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University of Alabama researchers explore lives of enslaved individuals on campus before Civil War

The University of Alabama

A research group from The University of Alabama has published a website about the role of slavery on the campus before the Civil War.

The website, “The History of Enslaved People at UA,” is the first time the names of the enslaved men and women who built UA are listed all in one place. Information gathered from various sources were collected and organized in a database that is the groundwork for the website.

“We needed a way to put everything together and to make sure that all of the materials that we collected were connected to each of the enslaved people we were identifying,” said Jenny Shaw, associate professor of history and leader of the research group. ”We chose a platform that allowed us to do that, and then we were able to turn all of that information into a public facing website.”

The website features a timeline that highlights the key moments in history regarding slavery, a database of names of the enslaved people on campus that have been identified, transcriptions of sources and links to the original documents and narrative biographies of some of the identified individuals.

Some of the sources that the research team used to compile the data were taken from early UA administration records, but additional details regarding the lives of the enslaved individuals on campus were recorded in diary entries and letter books from the late UA presidents Basil Manly and Landon Garland. Although these sources provide additional context about slavery on campus, Shaw said it is important to take into account that these entries were written though the perspective of white male Southerners.

“That means that nearly all the information in them is framed through their eyes. So, you've got to read those sources really carefully to try and center the experiences of enslaved people who are mentioned in those records but are not giving voice to their experiences themselves,” said Shaw.

Shaw said she hopes future generation of UA students and faculty can further this research and contribute new findings to the understanding about slavery on college campuses.

“I really think we're all hoping that students, undergraduates, graduate students, other faculty, other interested parties, people in the Tuscaloosa area at the West Alabama area, in the state of Alabama and beyond, will be able to use this information and be able to build their own sort of engagement and understandings,” she said. “And there will be new research that will come out of the research that's already been done.”

The research group and website stemmed from a request to establish a task force to investigate the history of race, slavery and civil rights at UA. Shaw said she and her team decided to take their research a step farther and establish a website that allows visitors to access all of the information regarding the slave’s lives and the role of slavery at the school.

The exploration of slavery on campus also serves as UA’s membership in a consortium of more than 100 different universities studies and their own institution’s history on slavery.

The members of this research group include:

· Katharine Buckley (M.A. student in Library and Information Studies)

· Briana Weaver (Ph.D. student in History)

· Valery West (M.A. student in Gender and Race Studies)

· Jenny Shaw (Associate Professor of History)

For more information on this research initiative, visit the UA News Center.

Hannah Holcombe is a student intern at the Alabama Public Radio newsroom. She is a Sophomore at the University of Alabama and is studying news media. She has a love for plants, dogs and writing. She hopes to pursue a career as a reporter.
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