Lord Baltimore Research Fellowship from the Maryland Historical Society (MHS) to spend the next year focused on the 250-year-old diary of a slave ship doctor.
The fellowship is designed to promote scholarship in Maryland history and culture and gives Whitehead unprecedented access to the MHS library and museum, along with office space and supplies. Her project, "Notes from a Slave Ship Doctor: Interpreting the 1749-1751 Diary of William Chancellor," will entail transcribing and annotating microfiche copies of the diary and analyzing Chancellor’s experiences in the Middle Passage. Thus far, the diary, other than being the subject of a 1968 article, has never been fully transcribed or published.
“There is very little published information about Chancellor and his diary, so there is something very exciting about introducing a new voice and perspective to the field.,” said Whitehead.
Whitehead says that most accounts of the Middle Passage detail the lives and experiences of the captured Africans, the slave ship captains, or the plantation owners – but never a ship’s doctor. On the sloop Wolf, it was Chancellor’s job to keep captured Africans healthy and alive during the voyage. The ship’s captain also tasked Chancellor with determining which ill captives should be thrown overboard to prevent spreading disease to others on the ship.
Whitehead expects half of her content analysis to center on discovering more about who William Chancellor really was. She hopes that her research and Chancellor’s diary will reveal more about the doctor as a person, including his background and family, and why he would choose to be a slave ship doctor instead of something more prestigious. In her remaining analysis, Whitehead will explore Chancellor’s written accounts of the relationships and interactions of the ship’s crew, which was made up of Europeans and Africans working together.
Chancellor’s experiences will give Whitehead the opportunity to add a fresh, compelling angle to existing knowledge of the slave trade in colonial America.
“I love finding new strands of history that can be introduced and interpreted,” said Whitehead. “It’s refreshing to look at this period from a different perspective.”
Whitehead isn’t coming into this project cold; she is an expert in historical interpretation of primary source documents. In fact, she learned of Chancellor’s diary while working on her dissertation on the writings of Emilie Davis, a free black woman and Philadelphia seamstress who also kept a diary from 1863-65. That dissertation is now a manuscript receiving positive reviews from a publishing house. For the MHS fellowship, Whitehead plans to publish a series of articles about Chancellor and his experiences written through the lens of race, class, and gender, issues she has already researched extensively.
Whitehead will spend this summer transcribing Chancellor’s diary and beginning her research, and has dedicated spring 2012 to more in-depth research and writing.
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