“Slavery remains the original evil of our Republic. We lay this truth bare– in sorrowful apology and communal reckoning.” – Dr. John J. DeGioia, President of Georgetown University, addressing the legacy of the Jesuit and Catholic enslavement of African Americans in the first half of the 19th century.
One role that the William H. Hannon Library plays in addressing this original evil is to provide access to primary sources that allow us today to understand the bold– but also bitter and contentious– struggle to put an end to the enslavement of Africans and African Americans. Collections like these also give us an opportunity to follow up initiatives like that of the 1619 Project from the New York Times Magazine with personal exploration of our own, both inside and outside the classroom.
The Gale collection titled Slavery and Anti-Slavery: A Transnational Archive [MyLMU login] provides LMU students, faculty, and staff a venue to take as deep a dive as possible into the lives and thoughts of activists and witnesses across a deeply divided society. Additionally, the entire world of enslavement of African people and the racism underpinning it is covered in the extensive materials assembled here: “These collections cover the transatlantic slave trade, the legal, personal, and economic aspects of the slavery system, and the dynamics of emancipation in the U.S., Latin America, the Caribbean, and other regions. It includes digital access to a variety of primary sources: legal documents, court records, plantation records, company records, first-person accounts, newspaper articles, government documents and more. Also includes reference articles and links to websites, biographies, chronologies, bibliographies to give background and context for further research [italics mine].”
That’s quite a list of primary source types, and the final statement about “background and context” isn’t casually placed there. This resource requires preparation. When we search in libraries for sources, especially secondary sources, we’re guided by our definition of a topic or research question. A primary source collection, however, can’t be very useful to us until we’ve become somewhat familiar with the subject around which it’s constructed. Students will need to make sure they’ve properly digested their course readings, and then will need to review definitions and uses of primary sources (our research guide makes a good place to start).
This isn’t a random mass (or mess) of digitized documents, though. Some 80 specific collections make up Slavery and Anti-slavery, and we find them organized into four distinct, thematic sections:
- Part I: Debates over Slavery and Abolition (22 key collections)
- Part II: Slave Trade in the Atlantic World (17 key collections)
- Part III: The Institution of Slavery (20 key collections)
- Part IV: The Age of Emancipation (21 key collections).
These key collections in each section represent the diversity of source types that I noted above. As helpful as it is, the thematic organization of this resource isn’t quite enough to prepare us to use it.
The Research Tools section of Slavery and Anti-slavery holds the keys to approaching this collection of collections, if for no other reason that it provides lists of exactly what’s in each of the four parts: “Appellate Case File No. 3230, Dred Scott v. Sandford”; “Court Cases and other documents from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History”; “Selected Records of the Danish West Indies, 1672–1917: Essential Records Concerning Slavery and Emancipation.” The Advanced Search and Title Browse interface to this database, in order to be really useful, require the user to get acquainted with the names and contents of at least some of the key collections. The profile of the Mississippi court cases, for example, makes a point of highlighting the fact that enslaved people are acting as plaintiffs in many cases.
The voices and narratives of the enslaved themselves form the important core of this resource, but they tend to be elided by the formality and technicality of collection names and scholarly apparatus. Our thoughtful engagement with this resource can help to recuperate them.
If you need help accessing or navigating this resource, please stop by our Information Desk on level 1 of the library or contact us online.