Archival Justice for the Enslaved

Decolonizing the archive by shifting the narrative from slaveholder to enslaved

Project team

If you search the word “slavery” in the Princeton University Library Catalog and refine the search for “manuscripts” in Rare Books and Special Collections (RBSC) at Firestone Library, you will find titles like “Slavery documents, 1688-1865,” “Miscellaneous slavery collection, 1700-1885,” or the last name of a slaveholding family. If you go deeper and read the Catalog, descriptions of the files, you will find dehumanizing language, such as “slaves,” “stealing slaves,” and even “competing rival slave” when referring to the leaders of the Haitian Revolution. The current status of the archive poses immeasurable barriers for scholars of African American Studies. The project “Archival Justice for the Enslaved” aims to support decolonizing the archive, creating a counter-narrative dataset that shifts the narrative from the slaveholder to the enslaved.

This dataset will have a public-facing orientation and contribute to the ongoing ethical conversations about humanities data and the history of slavery and institutional racism. The intended alternative searchable dataset will not only modify the current dehumanizing language and subject headings of the archive, but will also generate new search categories and descriptions that are centered on the stories and experiences of the enslaved, while also dismantling the current “miscellaneous” conceptualization of the archives on slavery.

CDH Grant History

  • 2020–2021 Dataset Curation