Commonwealth Slavery: Digital Studies in the History of Slavery at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities

Saturday, January 9, 2016
Galleria Exhibit Hall (Hilton Atlanta)
Susan Perdue, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities
William B. Kurtz, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities
Laura K. Baker, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities
Brendan Wolfe, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities
We would like to submit a poster presentation to the 2016 American Historical Association conference, highlighting our work as a state humanities council to develop and disseminate broadly accessible digital resources about the history of slavery. Through programs like Encyclopedia Virginia and Documents Compass, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities is building a bridge from historians to the general public using digital tools. Our presentation will highlight Encyclopedia Virginia's original slavery content, People of the Founding Era's slave database, and Founders Online's collected letters of our country's most famous slaveholders.

As one of the largest humanities councils in the country, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities takes a leading role in educating the public about the diverse culture and history of the Commonwealth. Our digital initiatives have offered an excellent avenue for illustrating how slavery was central to the economic prosperity enjoyed by the most populous colony in the Revolutionary era, and delivering that information in accessible and dynamic ways.

Encyclopedia Virginia is a VFH program and a born-digital publication reaching an audience of teachers, students, scholars, as well as amateur historians. Currently producing an extensive section on slavery, original entries are authored by leading scholars and made accessible for non-academic readers. Topics include George Washington and Slavery, Sally Hemings, Black Confederate Soldiers, and the Virginia Slavery Debates, and are accompanied by primary resources like Notes on the State of Virginia, Fugitive Slave laws, nineteenth-century diagrams of slave ships, and contemporary magazine art and advertisements. Because these materials are entirely free to the public and funded by state and federal grants, they have been useful in history classrooms across the United States.

Documents Compass, another digital program of VFH, presents People of the Founding Era (PFE) and Founders Online. PFE is an online database and prosopography presenting searchable slave data. Available through the University of Virginia’s Rotunda Digital imprint, it mines letters of the Founding Fathers for names, and it maps these often otherwise-unknown people to the founding time period. Inclusion of data from Monticello, Mount Vernon, and Dr. Thomas Costa’s Runaway Slave database has allowed PFE to provide a rich source of information to scholars and laypeople alike who want to know about slavery on an individual level. PFE offers users both biographical information as well as relationship network visualizations. Finally, Founders Online presents the founding era letters themselves, offering 165,000 free and searchable letters written to or from George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin. Documents Compass is responsible for digitizing 50,000 of these letters, allowing free access for historians and the public to the primary sources themselves, which include candid views on slavery by our nation's most revered leaders.

See more of: Poster Session #2
See more of: AHA Sessions