Connecting Digital Histories of Fugitive Slaves

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Humanities

Abstract

'Connecting Digital Histories of Fugitive Slaves' will launch a collaboration in digital scholarship between the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, the Virtual Museum of Slavery and Empire being developed by the Coalition for Racial Equality and Recognition in Glasgow, the University of Glasgow, Aston University in Birmingham, the Gilder Lehrman Centre for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition, and the Yale Centre for British Art. Drawing on new and emerging technologies, the network will develop innovative methods to link and enhance existing datasets and digitised sources. This work will focus attention on the experiences of people seeking refuge from slavery in the UK, North America and the Caribbean while also highlighting the complex legacies of slavery and resistance in the present. The network will host three interconnected workshops featuring hackathon sessions in which historians, digital humanities specialists, museum professionals and educators will work together to create new connections and shared resources that challenge archival silences around Black histories.

Planned Impact

This project will have a targeted impact on three main groups: museum curators, educators and community organisations.

Through the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture, the network will be connected to the wider network of US museums and cultural institutions, which will allow for widespread dissemination of the results of the workshops. Curators will be able to track ongoing progress of the project through the workshop reports, engage more actively through the blog-posts and prototype exhibits and make use of the guide to co-creation. This impact will be reinforced through the active participation of a representative from the Yale Centre of British Art, which as an art museum and research institute not only has a different curatorial practice and focus, but also caters to a substantially different audience. These two representatives will be key contacts for Marenka Thompson-Odlum, the researcher currently developing the Glasgow-based Virtual Museum of Slavery and Empire, to exchange on curating practice, digital scholarship and reaching marginalised and underserved communities.

The network also aims to engage with public historians and educators who are committed to a long-term project of bringing Black histories into the heart of curriculum design. Thomas Thurston, Miranda Kaufmann and Michael Ohajuru are all experienced educators and public outreach practitioners, who are familiar with the use of digital technologies to engage diverse audiences. Zandra Yeaman from the Council for Racial Equality and Recognition will provide a needed link to grassroots community organisations and Black activist groups to ensure not only widespread impact, but active co-creation of research strategies and directions.

Publications

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Title Call and Response: the University of Glasgow and Slavery 
Description PI Christine Whyte curated a small exhibition for the University of Glasgow Chapel in summer 2019. This exhibition drew on some of the expertise and ideas shared at the April workshop of the AHRC network about how to reflect on and incorporate community response into museum exhibitions about slavery. This exhibition took selected items from across the university collections and invited members and associates of the university community to reflect on their, mainly hidden, connections to slavery and the slave trade. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact The exhibition was originally intended to remain in the Chapel until December 2019, but has been extended until Spring 2020. The space is heavily trafficked, though as a working chapel it is impossible to keep track of numbers. Several themed events have been held in the Chapel to highlight aspects of the exhibition to a wider audience. Representatives of Glasgow City Council have visited and are interested in taking the format forward into a permanent exhibition in the city centre. The exhibition was covered extensively in The Sunday Herald: https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/17848786.glasgow-university-faces-role-slavery/ 
URL https://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/humanities/slavery/callandresponse/
 
Description The network brought together museum professionals with academics, anti-racist activists and an education and outreach officer. The aim was to explore new ways to use databases and online information about slavery in museum settings. In particular, the group were interested in how to overcome both the ethical problems which underpin archives and datasets related to slavery and also how to use museum collections to engender new and more empathetic ways of relating to the material traces of slavery and the slave trade.
The first major issue identified through workshop discussion was the underlying catalogue data frequently used to for searchable databases or to inform catalogue labels. As a result of this, the group undertook an analysis of the Yale Centre for British Art's collections, using the keyword 'servant' to look for enslaved people in the database. Euphemisms like 'servant' were frequently used for enslaved people in portraiture. the partnership sought to develop methods for people to challenge the catalogue data with new interpretations.
The second major issue identified was the lack of engagement with communities where museums and art galleries were located. The workshop identified the growing use of walking tours to challenge colonial and racist interpretations of history. Walking tours also allowed for a more considered engagement with communities and the built environment. The development of digital walking tours could offer a new way for cultural institutions to situate their collections in the local community.
The third major issue identified was the methods for co-creation of digital scholarship in cultural institutions, and how activists, community groups and other diverse stakeholders could participate in both the conceptualization and design of digital assets for museums. The workshop conducted two community feedback sessions in New Haven and Glasgow, which will be taken forward in a future partnership project.
Exploitation Route The primary ways would be:

Through Joseph Yannielli's guide to digital co-creation, others could design and implement data / online projects related to slavery.
Through the tested model of walking tours and community feedback, museums could engage with the communities primarily affected by legacies of slavery in curating and creating new digital enhancements to exhibitions.
Through the guide to children's activities for the Yale Centre for British Art, which brings together data from online sources with museum objects, museums and cultural institutions could generate new creative ways for people to interact with objects.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://sites.google.com/view/thefugitivedigital/home
 
Description The findings have had an impact in three ways: first, at the Yale Centre for British Art, the partnership developed a new way to workshop catalogue entries and museum labels through the 'hackathon' model which brought together a wide range of expertise. This was tested through re-creating a catalogue entry and label for an object related to slavery to be included in an upcoming exhibition. The catalogue description and label will now incorporate data drawn from the online 'Runaway Slaves' project, and was inspired by a community-led walking tour. Second, in New Haven, school-teachers and curators engaged with the fugitive slave databases and the workshop initiated new ways for this data to be incorporated. Third, at the community engagement session in Glasgow, the workshop brought together a group of representatives of the Afro-Caribbean and African migrant community in Glasgow to articulate a vision for a new approach to museums and digital scholarship in Scotland.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Recaptured Childhoods
Amount £129,781 (GBP)
Funding ID WF19\190419 
Organisation The British Academy 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2020 
End 02/2023
 
Title 'Servant' in YCBA 
Description This database brought together the items in the Yale Centre for British Art which used the term 'servant' as an experiment in semantics and metadata to see how these catalogue entries reflected histories and legacies of slavery and slave resistance. It is for internal use at the YCBA. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The database will be used as a basis for public engagement activities for young people visiting the Yale Centre for British Art. 
 
Description Call and Response Roundtable 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Around 75 people attended a roundtable organised by PI Christine Whyte, and including network member Zandra Yeaman to discuss the legaices of slavery in museum exhibitions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://cca.academicblogs.co.uk/special-relationship-the-smithsonian-showcase-at-the-university-of-gl...
 
Description Fugitive Digital Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Around 40 people, including curators, school-teachers, academics and artists attended the Fugitive Digital Event at the Digitial HUmanities Lab at Yale University on 26 October 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Greenock Transnational Scotland workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact PI Christine Whyte presented findings from the network for a group of 20 museum volunteers, 30 primary seven school-children and 20 others (including artists and activists) in a day-long workshop at the James Watt Institute in Greenock.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://transnationalscotland.wordpress.com/news-and-workshops/workshop-programme-transnational-scot...
 
Description Insight talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Around 50 people attended a short talk given by the PI about the treatment of slavery in museum exhibitions on 1 October 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description The Salon: Spring 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact 'The Salon' is a creative arts forum for academics, postgraduate students, artists and heritage professionals convened by the School of Cultural and Creative Arts at the University of Glasgow. PI Whyte presented an initial exploration of a museum object linked to a fugitive slave advertisement on 30 May 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Welcome Walk: Fugitive Slaves in Glasgow 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact PI Christine Whyte gave a short talk and guided walking tour of Glasgow organised by the UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Language and Arts on 11 September 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.gla.ac.uk/research/az/unesco/events/warmwelcomewalks/