Submitted by Camie on Wed, 09/22/2021

The University of Georgia’s Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library will participate in a national project to enhance descriptions of slavery and the lives of the enslaved on college campuses, as documented in the archives.

Building upon the work of researchers studying the influence of slavery on the history of UGA,  the first state-chartered higher education institution in the United States, archivists and academics at UGA will participate in the On These Grounds: Slavery and the University project, a nationwide collaboration, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The project was created to evaluate, revise, and disseminate a shared data model and common vocabulary to describe the experiences of enslaved individuals in catalogs and metadata at academic libraries and historical institutions across the country.

The Hargrett Library has been awarded a $14,000 subgrant to test a proposed vocabulary on materials contained within the University Archives, as well as other materials related to campus history housed within the Special Collections Libraries in Athens. When finalized, the descriptive framework will enable researchers to make new connections while studying the people, organizations, locations, and events involved in the history of enslavement in higher education.

Katherine Stein, the director of the Hargrett Library, said that the project builds upon the research developed by faculty involved in the History of Slavery at UGA Project (HSUGA), a multidisciplinary, community-centered project that seeks to uncover stories of the enslaved African Americans who labored on campus from its founding to 1865.

This project will not only improve access to historic university records, but it will bring the lives of the enslaved people who worked on and for the benefit of campus into light,” Stein said. “This project also has the potential of providing a framework for describing other materials documenting enslavement across the state of Georgia.”

Through the grant, Stein said that references about slavery spread across numerous administrative records will be gathered into a database thereby allowing researchers to connect events in the lives of enslaved people on campus such as Dick Cary, a bell ringer, or Patrick, an enslaved man who worked in the botanical garden. She added that standard vocabularies would also enable researchers to analyze financial transactions for enslaved labor over time and to compare similar enslavement events across institutions. 

Scott Nesbit, associate professor of digital humanities in the College of Environment and Design is a founding member of the HSUGA Project, supported by a grant from the Office of Research and the Willson Center for Humanities & Arts. Along with Stein, he will act as co-primary investigator on the On These Grounds project work at UGA.

“The data made available through this project is essential for understanding the intertwined histories of the University of Georgia and the labor regime that drove the state’s economy before 1865,” Nesbit said. “The project will link this broader information to the names of local Athenians and allow students, scholars, and genealogists more easily to discover the connections between the complex past and the no less complicated present." 

In addition to Stein and Nesbit, the project team at UGA includes Chana Kai Lee, associate professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences’ department of history, and Steve Armour, university archivist, with support from Sheila McAlister, head of the Digital Library of Georgia, a University System of Georgia initiative based at the Main Library, as well as the Willson Center Digital Humanities Lab at the Main Library.

Original collaborators for the On These Grounds: Slavery and the University project include Michigan State University, Georgetown University, the University of Virginia and the Omeka web-publishing platform. In addition to UGA, other partners in the second phase testing include Hampden-Sydney College; Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Washington and Lee University.