Rutgers professor researches, writes book on life of Harriet Tubman

<p>Erica Armstrong Dunbar, professor in the Department of History, wrote a book about Tubman based on her research.</p>

Erica Armstrong Dunbar, professor in the Department of History, wrote a book about Tubman based on her research.


Following the recent release of the film “Harriet,“ it is a good time to shed light on Harriet Tubman’s life, said Erica Armstrong Dunbar, professor in the Department of History at Rutgers University, according to an article on Rutgers Today

“What we know about Tubman’s life from history books really only consists of 10 years of her life, and I wanted to present her in a way that is fresh,” Dunbar said, according to the article. “The point was to be accessible and have it be modern and contemporary, so it connects to readers across generations to make a story that is more than 100 years old feel relevant today.”

She authored the book “She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman,” which begins with Tubman’s family history and the early events of her life, according to the article.

“I wanted to start at the very beginning and talk about the things we don’t often hear,” Dunbar said.

In order to do this, Dunbar had help from research associates at various universities, including Ashley Council, a second-year graduate student at Rutgers who focuses on African-American history, according to the article. 

For months, Council looked through various sources such as the Freedmen’s Bureau archives, census data, Civil War letters and Black abolitionist papers, according to the article.

“There is not a lot of archival material about Tubman and the history of the enslaved. Archives weren’t made to make the enslaved visible,” Council said, according to the article. “So, I had to take history based in white supremacy and find the narratives that were hidden beneath.”

Dunbar was invited to attend pre-screenings of the film and invited her graduate student associates to join her, according to the article.

There may have been some differences between her book and the film, but Dunbar was happy to see moments that shed light on the militant side of Tubman onscreen, according to the article.

“She was a fierce Black woman — and certainly one of the bravest women that ever lived,” Dunbar said, according to the article. “She reminds us of the importance of the strength and leadership in the darkest of times and to stand up (against) social injustice.”

Involving students in her research was important, Dunbar said, according to the article.

“I want students to have the opportunity to work in the archives and uncover the fragments of history that are untold,” Dunbar said, according to the article. “It helps them see possibilities in the field of history and the prominence of the Department of History at Rutgers—New Brunswick.”


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