“On These Grounds” Digital Initiative to Describe the History of Enslavement at Colleges and Universities Receives Funding From the Mellon Foundation

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Michigan State University (MSU) a grant of $550,000 to support the first phase of the “On These Grounds” project (https://onthesegrounds.org/), a digital initiative to describe the history of enslavement found in archival materials at colleges and universities. A collaboration of teams from Michigan State University, Georgetown University (GU), the University of Virginia (UVA), and the Omeka web publishing platform, “On These Grounds” will produce a freely available linked open data model that is robust enough to describe the lived experiences of the enslaved people who lived and labored in conjunction with higher educational institutions.

“Through this project, we intend to bring to the surface the aspects of enslaved lives that have been in our records but not visible because we haven’t centered these experiences in our descriptive work,” says Brenda Gunn, Associate University Librarian for Special Collections and Preservation at the University of Virginia Library, who will co-direct the project with Sharon Leon of MSU and Harriette Hemmasi of GU. “By linking records across repositories, we can show social, cultural, and familial relationships across time and geographical space. Being able to track these relationships can enrich scholarship as well as help descendants discover and learn more about their ancestors.”

Over the past two decades many institutions of higher education have begun to publicly examine and embrace their historical roles in the injustices and legacies of slavery. Despite the similarities of record types, information sources, and data elements, each institution is taking its own, often duplicative approach to its history. Producing a common, shared approach to documenting, describing, and organizing the data derived from the archival records relating these histories, “On These Grounds” will help expand researchers’ understanding of the lives and experiences of the enslaved across these institutional contexts, and extend the possibility of search and discovery across collections.

For more information, contact:

  • Brenda Gunn, Associate University Librarian for Special Collections and Preservation, University of Virginia Library | bg9ba@virginia.edu

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