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The Life of Frederick Douglass Digitized


On February 20, 1895, America bade farewell to Frederick Douglass, one of the most influential human rights activists in American history. Douglass spent almost his entire life opposing slavery and advocating issues on gender.  Douglas was very famous for his speaking career, which he started by narrating his experiences when he was a slave. To understand Fredrick Douglas, his life as a slave and his life as a freeman, I have looked at four digital databases that explore him: “Frederick Douglass Papers Edition”, “Frederick Douglass: National Historic Site”, “Frederick Douglass Comes to Life”, and “Digital History: Frederick Douglass’ Letter to Mary Todd Lincoln.”

The first digital database is “Frederick Douglass Papers Edition,” an excellent project that was integrated 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. The project aims at preserving the primary source materials that document Frederick Douglass. The database offers a biography of Douglass supplemented by a timeline of events associated with his life. Another excellent feature in this site is that it includes a general bibliography of Douglass, from his autobiographies to books about him to books directed especially for youth. Moreover, this project offers information about Douglass’s speeches, debates, interviews, and finally his correspondence under which it includes a list that indicates the date of the letters, the recipients, the place in which it was written, and the location of where the text was deemed. Overall, the website is a great attempt to supply a well-annotated scholarly publications of Douglass’s works.

In the second digital database, “Frederick Douglass: National Historic Site,” Douglass’ life is not comprehensively explored; yet beautifully presented. This database serves as an exhibit of Douglass’ life at Cedar Hill, Washington, D.C., where Douglass spent the last years of his life. Because this home was important in Douglass’ political life, this exhibit comes to shed light on one major part in his life. The features available in this site include a house tour, portraits of Douglass, and an image gallery. In these features, visitors can see a wide range of Douglass’ personal possessions, books, his home furnishings, and photographs of his family and friends. It is an ambitious project; however, the fact that it is designed specifically to tackle one part of Douglass’ life makes this site less useful when the exploration of his life is needed.

The “Frederick Douglass Comes to Life” website has a poor design, but contains a lot of information that is designed for classroom discussions and hands-on workshops. This website provides a brief biography of Douglass. Also, three of Douglass’ important speeches are included: “The Church and Prejudice”, “Fighting Rebels with Only One Hand,” and “What the Black Man Wants.” Another great feature in this website is the Douglass Scholars Program that aims at spreading Douglass’ message and gives information about Douglass’ life that would inspire young people in their lives. The program is intended for elementary through secondary schools. The idea behind this innovative program is great. The main goal is to teach Douglass’ principles. The principles are:

  • The Proper Use of Power Is To Promote the Common Good.
  • Give Up Something You Want In Order To Help Someone Else.
  • Overcome Doubt and Fear.
  • Understand Why and How To Control the Human Ego.
  • Do What Is Right and Proper Even If No One Is Looking.
  • Use Knowledge and Understanding Wisely.
  • Overcome Indecisiveness.
  •  Make Gratitude a Part of Every Thought And Action.
  • Practice the Skill of Listening Carefully Before Making Judgments.
  • Remain True To Your Word.
  • Hold a Vision For the Desired Future.
  • Recognize That Your Success Is As Much a Motivation To Others As To You.

The program is given in various forms: a three-day comprehensive program that invites students to grasp these principles, or one-day and two-day programs, that offer only introduction to the principles. Schedules for these programs are outlined in the website.

The last digital tool, “Digital History: Frederick Douglass’ Letter to Mary Todd Lincoln” examines only one particular aspect of Douglass’ life, which is his relationship with Abraham Lincoln. In order to do so, Douglass’ letter to Lincoln’s recently widowed Mary Todd is fully examined. In this letter, Douglass thanks Mary Todd for her gift of Lincoln’s walking cane. The site displays a manuscript of the letter and its transcript. It also provides a brief biography of his life and a section for additional web resources about Douglass.

In closing, the above-mentioned digital tools are probably the most visited ones. It is very evident that the life of Frederick Douglass has not been abundantly digitized. More work is needed to address one of the most influential heroes in American history.

Works Cited

“Frederick Douglass.” National Historic Site. Web. 26 July 2013.

“Frederick Douglass Comes to Life.” Frederick Douglass Speeches-Seminars on Race Relations and Gender Equity. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 July 2013.

“Frederick Douglass’ Letter to Mary Todd Lincoln.” Digital History. Web. 27 July 2013.

“The Frederick Douglass Papers.” The Frederick Douglass Papers Edition: Series Two. Institute for American Thought. Web. 26 July 2013.


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