On these Grounds

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The University of Virginia is beginning work on a major digital initiative to create a common, shared approach to describing and organizing the information documenting the history of enslavement housed in college and university archives.

The first phase of “On These Grounds: Slavery and the University” will be funded by a $550,000 grant awarded to Michigan State University by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Staff at UVA will collaborate with teams from MSU, Georgetown, and the Omeka web publishing platform to produce a freely-available linked open data model that is robust enough to describe the lived experiences of enslaved people, including those whose lives and labor supported higher educational institutions.

Over the past two decades many institutions of higher education, including UVA, have begun to publicly examine and accept their historical roles in the injustices and enduring legacies of slavery. Despite the similarities of record types, information sources, and data elements, institutions often take their own, often duplicative, approach to examining the representation of their history. By producing a common approach to these stories, “On These Grounds” will help expand researchers’ understanding of the lives and experiences of enslaved people across these institutional contexts, and extend the possibility of search and discovery across collections.

The UVA team will be led by Brenda Gunn, Associate University Librarian for Special Collections and Preservation, joined by Whitney Buccicone and Stacey Lavender. “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,” Gunn noted. “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.”

Old hand-drawn map of UVA Grounds labeled Plan of UVA Cleared Land

An 1858 “Plan of University Cleared Land” by architect William A. Pratt shows gardens and grass lots for professors, and proposed sites for stables and bath house. University of Virginia Maps and Plats, 1856-1869 (RG-31/1/2:2.532 No.2)

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