Georgetown Slavery Archive: Domains and Digital History

For some time, students and faculty at Georgetown have sought to record and respond to the university’s historical relationship with slavery, most notably an 1838 slave sale authorized by then President Rev. Thomas F. Mulledy, S.J. to fund continued operations. This year, the university has attracted considerable media attention for its institution-wide focus on this history, most recently through an historic meeting between President DeGioia and Patricia Bayonne-Johnson, a descendent of Nace and Biby Butler, two of the 272 enslaved individuals sold nearly two centuries ago.

During the meeting with DeGioia, Bayonne-Johnson stressed the importance of university archival records detailing not only the sale but the lives of the individuals sold, records that are now available online through the university. Their home, the Georgetown Slavery Archive, is the result of the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation, convened in September with the aim of examining, interpreting, and guiding institutional acknowledgment of Georgetown’s historical relationship with slavery. Led by Adam Rothman (History), Marcia Chatelain (History), and Matthew Quallen (SFS ’16), the archive serves as a digital repository of materials relating to slavery and slave life on Maryland Jesuit plantations, including the Georgetown campus.

All of this information is powered by Omeka, a web publishing platform designed for collections-based research, and hosted on Georgetown Domains, which gives students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to claim a hosting environment, personal domain name, and blog space free of cost. Launched this past fall, Georgetown Domains is part of the larger Domain of One’s Own effort on campuses nationwide aimed at helping students understand, develop, and curate digital identities through their own website. About 250 Georgetown faculty and students are already exploring Domains, including those in the fall 2015 ITEL cohort, “Student-Centered Learning through A Domain of One’s Own”. Those interested in claiming a page can visit the Domains page on Teaching and Learning Technologies for more information.

“Being able to mount an Omeka site on my own Domain was crucial to the success of the project. We were able to get it up and running quickly with help from CNDLS. Graduate and undergraduate students have been working collaboratively on it, doing everything from digitizing archival material to transcribing documents to providing analysis and interpretation. The digital platform has made it possible for the public to access these significant documents; journalists, scholars, and genealogists have made use of it, and it has been helpful, above all, to the discovery of descendants of the people who were sold to Louisiana in 1838. We look forward to continuing to expand and improve upon it.” — Adam Rothman

The digital archive helps the students who’ve worked on it, too, as well as those who might be involved in its continuation. Those involved in this project have the benefit of the archive as a high-impact learning practice (HIPs). In April, we blogged about the traits of HIPs, as well as the affordances offered by digital and multimodal projects within that category, and the archive hits them all. By extending learning well beyond the classroom, asking students to engage collaboratively in tough intellectual processes, and sharpening digital literacy skills, the Georgetown Slavery Archive is a great example of using technology to create meaningful learning experiences.

Faculty interested in learning about other digital tools available for their classroom—including ePortfolios, wikis, blogs, and film—can visit Teaching and Learning Technologies or reach out to CNDLS for recommendations and support. Below, we’ve compiled a list of recent coverage of the history of slavery at Georgetown, including the Georgetown Slavery Archive.

Washington Post, 11/12/15:
Georgetown University to Rename Two Building that Reflect School’s Ties to Slavery

WAMU, 11/17/15:
The Hidden History of How Slavery Funded Georgetown University

New York Times, 4/16/16:
272 Slaves Were Sold to Save Georgetown. What Does It Owe Their Descendants?

Georgetowner, 4/18/16:
Georgetown Professor Speaks About University’s History With Slavery

The Chronicle, 4/19/16:
Many Colleges Profited from Slavery. What Can They Do About It Now?

Diane Rehm, 4/19/16:
How Georgetown University Once Relied on the Slave Trade

Washington Post, 4/20/16:
Coming to Terms with Georgetown’s Legacy of Slavery

The Guardian, 4/21/16:
Georgetown Traded in Slaves? Of Course It Did. That Was America.

New York Times, 4/23/16:
Georgetown and the Sin of Slavery

New York Times, 4/25/16:
The Slaves in Georgetown’s Past

New York Times, 4/29/16:
How Georgetown Should Honor Its Former Slaves

Radio Boston, 5/2/16:
Georgetown Sold 272 Slaves in 1838. What Can Be Done For Their Descendants, Today?

New York Times, 5/20/16:
‘A Million Questions’ From Descendants of Slaves Sold to Aid Georgetown

New York Times, 6/14/16:
Moving to Make Amends, Georgetown President Meets With Descendant of Slaves