The Prelude

When we sent out invitations, we asked a big question to our guests: Who owns and controls the Black historical and cultural record? That question begets other troubling questions as soon as we pose it.

We asked our guests to give us preliminary answers to any of the questions that grabbed them to help our conversation start before we arrive in Baltimore at the end of March. Some of our guests answered our call. Now we invite you, our audience, to read their answers and provide us yours in the comment section at the end of the page.

Colored Conventions Project

What happens when data about Black people and historical figures is created or curated by people who are not Black?

At the Colored Conventions Project and the Center for Black Digital Research/#DigBlk, we believe that not having cultural descendants involved in the curation of the history and data that emerge from their communities runs the risk that such efforts and initiatives will be decontextualized and deracinated. Public projects that center Black histories have a responsibility to create and curate data about Black communities and figures with attention to descendant communities in leadership, participation, and partnerships. Our project principles articulate our goals and commitments in this way: “Principle 5: We affirm the role of Black people as data creators and elevate the ways in which Black conventions generated data and statistics to advance, affirm and advocate for Black economic and organizational success and access. We also recognize that data has long served in the processes and recording of the destruction and devaluation of Black lives and communities. We seek to avoid exploiting Black subjects as data and to account for the contexts out of which Black subjects as data arise. We seek to name Black people and communities as an affirmation of the Black humanity inherent in Black data/curation. We remind ourselves that all data and datasets are shaped by decisions about whose histories are recorded, remembered, and valued.”

To establish cross-communities of trust, it’s worth asking that projects articulate and share their project values and who is involved in their work. Projects without faces, without names, and without project principles, are too often projects without accountability or connection.

CCP is one of three sibling projects Douglass Day and the early Black Women’s Organizing Archive (BWOA) housed in the Center for Black Digital Research/#DigBlk. We practice that as a principle of action and as a public-facing principle: DigBlk Principle 7 states: “#DigBlk advances its work through partnerships grounded in shared commitments to Black history, learning, and life. We partner with Black organizations, communities, and institutions that honor engagement with Black legacy and descendent communities.” In other words, to be most useful, to be most liberatory, data and history must be connected and enlivened by connections to the present and legible to connected communities. As a result, our efforts as a center of Black digital research connect to the important ways our communities have preserved history and health historically, that is through the arts. In our principles, we share that “#DigBlk affirms that Black artists and cultural makers sustain Black joy, health, and futures. We work with Black artists and arts organizations to preserve and share these histories.”

How do we begin to connect these questions to the role that ownership and property have played in Black History?

Black people subjected to enslavement have historically been–and continue to be–treated and valued as the property of those protected and recognized by the state, or, in the afterlives of slavery, as property of the state. The ledger/manifest and its relative the spreadsheet have been used to disembody and alienate personhood; the language of metadata and cataloging also reinforces and refers to “objects” not subjects which members of our team and many others involved in DH have written about at great length.

The Center for Black Digital Research/#DigBlk thus asserts in our public facing principles (#4): “#DigBlk actively resists the reduction of Black life to mere data points and refuses to traffic in disembodied data. We preserve context and collectives by naming Black people whenever possible. Our use of digital technologies is committed to affirming the dignity of Black life by expanding access to scattered Black histories and by sharing knowledge which documents and contributes to Black historical understanding.”

Lissette Acosta Corniel

Who controls access to data about slavery?

I heard a performer say once that “philanthropy dictates content.” While there exist many data projects about slavery, most are funded through grants that require a painstaking process, and the longevity and/or expansion of some projects require continued funding. The process often requires proof or a justification that the information, tool, and/or resource being offered/created is important and it is. It is about slavery. In many cases, proposed projects are funded under specific conditions. In addition, there is also the hierarchical scale among educational institutions. Funds are more often awarded to prestigious institutions that become the hub or home institutions of databases. This controls access in that the general educator or student may not become aware of the existence of such resource unless they were directly exposed to the data.

Chenise Calhoun

How do we answer the question of ownership and control in the context of today’s hybrid record, both analog and digital?

We recognize as Incubators that various historical institutions in the area are interested in housing their records and collections online to promote accessibility and to keep up with the digital age. This work of digitizing records is a labor of love and care, and so we pay attention to the sources from where we pull our history. We understand that archives are complicated spaces and in order to facilitate spaces of trust and safety within the archive, as a team, we will always bring methods that foster care, trust, and time. We are currently planning to create our own blog site with minimal computing in order to uplift the stories and knowledge of Louisiana natives and residents. This space will be able to reach Louisiana citizens and residents, as well as the diaspora, thanks to the Internet.

Who controls access to data about slavery?

Though the genealogical records for African descendant peoples is limited in general in this country, there are still structural and institutional barriers put in place that can act as gatekeepers of history that belongs to the people. Private companies who are getting their hands on this data can also put up walls (be it financial, etc) between people and their own history. There is also a history of institutional archives. We as Incubators seek to bypass and navigate some of these institutions in order to render the history of African descendants people available. One way that we have done this is through the digitization of the first daily Black newspaper, The Union. These copies are currently housed in Tulane’s special collections as well as in our own Google drive. We hope to house these copies as well as their translations in a digital public platform sometime soon.

Rosa Emilia Cordero Cruz

What happens when data about Black people and historical figures is created or curated by people who are not Black? How do we begin to connect these questions to the role that ownership and property have played in Black History?

Erasure is what happens when non-Black actors intervene in the documentation where Black people appear. In The Criadas Project, we go through thousands of census data in search of the mostly Black women and girls that labored in mostly white households during Puerto Rico’s post-emancipation period. Consequently, these women and girls only show up in the census data when in situations of servitude, with their servitude often marked by their employers’ use of the word “criada” when describing those laboring under their household. We’ve problematized their use of “criada” by tracking when the word is used to describe domestic labor and noticed that when the women and girls were provided with opportunities to describe their work, none of them used that terminology. With that perhaps simple or obvious exploration of the usage of a word, we’ve been able to uncover an example of the ways that white figures control the narratives of Black women and girls and often exercise that power by reducing them to the labor they provide that sustained their white households and socioeconomic status. Other examples of white historical figures’ neglect when tracking Black lives and their alarming uninterest in details that move beyond Black Puerto Rican women and girls’ labor is seen when tracking their families, schooling, or even their ages. Most girls and women inscribed in the census under white families are included with no mention of their biological families, and if a child or woman is included in various years’ entries of a white family, oftentimes her age is wrongly annotated or changed in a way that does not accurately depict the passing of time, making this yet another example of why the data is unreliable when attempting to trace marginalized women and girls’ experiences.

Moreover, as a white Puerto Rican scholar interpreting the already limited and violent archival information available on Black Puerto Rican domestic workers, there are interpretations and readings of information that I am blind to. Consequently, I miss certain nuances in the documentation. For example, when reading about an eighty-year-old cook laboring in a white home during the 1920’s, I did not immediately view her existence in the archive as that of a Black woman. Puerto Rican bureaucrats twentieth century move towards racelessness meant that there was no explicit use of race when describing the elder woman. However, she did manage to describe herself as having been “born in the sea.” As an eighty-year-old in the 1920’s, she would have been born in 1840, a moment in which the slave trade was still very much active in the archipelago. It took the knowledge of a Black woman, Dr. Sarah Bruno, to understand how this was an opportunity to read and speculate Blackness in a moment when Blackness was being actively erased from Puerto Rico. That erasure is what then leads to historical interpretations that minimize Black Puerto Rican histories.

Celia Naylor

Telling truths about slavery at Rose Hall Plantation demanded not only unearthing enslaved people’s experiences out of limited archival records but also unveiling the afterlives of slavery embodied in Herbert G. de Lisser’s 1929 novel entitled The White Witch of Rosehall and the contemporary, ongoing Rose Hall Great House daily tours. Even after I decided to include aspects of the lives of enslaved persons and slavery in my book (Un)Silencing Slavery, I also recognized that the book would not be sufficient to demonstrate to a larger audience in Jamaica and elsewhere the intricacies of the interlocking lives of enslaved persons. Although I usually describe myself as a twentieth century techie, early on I imagined a website that would offer another pathway, another form, to present these enslaved persons to counter the dominant “master/mistress” narrative in the “official” Rose Hall Great House website and other related websites about Rose Hall. It was crucial to move the enslaved persons from the margin to the center of this history. I wanted to provide this information in an online format, one that would give website viewers/visitors an opportunity to have some sense of the enslaved people who lived and labored at Rose Hall, to review a few archival documents about this plantation, and to provide information about other extant materials (primary and secondary sources) related to this project. The website became a reality only because of a generative collective; Alex Gil, Moacir P. de Sá Pereira, Monique Joan Sophia Williams, Madiha Choksi and I served as the midwives of the Rose Hall Digital Humanities Project.

Recognizing the pervasive, historical efforts to systematically dehumanize enslaved people of African descent in Jamaica (and throughout the Americas) and the ongoing systemic and strategic amnesia regarding slavery in the Americas, I wondered how I might present a counternarrative focused on the historical roots of slavery and the contemporaneous realities (and branches) of the afterlives of slavery at Rose Hall Plantation in Jamaica. How could I highlight specific experiences of enslaved persons at Rose Hall Plantation who have been unremembered and unmemorialized at Rose Hall Great House? How might I present the “data” related to their lives without reifying and reinscribing efforts to dehumanize them? How could I offer information about them as not solely “data points”? I continue to reflect on these questions now, especially as a way of engaging with the question posed for this two-day gathering about “Who Owns Black Data” (and related queries regarding “access and ownership”). I would suggest we tease out more about what ideas and practices we have in mind for the ethics of such digital humanities projects, especially the ethics of (re)presenting and underscoring Black humanity within the underbelly of slavery and its afterlives.

It is telling that we continue to return time and time again to conceptions of ownership and control here—two fundamental tenets of the transatlantic slave trade and the institution of slavery itself. Are there ways to move away from this particular term of “ownership” and terminologies related to “ownership”? And, if we make the thoughtful decision(s) to use these terms/terminologies how can we (re)define them in alignment with (and deeply embedded within) new frameworks of understanding(s) and praxis. Part of that process must consider critically how related descendants and descendant communities are conceived and integrated within these digital humanities projects and the collective “ownership” of whatever and however we define “Black Data.” Before we respond to the question of “Who Owns Black Data,” we must initially grapple with each of the terms in the question itself—is it a singular, plural, or collective “who” or “what”? How do we define ownership and perhaps belonging? How exactly will we define “Black Data”? How do we conceive of that “data” being within and without the archives? And, how do we engage with and curate the examination, preservation, and digitization processes involved with “Black Data?” It is also important to consider how our praxis will incorporate aspects of reparations for, and restorations of, those past, present, and future generations (of ancestral and descendant communities), as well as elements of reparations and restorations related to the archives, and of history itself.

From the birth of this project, which began with a tour of Rose Hall Great House with my daughter, Ayanbi, in the summer of 2013, presenting the actual names of enslaved persons at Rose Hall served as my central guiding principle, as the core purpose of the project—for both the book and the website. Rose Hall Plantation was only one part of a larger ecosystem and plantationscape, which invoked other questions about how to interrogate the complexities of history, public memorialization, and tourism directly related to such sites of slavery—such tourist sites of slavery? How do we tell the story of enslaved persons at such plantations? How do we present plantation sites such as Rose Hall, while still invoking and integrating a sense of Black humanity in the midst of tourist tales and, in fact, in the history of slavery itself?

One of the mantras, perhaps more specifically the compass, I adopted for the project was verbalized by another scholar about 5 years after my first Rose Hall tour—in April 2018 at the “Slave Pasts in the Present: Narrating Slavery through the Arts, Technology, and Tourism” symposium at NYU. During his overall comments for the “Slavery, Heritage and Tourism” panel, historian Daryle Williams poignantly asked: “How to tell a human story, in a humane way, about a crime against humanity?” All three (3) interlocking parts of his question resonated with me: (1) the importance of presenting stories and narratives of the lived experiences of enslaved people that would highlight individuality, collectivity, and (I would specifically state) Black humanity; (2) the necessity of the humane telling of these stories and narratives that would present the capaciousness of the lived experiences of enslaved persons and the fullness of Black humanity—in what the documents reveal, what we know, and what we might not know but be willing to imagine about the lives of enslaved people; and (3) the obligation to attend to the nuances and complexities of the crimes, violences, and violations of enslavers, individually and collectively, and the institution of slavery generally, as well as the contemporaneous afterlives of slavery in all of its iterations, manifestations, ramifications, and more!

As I state in the book: the Rose Hall Project “engages in the critical process of what Christina Sharpe refers to as ‘wake work.’ It is to begin to name those enslaved who have been unremembered and unmemorialized; it is to begin to reconstruct stories buried and deemed unworthy of telling and retelling; it is to begin to reimagine the struggles, suffering, and sanctity of people enslaved (though not entirely dehumanized); it is to begin to question the afterlife of slavery that is Rose Hall in content and in form; and it is to begin to ask what and who survive at Rose Hall in the mythical ghost haunting of a white witch, the pretense of memorialization, and the facade of slavery. In the literary and popular reincarnations of Annie Palmer, in de Lisser’s novel, and in the contemporary tours at the Rose Hall, what and who serve as witnesses, what and who are being witnessed, and what and who are being remembered and forgotten for what purposes related to the telling of the past, the living in the present, and the imaginings of the future?” And, for this symposium (and beyond this symposium) what are the purposes that each of us are committed to in the service of Black humanity, and who and what shall be witnessed and who and what shall be witnesses to our work on “Black Data”?

Jessica Newby

Within the past few decades, access to manuscripts, images and other data in slavery’s archives has seen and undergone various transformations. If they wished to access the facts, figures, and particulars of slavery’s data, then academics, students and researchers of past generations were required to travel, sometimes abroad and at great distances to physical archives and collections that were owned/controlled by either corporations, museums, public or private research institutions, individual collectors, and/or wealthy and influential families. A prime example of this can be found in the history of the Thomas Thistlewood papers, a collection of diaries, weather journals, and commonplace books that belonged to Thomas Thistlewood, an English migrant who lived in Westmoreland, Jamaica as an overseer, agricultural pen-keeper and enslaver from 1750 until his death in 1786 and kept a diary and weather journal for nearly every day of those thirty six years. For many years, the diaries were kept in a private collection of a family from the British nobility. Scholars wishing to access them had to travel to an archive in Lincolnshire, England and also receive express permission from the family to incorporate them into publications, thus extending the implications of ‘ownership’ and ‘control’ over the enslaved subjects of the diary and the past into the present, in questionable and even troubling ways. Although a copy was later made and kept at the library at the University of the West Indies, Mona in Kingston, Jamaica, the diaries themselves have only in recent years been acquired in an auction by Yale University, completely digitized, and made available for online and in-person public access at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.1

A combination of technological advancements, scholarly collaborations, sponsorships and funding initiatives from both public and private endowments and research institutions in recent years have made it possible for many other primary source documents like the Thistlewood papers to be digitized and stored upon free, public digital platforms and take on a variety of forms. To be clear, issues of ownership and control over slavery data remain, deeply rooted in estates, institutions and corporations that have historically benefitted from the very violence and brutality originally inflicted upon enslaved subjects. But whereas researchers were once separated from this data by miles upon miles of land, sea, and legal and administrative red tape, the distance for the professional and casual researcher to cross in order to access it at any given time is no further away than the screen of their own computer or smartphone. Viewing access to slavery's archives and data is changing, rapidly. But is that the only ‘distance’ left to be crossed; are there still more chasms to close?

Historian, digital humanist and supervisor of the Remains // an Archive [RAA] microlab Jessica Marie Johnson writes that “everyday violence in the lives of the enslaved created a devastating archive,” and that “left unattended, these devastations reproduce themselves in digital architecture.”2 Slavery’s archives are devastating in their enduring physical, epistemological and even existential violence upon their African and Afro-descended subjects, and the Thistlewood papers are a prime example of this. Thistlewood was a cruel and sadistic man, and a sexual predator who detailed his exploitation and abuses of enslaved people, particularly enslaved women, in graphic detail. Merely increasing access to archival documents and data such as these through digital mediums cannot negate, mitigate or attend to this violence. And while attending to their devastations does require attending to their predicament(s) of ownership as scholars of Black life and slavery have done and continue to do, it also demands that we attend to the politics and ethics of the stewardship of this data. Indeed, these obligations go hand in hand.

As a microlab, among Remains // An Archive’s chief priorities are a commitment to not only maintaining but remaking spaces of remembrance for lost, fragmented, silenced, and seemingly unrepresentable [hi]stories. By enacting interdisciplinary practices grounded in Black feminist thought, RAA projects are aimed at enacting an ethics of care and grief that refuses the very types of violence, erasure and anonymity that plague slavery’s archives, precisely through our stewardship of Black data that we have access to. Our lab’s most current project, Slavery in Motion (SiM), enacts this Black feminist ethic of care and stewardship for the Thistlewood Diaries. SiM is a visual and sonic exhibit that centers the varied, innovative efforts of enslaved women in the island’s Westmoreland Parish to keep themselves, their loved ones, and their communities alive. It features new and original works of four Black women artists from across the diaspora that in partnership with RAA co-lead Jessica Newby, accentuate and memorialize these stories, and utilize various artistic mediums in order to transcend the obscurity and limitations of colonial archives in relaying the complexity of enslaved women and girls’ lives.

These four works will be showcased in Fall 2024 at the Avery Research Center in Charleston, SC.

As a microlab, we invite the Who Owns Black Data symposium to join us in our consideration of the politics/ethics of access, ownership and stewardship of slavery data through a consideration of remains, both as

remains [n.], that which remains
remains [v.], a practice of refusal; an insistence on survival; to remain.

Put another way, in the absence and/or within the limitations of ownership, what forms of stewardship can we imagine, practice, and create? What can we recover and rebuild from what remains?

Registro Project (Taller Entre Aguas)

What role do universities and large funders play in supporting, stewarding, maintaining, or circumventing who owns Black data?

Universities play a dual role in supporting Black data due to their structural advantages and access to resources, including historical documents and trained scholars. However, challenges arise as the maintenance of collections may be obscured by university politics or departmental changes. Funders like Mellon are currently showing interest in supporting marginalized topics, but concerns have been made regarding the potential change in leadership and long-term sustainability of Black data. Personal and private collections outside universities also hold significance in preserving Black data. While universities contribute both positively and negatively, attention to dynamic projects and sustainability is an essential area of growth. In terms of stewarding and maintaining Black data, the development of courses, training, and support provided by universities and funders is critical. Black scholars have engaged with records in archives and typically find that many collections lack proper descriptions, categorizations, and visibility. The training and support provided should not be limited to global North or European data, but should encompass diverse perspectives and experiences, emphasizing inclusivity in handling Black data. Additionally, universities and large funders can demonstrate their commitments to Black data by proactively funding sustainable, long-term projects through funding initiatives directly targeting gaps in the stewardship of Black data. For example, universities can dedicate multi-year funding to the acquisition and digitization of Black data collections, and large funders can craft giving campaigns around in the arena, incentivizing would-be and current grantees to thoughtfully and ethically engage in Black data projects.

What further implications should we consider when data about Black people, particularly enslaved people, is commodified, monetized or used as leverage within current regimes of private property?

The ethical dimensions surrounding the commodification of Black data, particularly that of enslaved individuals, raise numerous concerns. The unequal approach to information retrieval is evident, especially when teams handling the recovery and reclamation of Black data lack diversity. Monetizing Black data, which is already challenging to access, poses ethical questions, particularly when contrasting with the free accessibility of certain white European data collections and perspectives. More issues arise when institutions attempt to charge for access to Black data, considering the challenges faced in the current socio-political climate, with debates over Critical Race Theory and the banning of books. Reclaiming historical injustices requires thoughtful regulation, ensuring that information is not exploited for profit and that equitable access is provided in the digitization of and public access granted to Black data collections. Emphasizing community involvement, training, and education is key to counteract appropriation of data and to rectify historical wrongs. For example, the practice of adding contextual notes in collection descriptions - about the biased and harmful language used in the sources when describing enslaved individuals - can be a method of ethical stewardship of Black data collections. The quest for reparations also involves sharing information, training communities, and challenging dependency on traditional preservers, advocating for a more inclusive and just approach to Black data.

Andrea Roberts

What role does material about slavery play in the movement for reparations for colonial harms and the evils of the trans-Atlantic slave trade? How can descendants of enslaved people be stakeholders at the decision-making table in matters of the historical and cultural record of Black people?

Defining descendant identity has been central to defining place and who is classified as an agentive stakeholder in shaping the future of a given place. While Juneteenth, June 19, 1865, the date of notification of emancipation in Texas, has served as the origin point of freedom colony creation, it is a liminal time border. While The Texas Freedom Colonies Project encourages sharing stories of place origin that begin in 1865 and end in 1930, there are several places whose creation stories don’t start neatly alongside that of legal emancipation. Those beginnings and endings are sometimes rooted in maroonage, and the feeder patterns from founding institutions to settlements were created by some a generation removed from slavery. Descendant identity, often defined by genealogy and time, shifts when rooted in place creation. Rhizomatic placemaking means documented beginnings and endings are sometimes embodied, effusive, and ephemeral. Thus, descendants cannot be confined to family trees and substantiated by collective belief reproduced culturally over generations in sites of memory. Descendants of freedom colonies are rooted in their relationship to the enslaved in apparent ways. For example, the first placemakers were, of course, formerly enslaved or fleeing enslavement (especially those fleeing tidewater states to live in maroonage in the Neutral strip between Texas and Louisiana pre-emancipation). The work of The Texas Freedom Colonies Project is based upon what I call a Place Preservation Model. The Place Preservation Model – Connection, Collection, and Co-Creation is about centering descendant control of their place origin stories and how they are deployed in public history and planning processes to catalyze and mobilize other descendants on behalf of their visions of place resilience. The Atlas, while the most public aspect of The Project, is one form in which this Model manifests—because it is first relational and about documenting descendant formations of identity, place, and personhood in ways that displace the centrality of the white constructions of these concepts. This doesn’t mean forgetting slavery but rather questioning what using that as a basis for asserting rights means. How expansive or constrained is it? How inclusive, and what sense of belonging is gained or lost during place preservation and keeping?

This is the nature of the place-based descendant identity around which the Atlas—the visible cosmology of place relations by African Americans in Texas—has been created. This means someone can demonstrate descendant citizenship by sharing their biological kinship to founders and freedom colony institution founders and landowners, and also by constructed or fictive kinship evident in associations with social networks rooted in places such as freedom colony schools, churches, and church networks –homecoming and denominational associations –Baptist, COGIC, and AME, for example. These institutions are co-named and co-located in the freedom colony.

The consequences of complicating descendants’ and stakeholders’ rights are not only theoretical. It has been the bedrock of property law, urban planning and development, and preservation for years. Thus, place preservation meets these cultural and socio-legal constructions of identity, places, and rights. Place preservation centers on descendants’ significance, meaning, place, and protection constructions. Place creation stories are essential to substantiating claims and agency within the following urban planning and historic preservation processes by constructing arguments for historical significance. Descendant memory and meaning, when translated, can make places and their stakeholders visible and provide the grounds for engaging stakeholders of biological and constructed kinship in the following processes:

Part of the work of repair is not simply to reinforce constructions of personhood and placehood established by the state (the U.S. specifically) but to surface the stakeholder relationality that led to freedom colony formation originally and that sustains it through kinkeeping and cultural resiliency in the present. The Atlas has been an effort to help surface and reclaim these spatial keeping practices while engaging present-day agents of the takings that desecrate and destroy our sacred spaces and landscapes. None of this undermines exposing the horrors of slavery but instead extends the long arc of freedom-seeking beyond legal historical periodization.

Alexandre White

How do we answer the question of ownership and control in the context of today’s hybrid record, both analog and digital?

With Underwriting Souls, a project out of Black Beyond Data we asked ourselves these questions a lot. Our goal was to create a digital public archive and set of exhibitions from materials held privately in a corporate collection. This required very complex negotiations and legal wranglings. Black Beyond Data and Lloyd’s through Johns Hopkins entered into an agreement in which we would have full access to digitize elements of Lloyd’s archive pertaining to slavery without Lloyd’s having any financial or editorial role in the process. This was possible through a close working relationship between Victoria Lane, the archivist at Lloyd’s (now at the Royal Maritime Museum) Pyar Seth and myself. In addition all funding was derived form the Mellon foundation and Lloyd’s had no part in funding the project. All the material we digitized is now publically available under a creative commons license at We tried our best to transfer a private corporate archive to the public. So in this way, its no longer owned, certainly not exclusively, by Lloyd’s.

I don’t know if there is a definitive answer to of ownership but adopting an approach as a researcher and academic to material relating to slavery that refuses ownership and invites both stewardship and requires some sort of oversight from descendant communities seems critical to me.

Who controls access to data about slavery?

This is the thing. Working in the context of Britain, so many archives that have not been examined by researchers or are in private or corporate hands. Recently and especially since the murder of George Floyd, there has been a significant historical reckoning in Britain with its historic role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This has led to several private collections, including Lloyd’s, the Bank of England and the Crown to open up or be open to allowing researchers into these archives. The key question for me is if they still control access they can also refuse it at any time. Control is the same as ownership and for a nation that refuses to reflect on the central role that slavery played to making their world, a view that continues to erase Black life and presence from British history, this remains a problem and one we tried to navigate.

What do you think?

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  1. For more on the history, acquisition and ethical use of the Thistlewood papers, see Katharine Gerbner, “Archival Violence, Archival Capital: Ethics, Inheritance, and Reparations in the Thistlewood Diaries,” The William and Mary Quarterly, Volume 79, Number 4, October 2022, pp. 595-624. ↩︎

  2. Jessica Marie Johnson, “Markup Bodies: Black [Life] Studies and Slavery [Death] Studies at the Digital Crossroads,” Social Text 36, no. 4 (2018): 57–79. ↩︎