Guide to the Nell Irvin Painter Papers, 1793-2016 and undated, bulk 1876-2007
Nell Irvin Painter is a scholar, teacher, and writer in 19th- and 20th-century American and African American history who has been a faculty member of Harvard, Princeton, and the Universities of North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Collection spans the years 1793-2010, with the bulk of the material dating between 1876 and 2007, and contains correspondence, research notes, photocopies of original documents, manuscripts, publication proofs, syllabi, department memoranda, records of her speaking engagements, photographs, personal journals, papers, and photographs, many varying audiovisual formats, and computer diskettes. Also contains extensive file series related to the research and writing of five of her major books: Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas after Reconstruction; The Narrative of Hosea Hudson: His Life as a Negro Communist in the South; Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877-1919; Sojourner Truth, A Life, A Symbol; and Creating Black Americans: African-American History and its Meanings, 1619 to the Present.
- Collection Number
- Nell Irvin Painter papers
- 1793-2016 and undated, bulk 1876-2007
- Painter, Nell Irvin
- 300 Linear Feet, Approx. 124,500 Items
- David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
- Material in English
- Correspondence Series, 1862-2008 and undated, bulk 1970-2007
- Writings and Research Series, 1793, 1835-2007 and undated, bulk 1876-2004
- Teaching Materials, 1969-2004 and undated, bulk 1974-2000
- Professional Service Series, 1963, 1972-2007 and undated
- Personal Files Series, 1942-2007 and undated
- Photographic Materials Series, 1810-2007 and undated
- Audiovisual Materials Series, 1968-2006 and undated
- Electronic Formats Series, 1986-2007 and undated
- Oversize Materials
- Ayi Kwei Armah Papers, 1967-1969 and undated
- Accession (2010-0116), 1978-2010
- Accession (2011-0173), 2010-2011
- Accession (2015-0036), 1974-2008 and undated
- Accession (2015-0192), 1986-2015 and undated
- Accession (2016-0112), 2002-2016 and undated
The Nell Irvin Painter Papers span the years 1793-2016, with the bulk of the material dating between 1876 and 2007, and are primarily composed of the extensive correspondence, writing, research, teaching materials, and other professional papers that Painter has produced in her long career as a scholar, teacher, and writer in 19th- and 20th-century American and African American history. The materials document the breadth and depth of Painter's interests and her intellectual and personal influence on a generation of historians. Her varied roles as student, teacher, colleague, and mentor are recorded in a wide variety of formats: correspondence with colleagues, students, family, and friends; syllabi, department memoranda, and meeting minutes from her graduate and faculty positions at Harvard, Princeton, and the Universities of North Carolina and Pennsylvania; materials from many professional organizations in the fields of African American history, Southern history, American studies, and women's studies; and records of her speaking engagements, conferences, and meetings. Painter the historian and author are revealed in the extensive notes, photocopies, recordings, photographs, manuscripts, and proofs produced in writing many articles and five of her major books: Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas after Reconstruction; The Narrative of Hosea Hudson: His Life as a Negro Communist in the South; Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877-1919; Sojourner Truth, A Life, A Symbol; and Creating Black Americans: African-American History and its Meanings, 1619 to the Present. The portrait is rounded out by the materials in other series: personal files, which include materials from her student years at Harvard and abroad in Ghana and France as well as personal journals; a few papers of Ghanaian writer Ayi Kwei Armah; photographs, including many historical photographs of African Americans as well as many personal snapshots in color and black-and-white; and other non-print media such as audiotapes, audiocassettes, videocassettes, and computer diskettes.
Painter's research files contain a wealth of information about many topics in American history: biography of African Americans; biography as a literary form; slavery; Reconstruction; the 1870s migration from the South to Kansas; a variety of social reform movements--such as abolition, communism, labor, and women's suffrage--and movers, such as Sojourner Truth and Hosea Hudson; and the history of social conditions and political change in the United States from the early-19th to the mid-20th century, particularly as expressed in race relations, in women's history, and in the South. At the same time, Painter's papers also constitute a contemporary record of many trends in American culture such as career and educational choices and opportunities for academic women and African American professionals. Her correspondence with students, colleagues, and longtime friends such as Nellie Y. McKay, her teaching material and academic files, her papers from an array of historians' organizations, and her personal journals each shed their own light on these themes.
The collection is arranged in these series: Correspondence, Writings and Research, Teaching Materials, Professional Service, Personal Files, Photographic Materials, Audiovisual Materials,Electronic Formats, and a collection of private papers collected by Painter, the Ayi Kwei Armah Papers. The first four series comprise almost eighty percent of the physical extent of the collection and are each divided into several subseries. The Correspondence Series follows Painter's personal life, education, and professional career from her graduate years at Harvard in the late 1960s through her retirement from Princeton in 2004.
The Writings and Research Series is arranged in seven subseries, the first five of which are based on five of Painter's major books; the final two subseries are Other Research Topics, which gathers many of Painter's shorter writings, and Writings by Others. With the exception of the last, all the subseries here contain correspondence with colleagues and editors; typescript drafts of works; various stages of proof; extensive photocopies of archival materials and published articles; voluminous notes about her readings and research; and some photographs and recordings, most of which have been removed to their respective series for preservation.
The Teaching Materials Series documents Painter's work with students and academic colleagues at Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of North Carolina, Hunter College, and Princeton University. It is arranged into two series: Courses Subseries, with syllabi, reading lists, and Painter's notes on the development of her courses that reflect the evolution of women's studies and African American studies in the curriculum; and the Academic Files Subseries, revealing Painter's many different roles over three decades: graduate student, job applicant, junior and tenured faculty member, dissertation advisor, mentor, and department head.
The Professional Service Series, arranged in two subseries, documents Painter's activities in the broader academic community beyond her university of employment and her personal connections through materials from well over one hundred professional organizations, conferences, foundations, committees and task forces, as well as editorial boards of journals and publishers with which Painter has worked during her career. The Engagements Subseries gathers documents relating to addresses, speeches, and awards ceremonies at some three hundred conferences, meetings, and symposia.
Five smaller series and a gathering of oversize material round out the collection. The Personal Files Series contains an assortment of records such as curriculum vitae; documents about her family; and some records of her student years, especially her travel and study in France and Africa. The series includes some three dozen personal journals covering most of the years from 1959-2005 containing entries about her life and career (NOTE: some journals are CLOSED to use; see details in the series note). The Photographic Materials Series contains several hundred photographs, negatives, and slides, predominantly personal and travel snapshots but also including professional portraits of Painter as well as a number of original photographs and reproductions of archival photographs she used in her research and writing. Much of the material in the early years of the Audiovisual Materials Series is related to her research and writing; by the 1990s, the content shifts focus to documenting Painter herself on the occasion of various interviews and addresses. The Electronic Formats Series consists of diskettes containing correspondence and drafts of writings. The Oversize Materials contains items from several series and subseries are gathered. The final series in the collection consists not of Painter's own work but that of a Ghanaian novelist and poet; see the Ayi Kwei Armah Papers (RESTRICTED) series note for further information on the provenance and usage of these materials.
Accession 2010-0116 (CLOSED) (dated from 1978-2010) is an unprocessed addition to the collection. Materials include correspondence, email correspondence, newspaper clippings, board notes, articles, journal articles, CDs with interviews, photographs, notebooks, and other miscellaneous material.
Accession 2011-0173 (CLOSED) (dated from 2010-2011) is an unprocessed addition to the collection. Materials include correspondence, email correspondence, and miscellaneous printed material.
Accession 2012-0100 includes correspondence, miscellaneous writings, and some research material, including primary source material from the late 1800s.
Accession 2015-0192 is a minimally processed addition to the collection. It includes correspondence, printed materials, files from Painter's speaking engagements and events, awards, realia, electronic media, and audiovsual materials.
Accession 2016-0112 is a minimally processed addition to the collection. It contains correspondence, printed materials, files from the creation of her website www.nellpainter.com, files from Painter's speaking engagements and events, oversize printed material, and electronic media.
Note about date range of materials: The primary material produced by Painter begins around 1959 with her earliest journals. Earlier dates in various series, occurring mainly in Writings and Research, reflect the intellectual content and original publication of the large volume of reproduced research material present in the collection.
Access to the Collection
Collection is restricted. Restrictions are outlined in the Collection Control File. Unprocessed additions are also restricted and must be screened before access by patrons.
Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.
Original audiovisual materials are closed to use. Use of these materials may require production of listening or viewing copies. Please contact Research Services before coming to use this collection.
All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48 hours to retrieve these materials for research use.
Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.
Use & Permissions
The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
How to Cite
[Identification of item], Nell Irvin Painter Papers, Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University.
Contains professional correspondence between Painter and her professors, colleagues, and students over the course of her career; personal letters to and from family, friends, and colleagues; and some administrative and interdepartmental memoranda from each of the universities at which Painter served as professor. Documents Painter's personal life, education, and career from her graduate years at Harvard in the late 1960s up through her retirement from Princeton in 2004. Major figures who corresponded with Painter include African-American novelist Toni Morrison; professors of English Houston A. Baker, Jr., Werner Sollors, and Nellie Y. McKay; and historians Darlene Clark Hine and William L. Andrews. Theirs and others' correspondence may appear in either the Chronological Subseries or Alphabetical Subseries. Professional correspondence also includes some letters related to editorial matters, organizations such as the National Endowment for the Humanities, and such publishers as Heinneman of the African Writer's Series. Arranged in four subseries: the Chronological, Alphabetical, Student/Candidate Files, and Nellie Y. McKay (CLOSED).
Materials Retrieval Note: In addition to the material gathered in this series, Painter's extensive correspondence can be found in many other places in the collection. This is particularly true of the Writings and Research Series and the Professional Service Series. In the case of the former, each of the five subseries for Painter's major books contains a Correspondence subgroup within it related to research and publication of the book, and correspondence also appears in various folders throughout the other two subseries. In the Professional Service Series, correspondence appears in both subseries--Organizations and Engagements--though more substantially in the former. Thus in order to be sure of seeing all correspondence that might relate to a particular book, for example, patrons should retrieve not only the correspondence from that book's subseries in the Writings and Research Series, but also any boxes in the Correspondence Series that originate from any applicable time spans or persons in the Chronological and Alphabetical subseries, respectively.
Correspondence between Painter and professors, colleagues, students, friends, and family over the course of her career.
Arranged in chronological order by year, month, and, in some places, day. Where possible, Painter's own system of labeling has been retained, which accounts for some overlap in dates across folders. Materials from the mid to late 1990s and early 2000 often have been divided into the categories professional,business, and personal as Painter saw fit, and the folders containing these materials have been so labeled along with the year and, at times, month. Printed electronic correspondence was largely separated by Painter from traditionally-formatted letters when it first began to appear in the mid-1990s and has been retained in her folders; after a few years, however, she began to treat e-mail as any other correspondence and by 2002 was interfiling items regardless of how they originated.
Processing and retrieval note for 2008 and 2010 accessions: There have been two substantial expansions of this subseries since the collection was originally processed in 2006. Materials from Accession 2008-0016 were integrated into the subseries chronologically but not physically, meaning that newer box numbers will sometimes appear out of strict numerical sequence. Materials from Accession 2010-0116 were processed minimally, and can be found appended at the end of this inventory. Researchers are advised to examine all these points when seeking to retrieve all correspondence from a particular period of time, especially materials dated 1997 or later.
[Photographs, water-damaged, removed to Photographic Materials Series.]
Correspondence between Painter and professors, colleagues, students, friends, and family over the course of her career. Many of the same correspondents may also appear in the Chronological Subseries. Arranged alphabetically, mainly by personal surname but also by names of organizations and topical names assigned by Painter. Correspondence with family and some close friends may appear under their individual names but also under the categories Family, Family and Friends, and Intimates.
[Photograph of Sojourner Truth removed to Photographic Materials Series.]
Correspondence with current and former students, including some undergraduates but mainly graduate students and masters and doctoral advisees. Contains many attached writings, proposals, resumes, and requests for references. Many of the same correspondents may also appear in the Chronological Subseries. Arranged alphabetically.
Sensitive Material: Materials covered by the privacy and confidentiality agreement signed by all researchers appear at many points throughout the collection, but they are especially concentrated in this subseries. During processing, all grades, social security numbers, and various medical information were removed or redacted when they were found, but this does not guarantee all such items were located. In addition, material such as letters of recommendation, commentary on students' writing or performance, and other potentially sensitive information appears and was retained in many folders. Researchers should review the confidentiality agreement or consult with Research Services staff if they have questions about the appropriate use of this material.
Correspondence between Painter and Nellie Y. McKay, who met in 1969 when both were first-year graduate students at Harvard (Painter in history, McKay in English). McKay went on to become a professor of American and African-American Literature and published important works on Toni Morrison and Jean Toomer among other writers. She spent most of her career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Bulk of subseries consists of correspondence from McKay, but several years into the sequence many copies of Painter's letters begin to appear, too. Letters cover the personal and professional lives of both women, enriched by a variety of attachments, including drafts of writings, newspaper clippings about their careers and current events, promotional materials, snapshots, and sometimes copies of correspondence with third parties. Arranged chronologically, although researchers should note that Painter's original labeling on the folders is not always complete. Often the correspondence inside the folders covers a longer span of months than she indicated; this has been amended in pencil, but items were not shifted between or within folders, so contiguous folders should be examined for particular weeks or months.
[CLOSED: Items in the Nellie Y. McKay Subseries are closed until forty years from the original date of creation of each item.]
Writings, research materials, notes, and correspondence that document the genesis of Painter's major books and many articles, essays, and reviews. Contains significant amounts of correspondence with publishers, sources, and colleagues; articles and talks sent by colleagues; and copious notes and numerous photocopies of primary sources, including newspapers and government records. There are also many drafts of Painter's talks and writings, including manuscripts, typescripts, and printer's proofs.
Arranged in eight subseries, the first six of which are based on five of Painter's major books: Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas After Reconstruction (1976); The Narrative of Hosea Hudson: His Life as a Negro Communist in the South (1979); Sojourner Truth, A Life, A Symbol (1996); Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877-1919 (1987); Creating Black Americans: African American History and Its Meanings, 1619 to the Present (2005); and The History of White People (2010). Each subseries is further divided into three subgroups, Correspondence, Drafts, and Research Materials; see specific subseries notes for further detail about the arrangement and content of these categories for each book. Materials unrelated to these five books--or whose relationship to them could not be established--have been placed in one of the final two subseries, Other Research Topics or Writings by Others. Note that while all the subseries contain writings by other authors, the main criterion for placing materials in Writings by Others is that the folder contains only such writing. If a folder contains Painter's notes and commentary in addition to writings by other authors or contains works by multiple authors that Painter gathered under a topical heading, then they are placed in one of the first five subseries or in Other Research Topics. This subseries, the largest in the Writings and Research Series, is further divided into subgroups by topic; see its subseries note for further details on its arrangement.
Several types of documents that appear in this series are supported by related material in other series. Three are of particular note: correspondence, addresses, and writing by other authors. Much correspondence appears in various subseries in Writings and Research, and it addresses many of the same topics broached in the Correspondence Series; it can be searched alphabetically or chronologically according to the arrangement of the particular subseries. Drafts of Painter's addresses and articles have generally been placed in the Writings and Research Series--especially in the Other Research Topics Subseries--if the folders consist mainly of substantive drafts of the work or research on it; but other versions may also appear in the Engagements Subseries of the Professional Service Series. Finally, a substantial amount of writing by other authors, especially when those authors were current or former students or advisees of Painter's, appears in two other series. Most such material appears as attachments to letters in the Student/Candidate Files Subseries of the Correspondence Series; a smaller amount, in the form of drafts unattached to correspondence, appears at the end of the Teaching Materials Series, Academic Files Subseries.
As mentioned in the Collection Overview, the dating of folder titles is of particular note in this series due to the large volume of photocopies and microform printouts of archival and historical material. If the folder contains Painter's notes or quotations from a primary source, the date corresponds to the time Painter worked on the subject. If the folder contains an original source or photocopy of one (almost always the latter), the date corresponds to when the intellectual content was originally produced or published.
Processing Note: Materials in this series containing mold have been remediated, replaced in the collection, and so identified on the folder and in the box list. See Processing Information section of this finding aid for more complete information.
Documents Painter's survey of African American history, which uses black American art to illustrate the narrative. Consists mainly of typescript drafts of several chapters. Arranged alphabetically in the categories of Correspondence and Research, chronologically in Drafts.
Materials have been organized into three subgroups, Correspondence, Drafts, and Research Materials. Correspondence also includes book reviews. The Drafts subgroup consists of typescripts and printer's proofs. Related writings and speeches by Painter are organized with the research materials. The materials in the Correspondence and Research Materials subgroups are arranged alphabetically, while those in the Drafts subgroup are arranged chronologically. Because they lack precise date information, three typescripts and three printer's proofs have been labeled A to C. This labeling does not reflect any chronological ordering among those documents. In the Research Materials subgroup, articles by Painter are indicated by (NIP); writings by others are listed alphabetically by last name. The designations "(d)" and "(w)" she occasionally places after the names of certain newspapers indicate whether it was a daily or weekly publication, respectively.
[Items removed to Photographic Materials Series.]
[Items removed to Oversize Materials.]
Drafts of several chapters; also contains a lecture in which Painter addresses her themes and approaches in this work. These previously closed materials are now open following upon the book's publication in 2010.
Contains correspondence, readers' reports, drafts, interview transcripts, and research materials for The Narrative of Hosea Hudson: His Life as a Negro Communist in the South (1979), as well as related talks and articles by Painter.
Materials have been divided into three subgroups: Correspondence, Drafts, and Research Materials. The Correspondence subgroup largely consists of publication-related materials and correspondence between Painter and Hudson, which began in 1976 and lasted through 1982. Many of Hudson's letters contain newspaper articles that he routinely clipped, typed notes onto, and attached to the letter. Other items of note in the subgroup include readers' reports and Painter's replies to them and a letter of consignment for the Hudson interview tapes, which Painter donated to the Southern Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where they are housed in the Southern Historical Collection.
The Research Materials subgroup largely consists of materials used in verifying and annotating the text. Hudson's FBI file is of particular interest. Also contained are several interview transcripts and related articles and talks by Painter, including her talk at UNC, “How I Wrote Hosea Hudson.”
The materials contained in the Correspondence and Research Materials subgroups have been organized alphabetically. The folder titles for articles or talks by Painter begin with the work's title, followed by “(NIP)” . Folder titles for works by other others are organized by author, last name first. The materials in the Drafts subgroup are organized chronologically.
[Audiocassette removed to Audiovisual Materials Series.]
Contains correspondence, reviews, photos, comments from readers, and research materials for Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol (1996), as well as related talks and articles by Painter. Divided into three subgroups: Correspondence, Drafts, and Research Materials. The Correspondence subgroup includes materials regarding fellowships Painter received, reviews, photos, answers to questions regarding Sojourner Truth, publication information, and requests for others to review drafts of her chapters. These items have been ordered alphabetically.
Painter sent a number of typescript chapter drafts to other scholars. The Drafts subgroup largely consists of the drafts that these scholars returned, with their comments and suggestions. The majority of the drafts are of the first three chapters, but a few copies of chapters four and five are also included. These items have been organized chronologically.
The Research Materials subgroup largely consists of notes, articles, and photocopies of book chapters and letters. There are also a number of talks and articles by Painter in relation to Sojourner Truth. In particular, there are several folders with materials relating to the chapter Difference, Slavery, and Memory: Sojourner Truth in Feminist Abolitionism, which appeared in Jean Fagan Yellin and John C. Van Horne's The Abolitionist Sisterhood: Women's Political Culture in Antebellum America. At the time the materials in the collection were prepared, the chapter was known only by its subtitle and the book was called An Untrodden Path. Also of interest is an article by Richard Powell, which is related to a chapter in Sojourner Truth on photography and representations of Truth. Other materials relevant to this topic, particularly cartes de visite, are found in the Writings by Others Subseries and the Photography subgroup of the Other Research Topics Subseries. The Research Materials subgroup has been ordered alphabetically.
[Audio tape removed to Audiovisual Materials Series.]
[Processing note: checked for mold.]
Consists of correspondence, drafts, related talks and writings, and extensive research materials related to Painter's work on Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877-1919 (1987). Divided into Correspondence, Drafts, and Research Materials subgroups.
Compared to other subseries, the Standing at Armageddon Subseries contains relatively little correspondence. The existing materials are largely publication-related. The correspondence with the Henry George School of Social Science includes a lesson plan and quiz questions on Standing at Armageddon. Related correspondence perhaps may be found in the Correspondence Series. The Drafts subgroup includes a manuscript, several typescripts, and two master proofs. The Research subgroup materials include photocopies of scholarly articles, newspaper articles, and Congressional records, as well as extensive notes from those materials and books. The subgroup also includes talks, reviews, and articles by Painter.
In addition to materials directly about the book, all materials in the Writings and Research Series involving the issues of labor, gender, and race, as they relate to the economic and political conditions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, have been incorporated into the Standing at Armageddon Subseries. The subseries also includes materials on the South that are relevant to the period addressed by Standing at Armageddon.
The correspondence and research materials are arranged alphabetically, while the drafts are arranged chronologically. Talks or articles by Painter have generally been identified by “(NIP)” following the work's title. As three typescripts of Standing at Armageddon lack any date information, they have been labeled A to C. This labeling does not reflect any chronological ordering among those typescripts. In addition, inasmuch as their dating is uncertain, those typescripts have been placed after the other typescripts in the subseries.
[Mold identified and remediated.]
Consists of eleven subgroups: Black Nationalism, Civil Rights, Civil War, Ella Thomas, Gender and Sexuality, Historiography, Other Materials, Photography, Religion, Southern History (which includes a folder grouping on Reconstruction), and Walter White. The materials contained within these subgroups include photocopies of and notes from books and articles, as well as drafts of Painter's writings. Some related correspondence, as well as three fictional works of unknown origin, are also included. The materials in this subseries have been organized alphabetically.
Consists of materials on Martin Delany and on the various representations of Malcolm X.
[items removed to Oversized Materials.]
Contains drafts and research materials on affirmative action, Jim Crow, the Equal Rights Amendment, Anita Hill and Lani Guinier, and voter fraud.
Beside materials on the Civil War, subgroup also includes materials on Frederick Douglass, slavery, and the Antebellum Period. Among the article drafts and research materials, the subgroup contains several photocopies of photographs.
Painter wrote the introduction for The Secret Eye: The Journal of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, 1848-1889, which was edited by Virginia Burr. The Ella Thomas subgroup contains correspondence with Virginia Burr, book covers, typescripts of the diary, and typescripts and printer's proofs of the book.
The second largest subgroup in the Other Research Topics Subseries. Many of the materials focus on women in the American South, but they also examine abuse, including sexual abuse; the distinctions between one's identity as black, as a woman, and as a black woman; minority women as historians and scholars; and black women in relation to civil rights, voting, and affirmative action.
Materials that examine the practice of writing history, particularly biography, autobiography, social history, and oral history. A related work on how Painter produced the Narrative of Hosea Hudson is found in the Research Materials subgroup of the Hosea Hudson Subseries.
The largest subgroup in the Other Research Topics Subseries. Contains work that either did not fit within one of the other subgroups, or that was equally relevant to several topics. Includes materials that cover the general topics of racism and African-American history, as well as issues surrounding political correctness, race and money, and language. Of particular interest are the materials about the Somerset reunion, a reunion of all the families associated with a former slave plantation in North Carolina, and three fictional works of unknown origin.
[Some items removed to Oversize Materials.]
[Two folders of loose material removed to Oversize Materials.]