Mapping Emancipation

Friday, January 6, 2012: 10:30 AM
Sheraton Ballroom II (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Scott Nesbit, University of Richmond
In the past thirty years historians have learned a great deal about how enslaved men and women became free but we have only the vaguest responses to some basic questions about the transition from slavery: How likely were enslaved men and women to escape slavery during the early years of the Civil War?  Where and when were Union armies most effective at undermining slavery?  Did local people of color provide information to US troops consistently throughout the war or was the help concentrated in some places and not others?  Providing answers to these questions has proven difficult because research on emancipation has resulted in robust document collections and subtle interpretation but few tools, datasets, or methods for thinking about or representing emancipation and space.

"Visualizing Emancipation" is a project funded by an NEH We the People Grant that seeks to gather, structure, and analyze data on emancipation from a wide range of documents to build an interactive map that tells something of how the process unfolded.  This paper will present results from our research into the Official Record of the War of the Rebellion, Civil War-era newspapers, and other sources and will use these results to think about new interpretive possibilities offered by digitized but relatively unstructured historical data sources.

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