Today is the first day of a twelve-week project being undertaken by students in my Colonial America course at Assumption College. The Slavery Adverts 250 Project seeks to identify and republish every advertisement that offered slaves for sale or reported runaways printed in colonial newspapers exactly 250 years ago. Unlike the Adverts 250 Project, which examines one advertisement each day, the Slavery Adverts 250 Project will feature multiple advertisements on most days, drawing from every colonial newspaper that has been digitized and made available to my students via Accessible Archives, Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital Library, and Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers.
Each advertisement will appear individually via the Slavery Adverts 250 Project’s Twitter account (@SlaveAdverts250). In addition, all of the advertisements published on a given day will appear together in a single entry on the Adverts 250 Project’s blog. Individual advertisements will not be analyzed separately; instead, my students and I are creating an archive to be consulted for an essay about slavery in colonial America that will be their final exam at the end of the semester.
Each student will serve as curator of the Slavery Adverts 250 Project for one week. The curator will be responsible for identifying all relevant advertisements, posting them to the project’s Twitter account, and compiling statistics about how many advertisements were included in the project during their week. I am serving as curator during the first week, to establish the project and to troubleshoot any difficulties before turning the project over to my students.
This research project is both experimental and collaborative. I expect that I will learn just as much as my students do as we work together to gather and republish these advertisements. Throughout the project, we will ask ourselves a series of questions about what these advertisements tell us about slavery and its role in everyday life and commerce in colonial America.
- What do these advertisements tell us about the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children?
- What do these advertisements tell us about the experiences and attitudes of other colonists?
- How often did advertisements featuring slaves appear in colonial newspapers?
- Are regional differences apparent in the numbers, types, or content of advertisements featuring slaves?
- What do these advertisements reveal that deviates from our expectations?
In the process of pursuing these questions, my students should enhance their research skills, gain experience using primary sources, and improve their information literacy. For many of them, this will also be part of a general introduction to digital humanities projects. Each student will also serve as guest curator of the Adverts 250 Project, taking on additional responsibilities that also move their coursework beyond the traditional classroom.