Slavery, Freedom, and Family Networks: New Approaches and Methods

This session will take place at the 2020 OAH Annual Meeting | Conference on American History in Washington, D.C. Read the full abstract and speaker information here.

“Slavery, Freedom, and Family Networks: New Approaches and Methods” consists of three presentations seeking to better understand the relationship networks that helped define the world of enslaved individuals. The session hopes to introduce audiences to the findings produced through the application of new methods and approaches, while at the same time presenting this history in an accessible and compelling way. 

Cory Young’s “The Black Family and the Archive during Slavery's Waning Days in the Pennsylvania Interior" serves as a reminder that when historians reconstruct and describe family networks, they are, whether they realize it or not, doing genealogical work. As the country's oldest universities confront their historical relationships with slavery, they also unearth family trees. A prime example is Young’s own institution, Georgetown University, which, along with related organizations, has engaged with the descendants of the community it sold south in 1838. But slavery did not exist only in the south. National reconciliation requires plumbing the archival record from northern states, too. In this spirit, Young’s research on gradual abolition in the Pennsylvania interior is not just the backbone of a dissertation, but the jumping off point for an accessible digital humanities project that will catalog the state's extant slave registers to help researchers find their ancestors who were enslaved in the Quaker State.

Patrick Hoehne’s “In the Shadow of the Capital: Slavery, Violence, and the Law in Early Washington D.C.” explores law, labor, race, and space in the context of 1835 Washington D.C. That year, a summer labor strike by white workers at the Navy Yard exploded into a race riot, President Andrew Jackson nominated Francis Scott Key’s brother-in-law, Roger Taney, to the Supreme Court, and Daniel Bell, an enslaved worker at the Navy Yard, launched an attempt to win freedom for himself, his wife, and his six children. In order to better understand the complicated realities and conflicts of 1835 Washington D.C., Hoehne combines traditional historical research with spatial analysis. His project maps out the entirety of the 1822 and 1834 city directories in order to better understand the tensions present in the capital’s urban geography. Hoehne’s research hopes to shed further light on slavery, popular violence, and the law in Jacksonian America.

Dr. Sharon Leon’s work in the Jesuit Plantation Project focuses on the lives and experiences of the enslaved community owned by the Maryland Province Jesuits between 1717 and 1838. In doing so, the project takes up the events and relationships that formed the warp and woof of the daily lives of this enslaved group of more than 1,100 individuals who are present in the documentary evidence. Leon works to situate them within their families and larger community, and to employ linked open data and an array of techniques to visualize the entire community of enslaved people and their relationships to one another across space and time. As a result, the project aims to offer us a greater insight into the experiences of enslavement for those owned collectively by this Jesuit community. In using digital methods such as data visualization, Leon is particularly concerned about how historians can mitigate against erasing the significance of these individuals while providing an aggregated view of their community.

Posted: February 6, 2020
Tagged: Conference, Previews, Race, AfAm