Announcing the Launch of Freedom on the Move

fugative add

An ad placed in the Charleston Mercury, Charleston, SC, on July 11, 1829. Accessed via: Freedom on the Move 

Thousands of enslaved African Americans emancipated themselves by taking flight and escaping their enslavers. One way that this form of resistance to slavery can be studied is through the advertisements that enslavers and jailers placed in newspapers in hopes of turning those who had run away back into “property.” The ads allow us a glimpse of both enslavers’ desires and the defiance of the enslaved. In them, it is possible to read pain and suffering in the record of scars and maimed bodies. The ads hold both the grief of separation from kin left behind and the relief of family mentioned at possible destinations. Historians have long used advertisements for fugitives from slavery to study the institution of slavery and the lives of enslaved people. But it can be difficult for the public to access them because the ads exist in multiple formats across multiple archives.

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“The Runaway” Anti-slavery record. New York: Published by R.G. Williams, for the American Anti-Slavery Society, 1835-1837. Accessed via The Fels African Americana Image Project at Library Company of Philadelphia

Freedom on the Move (FOTM), an online project devoted to fugitives from slavery in North America, launches today, February 14, 2019. FOTM asks the public to help in creating a database that makes the stories and lives of fugitives from slavery in North America accessible. The website is designed for use by scholars, researchers, educators, students, genealogist, and the public. After quickly setting up an account, users can begin transcribing digitized versions of advertisements and recording important information included in each ad. Participants can even choose to work on ads from specific time periods or geographic locations. Users can also search for and browse through digitized ads.

Currently, FOTM has about 12,000 newspaper advertisements ready for crowdsourced transcription. The project will include additional ads soon and its organizers hope for future collaborations with additional scholars, archives, and organizations.  FOTM promises to be an invaluable resource in the classroom and for researchers. But beyond the academic applications of the project, organizers hope that the site will facilitate greater access to members of the public outside of the academy. By transcribing and working with the advertisements, participants can both contribute to a growing database of searchable ads and engage with the rich history that each ad presents.

FOTM is a joint project between Cornell University’s Department of History and the Cornell Institute for Social and Economic Research (CISER). Ed Baptist of Cornell University and William Block (Director of CISER) serve as the principal investigators for FOTM. Lead historians on the project include Vanessa Holden of the University of Kentucky, Hasan Jeffries of Ohio State University, Mary Niall Mitchell of the University of New Orleans, and Joshua Rothman of the University of Alabama. The project has received major funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Archives.

To learn more about the project or to begin contributing to FOTM’s crowdsourcing, visit freedomonthemove.org

Guest Post: Julia de Recour, the Digital Archive, and the Histories of Atlantic Children of Color

Baltimore

Vue du Port de Baltimore, ca. 1834 by Louis Garneray (photo courtesy of the Enoch Pratt Free Library)

Today’s Guest Post comes from Nathan H. Dize, Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of French and Italian at Vanderbilt University.  He specializes in Haitian literature and history. His dissertation, currently entitled “Mortuary Poetics: Power and the Performance of Mourning in the Haitian Literary Imaginary,” explores how Haitian writers and artists revivify the dead through creative acts of mourning to challenge official memories and mythologies of the Haitian past. He is a content curator, translator, and editor of A Colony in Crisis: The Saint-Domingue Grain Shortage of 1789.  He is also the co-editor of the H-Haiti series “Haiti in Translation,” which interviews translators of Haitian writing. Nathan has published articles, reviews, and translations in journals such as sx archipelagos, the Journal of Haitian StudiesFrancosphèresSX SalonContemporary French Civilization, and the Haitian History Journal of which he is also an advisory board member. Follow him on Twitter @NathanHDize.

In September 1782, Julia de Recour boarded the St. Patrick in Cap Français with her mother, a woman of about 40, to join some relations in Baltimore. When she arrived, Charles Biddle writes that she had the “good fortune” of attracting the French First Consul, Charles François Adrien Le Paulmier le Chevalier d’Annemours, who immediately took her as his wife.[1] Biddle describes Julia as a lively French lady and a “spritely brown girl of 16.”[2] Biddle’s account of Julia’s travel on the St. Patrick is shrouded in innuendo, particularly when Julia took to the ship’s deck in the cold to dance and “perform some other monkey tricks.”[3] Without providing more information Biddle writes in his autobiography that we do not know when or where Julia died, but that it is reasonable to believe that she was not living in 1792. As Saidiya Hartman once wrote of the enslaved girl immortalized in William Wilberforce’s speech before the House of Commons in April of 1792, “a few musty lines […] are the entire story of a girl’s life.”[4]

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Twitter Conferences: To Do or Not To Do?

Twitter YellIn August 2017, I virtually attended and presented at the Beyond 150: Telling Our Stories Twitter Conference ((#Beyond150CA). In collaboration with Unwritten Histories, Canada’s History Society, and the Wilson Institute, this event was the first Twitter conference to focus on Canadian history. This conference seemed like a great opportunity to present my work on “filles du roi” (daughters of the king) in seventeenth-century New France. But, the idea of presenting an entire conference paper in only 12-15 tweets was intimidating. Would I be able to get my points across in this format? Would I be able to delve into meaningful conversations with the “audience”? Would anyone be in the audience? Was I prepared to lay my research bare on the internet for anyone to find while it was still in a nascent state? Continue reading

Reflecting on Digital History

digital-clioLast semester, I taught my first section of Digital History, following my participation in the 2016 NEH Doing Digital History Institute. The program, which is headed by Sharon Leon and Sheila Brennan of George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, is designed for mid-career historians who come from institutions with little infrastructure or support for DH professional development. Owing to my library science background, I came to the Institute with a strong technological background, but the two weeks I spent in Arlington, Virginia last July definitely made me rethink my approach to digital history pedagogy. Continue reading

Guest Post: Digital Humanities & Digital Journalism Symposium Recap

Brad Rittenhouse is a PhD candidate at the University of Miami specializing in 19th-century American literature and the digital humanities. His work thinks about literature as data, and looks at the intersection of literary aesthetics and information management techniques. He is also working on a DH project at UM’s Center for Computational Science, where he is developing a methodology for quantitatively identifying instances of informationally “thick” literary passages.

rittenhouseThe inaugural Digital Humanities + Data Journalism Symposium recently took place at the University of Miami, from September 29 to October 1st, drawing together a diverse crowd of academics, journalists, and many in between. As conference convener and Knight Chair in Visual Journalism at UM Alberto Cairo informed the audience in his opening remarks, the somewhat speculative event topic was inspired by a February 2012 tweet by Digital Public Library of America Executive Director Dan Cohen, which hopefully conjectured that “digital journalism and digital humanities are kindred spirits, and that more commerce between the two could be mutually beneficial.” Delivering the first keynote of the weekend-long proceedings, Cohen drew equal inspiration from Thucydides and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, lightheartedly suggesting the latter as a metaphor for the symbiotic (and potentially delicious?) roles digital humanists and data journalists could play in our increasingly informational world. In referencing Thucydides, he developed one of the salient themes of the weekend, the notion that digital scholars and journalists alike were primarily motivated by the quest to rise up from data to understanding, to construct knowledge from the complicated and overwhelming. Continue reading

A Resource I Want: The Bible in Early America

winthropThis month in class I’m teaching the Puritans, which means that an idea I’ve had for several years has returned, and I’ve been mulling it for a few days. As most of our readers already know, the Bible was easily the most widely owned and widely read publication in the British North American colonies (in particular in New England). Protestant Christian settlers were deeply versed in the Bible – they could cite and quote regularly from a broad range of prophecies, parables, and psalms. But they also read and understood the Bible in historically specific ways, focusing on certain books of the Bible in their study and reflection, quoting certain passages with higher frequency than others. For those of us who are not religious historians (and/or were raised ourselves in traditions in which textual exegesis was not strongly emphasized), figuring out not only the meaning of Biblical passages but also the ways in which specific historical actors used them would require significant reading.

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Love Letters and the Digital Turn

IMG_3738There should be no need to mention in a blog about early American history that the digital turn is, perhaps, a fait accompli. However, over the past couple of years more and more articles have called into question the ways in which access to digital archives and digitized sources has changed both the questions historians ask and the kinds of research we do. Of this surge in publications, Lara Putnam’s recent AHR article stands out as a kind of canary-in-the-coal-mine warning to both graduate students and established professionals. Putnam, professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, calls on all of us to have an “extensive discussion of digitization,” thereby pulling our research approaches out of, “the realm of invisible methods, the black box where by consensus we leave so much of our discipline’s heavy lifting.”[1] For Putnam and others, the digital turn remains full of pitfalls that deserve our serious consideration. Continue reading

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