Project History

Building on Scarlet and Black Research

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 Sharon Leon with core partners at Michigan State University, 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 worked 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 with our partners. 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.