About the Project
New Jersey Slavery Records aims to document the history of slavery in our communities through digital archival sources and linked open data.
Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Charles and Mary Beard Distinguished Professor of History, leads the Scarlet and Black Research Center and mentors our research team as the Campus Director of the Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice in New Brunswick.
Francesca Giannetti, Digital Humanities Librarian at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, serves as the librarian to the project.
Graduate assistants Lindsey Dixon, Isaac Guzmán, and Adam McNeil have contributed to this project.
Undergraduate assistants Kate Jackson, Xandria McKinley, Daniel Dias, and Saketh Mandayam are contributing records to the project through their participation in the Aresty Research Assistant Program.
The New Jersey Slavery Records project began with the descriptive model created by On These Grounds (OTG). The OTG model applies anti-racist principles and lessons from Black digital humanities scholarship to develop classification and terminology for describing Events, Persons, Organizations, and Places found in archival records. The Scarlet and Black Research Center has worked extensively to test this data model through our partnership with On These Grounds. The data model and its controlled vocabularies are fully documented. Our website uses version 1.1 of the model. We are experimenting with extending the original OTG data model to include an additional Event Participation record class, which allows us to connect multiple core participants to an event and capture age, freedom status, and enslaver information for each core participant (the original model assumes one primary participant per event).
Each and every Event record is documented with a Source. Some sources are displayed as a plain text bibliographic citation in the Event record, while others provide a link to a digital facsimile of the original document. The work of digitizing the archival documents for this project is ongoing. We use the Source Vocabulary created by Enslaved.org to describe document types.
The New Jersey Slavery Records project builds on the work of Rutgers historians who took a deep dive into the historical connections between slavery and the university and wrote the book Scarlet and Black, Volume 1: Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History, edited by Deborah Gray White and Marisa Fuentes. The researchers went on to trace Rutgers Black history to the present in Volumes 2 and 3. Following the publication of the Scarlet and Black books, archival materials documenting African American history at Rutgers from slavery to the twentieth century have been compiled and published in the Scarlet and Black Digital Archive, curated by digital archivist Jesse Bayker.
In the course of our research, we learned that Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives hold a treasure trove of documents that illuminate the history of slavery in Middlesex County beyond the walls of the university. These documents describe hundreds of events in the lives of enslaved people who lived in surrounding communities. We began creating a dataset of names and events related to these archival records.
In 2021, as the Scarlet and Black Research Center became a part of the new Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice, we set out to expand our reach beyond Rutgers with digital projects that speak to New Jersey Black history more broadly. We developed the New Jersey Slavery Records project with the aim of creating a searchable database of names and events related to archival records that document slavery in New Jersey using a linked open data model.
On These Grounds Partnership
During the first phase of the New Jersey Slavery Records project in 2021-2022, we formed a partnership with On These Grounds: Slavery and the University. Funded by the Mellon Foundation, On These Grounds is a cross-institutional digital initiative to describe the history of enslavement found in archival materials at colleges and universities. The project is led by Michigan State University, with core partners at Georgetown University and the University of Virginia.
Central to the mission of On These Grounds is the creation of a linked open data model to organize, publish, and share information about the history of slavery with interested scholars, students, alumni, descendants, and members of the public. In the summer of 2021, the Scarlet and Black Research Center was selected as one of the testing partners for a year-long collaborative process to test the alpha version of the data model created by On These Grounds. In addition to MSU, Georgetown, and UVA, we have been working with testing partners at Washington and Lee University, University of Georgia, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Hampden-Sydney College to apply the linked open data ontology to our archival holdings, test data creation workflows, and provide feedback on revisions to the model.
In September 2022, we launched the New Jersey Slavery Records website using the platform and data model that we tested over the past year. We continue working with our cross-institutional partners to build a community of practice around digital humanities work with a focus on slavery and the university.
In 2022, we joined the Northeast Slavery Records Collaborative, which develops and maintains an online searchable compilation of records called the Northeast Slavery Records Index (NESRI). NESRI compiles records of enslavement, including population census records as well as records that identify individual enslaved persons and enslavers, for the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey.
Funded by an American Council of Learned Societies Digital Justice Grant, our collaboration with NESRI bolsters our efforts to create datasets related to slavery in New Jersey. The data published on the New Jersey Slavery Records website will also be aggregated into the regional index to increase the discoverability of this information.