Library Receives Mellon Grant to Support Slavery Reconciliation Efforts

Map of Chatham Plantation in Ascension Parish, Louisiana

On These Grounds: Modeling and Sharing Archival Materials about Slavery, a collaboration among Michigan State University, Georgetown University Library, and the University of Virginia, has received a $550,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. On These Grounds will aid slavery reconciliation efforts by developing and testing a prototype linked open data model to better describe slavery-related archival materials and enhance the ability of scholars, students, alumni, and descendants to gain new insights and understanding of the lived reality of bondage at these institutions.

"This project will create a unified framework that enables new pathways in describing, revealing, and connecting archives of enslaved people held by American institutions that have historical ties to slavery," said Harriette Hemmasi, dean of Georgetown University Library.

Over the past two decades many institutions of higher education have begun to publicly examine their historical roles in the injustices and legacies of slavery. While many institutions have similar types of records, information sources, and data elements, each institution takes its own approach to organizing and cataloging the information about these materials. Establishing a common framework for describing the information found in archival records will make it easier for researchers to discover related materials across collections and identify social, cultural, and family relationships across time and geographic space.

Georgetown’s role in this two-and-half year grant will be to help develop and test the data model on slavery archival materials held by the University, including the Archives of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. On These Grounds advances work already being undertaken through the support of the Maryland Province, and relates to other recent Mellon grants at Georgetown, including funding for the Prison Scholars Program and expansion of the African American studies department.

The project’s benefits will reach beyond the three universities that have received the grant. Volunteer partners from the Universities Studying Slavery Consortium and other institutions will be invited to test the open data model on their archival records related to slavery, and the linked data model will ultimately become freely available for other institutions to implement.

Sharon M. Leon, an associate professor of history and digital humanities at Michigan State University and a 1997 Georgetown graduate, is directing the project in partnership with Hemmasi and Brenda Gunn, associate university librarian for special collections and preservation at the University of Virginia Libraries.