Cultures and Knowledge Workshop Series: Digital Emancipation: Augmenting Public Access to and Engagement of Historical Documents

January 19th, 2022

On January 24, The Institute on the Formation of Knowledge will present "Digital Emancipation: Augmenting Public Access to and Engagement of Historical Documents" as part of the Cultures & Knowledge Workshop Series. This workshop will be presented by Alisea W. McLeod.


About the presenter: Alisea W. McLeod introduce ongoing historical work, Practices of Emancipation. Over several years, along with John Clegg, the two have transcribed and digitized thousands of obscure primary documents related to the U.S. Civil War and emancipation. McLeod, who has focused on recovery of contraband (war refugee) camp registers and related records will discuss the unique character of the registers (containing critical information about African American and European families) while also providing context for their interpretation and analysis. 

Below is a list of further reading on the topic of the workshop, compiled by Dr. McLeod:

The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: the lower South (Cambridge University Press, 1990)
Ira Berlin

Union occupation of parts of the Confederacy during the Civil War forced federal officials to confront questions about the social order that would replace slavery. This volume of Freedom presents a documentary history of the emergence of free-labor relations in the large plantation areas of the Union-occupied Lower South. The documents illustrate the experiences of former slaves as military laborers, as residents of federally sponsored "contraband camps," as wage laborers on plantations and in towns, and in some instances, as independent farmers and self-employed workers. Together with the editors' interpretative essays, these documents portray the different understandings of freedom advanced by the many participants in the wartime evolution of free labor--former slaves and free blacks; former slaveholders; Union military officers and officials in Washington; and Northern planters, ministers and teachers. The war sealed the fate of slavery only to open a contest over the meaning of freedom. This volume documents an important chapter of that contest. Ira Berlin is the Director of the Freedmen and Southern Society Project, University of Maryland.


The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: the upper South (Cambridge University Press, 1990)
Ira Berlin

As slavery collapsed during the American Civil War, former slaves struggled to secure their liberty, reconstitute their families, and create the institutions befitting a free people. This volume of Freedom presents a documentary history of the emergence of free-labor relations in different settings in the Upper South. At first, most federal officials hoped to mobilize former slaves without either transforming the conflict into a war of liberation or assuming responsibility for the young, the old, or others not suitable for military employment. But as the Union army came to depend on black workers and as the number of destitute freedpeople mounted, authorities at all levels grappled with intertwined questions of freedom, labor and welfare. Meanwhile, the former slaves pursued their own objectives, working within the constraints imposed by the war and Union occupation to fashion new lives as free people. The Civil War sealed the fate of slavery only to open a contest over the meaning of freedom. This volume of Freedom documents an important chapter in that contest.


Beyond Freedom, Disrupting the History of Emancipation (The University of Georgia Press, 2017)
David W. Blight and Jim Downs

This collection of eleven original essays interrogates the concept of freedom and recenters our understanding of the process of emancipation. Who defined freedom, and what did freedom mean to nineteenth-century African Americans, both during and after slavery? Did freedom just mean the absence of constraint and a widening of personal choice, or did it extend to the ballot box, to education, to equality of opportunity? In examining such questions, rather than defining every aspect of postemancipation life as a new form of freedom, these essays develop the work of scholars who are looking at how belonging to an empowered government or community defines the outcome of emancipation.

Some essays in this collection disrupt the traditional story and time-frame of emancipation. Others offer trenchant renderings of emancipation, with new interpretations of the language and politics of democracy. Still others sidestep academic conventions to speak personally about the politics of emancipation historiography, reconsidering how historians have used source material for understanding subjects such as violence and the suffering of refugee women and children. Together the essays show that the question of freedom-its contested meanings, its social relations, and its beneficiaries-remains central to understanding the complex historical process known as emancipation.


Time Full of Trial, the Roanoke Island Freedmen’s Colony (University of North Carolina Press, 2001)
Patricia C. Click

In February 1862, General Ambrose E. Burnside led Union forces to victory at the Battle of Roanoke Island. As word spread that the Union army had established a foothold in eastern North Carolina, slaves from the surrounding area streamed across Federal lines seeking freedom. By early 1863, nearly 1,000 refugees had gathered on Roanoke Island, working together to create a thriving community that included a school and several churches. As the settlement expanded, the Reverend Horace James, an army chaplain from Massachusetts, was appointed to oversee the establishment of a freedmen's colony there. James and his missionary assistants sought to instill evangelical fervor and northern republican values in the colonists, who numbered nearly 3,500 by 1865, through a plan that included education, small-scale land ownership, and a system of wage labor.

Time Full of Trial tells the story of the Roanoke Island freedmen's colony from its contraband-camp beginnings to the conflict over land ownership that led to its demise in 1867. Drawing on a wealth of primary sources, Patricia Click traces the struggles and successes of this long-overlooked yet significant attempt at building what the Reverend James hoped would be the model for "a new social order" in the postwar South.


Grant, Lincoln, and the Freedmen, Reminiscences of the Civil War (Longman, Green, and Co., 1907)
John Eaton

With thousands of ex-slaves fleeing to Union lines and the prospect of millions more to be emancipated, Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant foresaw enormous challenges ahead. What would be done with and for the freedmen? Grant turned to Colonel (later General) John Eaton to manage the gathering crisis. Eaton felt wholly inadequate to the huge task and tried to beg off, citing the resistance he knew he would encounter from many quarters, including Union officers who used free blacks as servants. Grant quietly replied, "Mr. Eaton, I have ordered you to report to me in person, and I will take care of you." This book, far too long out-of-print, details Eaton's approach to establishing policies that met the needs of freed slaves, as well as the military aims of General Grant and the governing aims of Abraham Lincoln. With personal anecdotes included from his meetings with Lincoln and Grant, you'll read stories here that you may not have read elsewhere. Eaton came to understand that the former slaves yearned desperately for their freedom, were entitled to their personhood, and he was astonished at their hunger for books and learning. He established schools and in 1863 and was an advocate of Negro suffrage. Eaton was made colonel of the 63rd Regiment of Colored Infantry.


Troubled Refuge, Struggling for Freedom in the Civil War (Knopf, 2016)
Chandra Manning

A vivid portrait of the Union army’s escaped-slave refugee camps and how they shaped the course of emancipation and citizenship in the United States. Chandra Manning casts in a wholly original light what it was like to escape slavery, how emancipation happened, and how citizenship in the United States was transformed. This reshaping of hard structures of power would matter not only for slaves turned citizens, but for all Americans. Integrating a wealth of new findings, this vivid portrait of the Union army’s escaped-slave refugee camps shows how they shaped the course of emancipation and citizenship in the United States.

Drawing on records of the Union and Confederate armies, the letters and diaries of soldiers, transcribed testimonies of former slaves, and more, Manning allows us to accompany the black men, women, and children who sought out the Union army in hopes of achieving autonomy for themselves and their communities. It also raised, for the first time, humanitarian questions about refugees in wartime and legal questions about civil and military authority with which we still wrestle, as well as redefined American citizenship, to the benefit, but also to the lasting cost of, African Americans.


Rehearsal for Reconstruction, the Port Royal Experiment (Brown Thrasher Books, 1976)
Willie Lee Rose

This award-winning study presents an engaging account of the attempt at reconstruction that occurred in the Sea Islands of South Carolina during the beginning of the Civil War. Serving as a kind of dress rehearsal for Reconstruction, the Port Royal Experiment not only helped to shape federal policy for Reconstruction, but it also influenced the nation by adding to the initial war aim of the Union, the eventual commitment to freedom, and the still-unfulfilled commitment to equality.


Embattled Freedom, Journey’s through the Civil War’s Slave Refugee Camps (University of North Carolina Press, 2018)
Amy Murrell Taylor

The Civil War was just days old when the first enslaved men, women, and children began fleeing their plantations to seek refuge inside the lines of the Union army as it moved deep into the heart of the Confederacy. In the years that followed, hundreds of thousands more followed in a mass exodus from slavery that would destroy the system once and for all. Drawing on an extraordinary survey of slave refugee camps throughout the country, Embattled Freedom reveals as never before the everyday experiences of these refugees from slavery as they made their way through the vast landscape of army-supervised camps that emerged during the war. Amy Murrell Taylor vividly reconstructs the human world of wartime emancipation, taking readers inside military-issued tents and makeshift towns, through commissary warehouses and active combat, and into the realities of individuals and families struggling to survive physically as well as spiritually. Narrating their journeys in and out of the confines of the camps, Taylor shows in often gripping detail how the most basic necessities of life were elemental to a former slave's quest for freedom and full citizenship.The stories of individuals--storekeepers, a laundress, and a minister among them--anchor this ambitious and wide-ranging history and demonstrate with new clarity how contingent the slaves' pursuit of freedom was on the rhythms and culture of military life. Taylor brings new insight into the enormous risks taken by formerly enslaved people to find freedom in the midst of the nation’s most destructive war.

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