Enslaved.org receives National Endowment for the Humanities grant

October 17, 2023 - Patti McDonald

The Department of History is proud to announce that the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) recently approved an award of $349,803.00 in support of Enslaved: Peoples of the Historical Slave Trade (or Enslaved.org). 

Enslaved.org is a digital project that addresses the urgent call to document the history of people of African descent more fully. Housed at Matrix in the College of Social Science at Michigan State University, the project centers on the Black experience in the history of the Americas. The open-access website publishes datasets with information about the lives of individuals who suffered under slavery and who were part of the transatlantic trade.   

According to Enslaved.org project directors Walter Hawthorne and Dean Rehberger, this recent NEH grant will help the digital project expand to include data sets from parts of North America where the data is currently lacking.  

“What this grant is going to do specifically is allow us to partner with multiple organizations to add data to Enslaved.org about places we don’t have a lot of data for yet.” Rehberger said. 

Hawthorne and Rehberger have an expansive team of various scholars, professors, and students who work together on Enslaved.org. The recent NEH grant expands the number of partners who will be working on the project to include the Newport Historical Society, Pioneer Valley History Network, the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst Public History Program; the UMass Amherst W.E.B. Du Bois Library, the  Historic Natchez Foundation, and the University of the Virgin Islands, as well as several partners in Virginia and Georgia. 

“It is a grant we are grateful for because we can work with a wide range of partners to get much needed data and information for enslaved people who lived in all of these expanded locations,” Hawthorne said. “With this grant, we are working with partners who will help us get data for people who lived in placed like Connecticut, the Caribbean , and the Deep South,” Hawthorne said. 

The expansion of data means that enslaved people’s ancestors can start getting answers about their loved ones whose stories were previously forgotten by history, explained Dr. Rehberger. 

“The whole idea here and problem with the history of those enslaved is that there are little bits of information all over the place about them. But, if you can find more information about them, you can start rebuilding their lives and telling their stories,” Rehberger said.  

“The more information we can bring in, the more people we can identify and figure out what happened to them and learn about their relationships and lives, that is what makes our work important. So many people have a one-dimensional view of slavery and hopefully that view can be expanded further.” 

Rehberger, who is also the Director of MATRIX at MSU, where Enslaved.org is housed, says grants like the recent NEH grant have allowed for project sustainability and longevity. 

“Enslaved.org is a 50-to-100-year project that will outlive both Walter and me,” “These projects can get costly and if we want to expand even more, we will need more grants to allow us to do this important work,” he said.  

As a professor of History, Hawthorne says the innovation of digital projects helps researchers expand their research to a wider audience. 

“Most historians write books, it’s what historians have traditionally done,” Hawthorne said.  

“One of the exciting things about this project is that it is pushing history and the humanities broadly in a new direction. Books and print publications are still important but there are other pathways to get research out there. This type of digital project opens a lot of possibilities for research to be published and made available. The project is really pushing the boundaries of humanities and history, especially when it comes to data preservation, scholarly publications, and outreach.” 

For more information on this digital project, visit Enslaved.org.