Orville Vernon Burton - Burroughs Chair of Southern History and Culture, Coastal Carolina University

“There is first the literature of knowledge, and secondly, the literature of power. The function of the first is to teach; the function of the second is to move.” The historian of slavery is not limited by the divisions outlined in the preceding statement, first penned by English author and critic Thomas de Quincey in 1848. Like all good historians, we seek to do both simultaneously. Our research provides signposts on a journey to understanding both past and present. Our topic, though anchored in previous centuries, is not a dead issue; its implications reverberate in each day’s newspaper.

How important, then, that we have ready access to that staple which feeds our search: documents. Traditionally, historians have sought out and poured over archival evidence wherever it could be found: libraries, courthouses, government buildings, musty attics. It can be–and often must be –a painstaking and time-consuming process.  That painstaking process may not be necessary anymore.

We live in a new age, which some call the Age of Information, and others the Digital Age. Information, of course, does not immediately equal knowledge, wisdom, or understanding, but it is the foundation on which they are built. Thanks to Gale’s Slavery and Anti-Slavery Archive, the first of four massive transnational digital archives on slavery, the information we need to research, write, teach, understand, and explain slavery in America is readily available, and in a comprehensive, usable format.  From state records to private correspondence; from the American Missionary Association Archives to the private papers of Lewis Tappan and Charles Sumner, as well as the papers of British abolitionist Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton; US period serials and British serials that present the story of abolition from a very different perspective than that of the United States, over six thousand documents are available for the historian’s investigation, study, and analysis.  This includes digitized copies of the material found in the invaluable Anti-Slavery collection at Oberlin College. Before Gale’s digital archive, one would have to travel around the country, and abroad, for months and even years to access these documents.  Instead, Gale’s digital archive saves time and minimizes inconvenience, thus enriching research endeavors. Imagine being able instantly to cross-reference documents which are physically held in separate states.  Imagine further new research questions that can be explored, even the intuitive leaps that this archive will facilitate.

    Leading scholars of slavery have prepared overview essays on the major themes and on the historiographical issues of slavery and anti-slavery.  In addition, the Gale archive provides a comprehensive chronology, events, glossary, biographies of slavery and anti-slavery personalities, an annotated bibliography, and an evaluation of further resources to guide the user, whether a mature scholar or a beginning student.

Knowledge and power are now at our fingertips. "

Troy Smith - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

"From the perspective of a scholar researching abolition, whether it is a grad student preparing a dissertation, a teacher instructing advanced students the mechanics of serious research, or a professor engaged in an ongoing work, the collections assembled for this project present an ideal opportunity. For one thing, the sources are varied. Not only does one have access to a wealth of black and/or abolition newspapers, they are not just comprised of “the usual suspects.” One can examine some of the lesser known and short-lived journals. It is possible, for example, to follow the editorial careers of Samuel Cornish and John Russwurm, searching for the point at which their opinions diverged.

One is not confined to the public expressions of one’s subject. There is also a wealth of private papers from people such as Lewis Tappan, Ellen Wright Garrison, Salmon Chase, and William Fowell Buxton, serving as a fitting complement to the large newspaper collection. Add to this the papers of organizations like the American Colonization Society and the American Missionary Association, as well as the books and pamphlets which are included in the various collections, and the legal papers, and the conscientious historian has everything she needs to get off to an excellent start. All the traditional forms of documentation are available at a keystroke.

I would be particularly eager to gain easy access to the American Missionary Association records for my own work. Not only are there letters and reports from the roughly 150 missionaries who served among American Indians and fugitive slaves, there are charts and statistics about their activities, as well as organizational reports which would allow one to track controversies about abolition within the association over time. That sort of information could be applicable to any number of subtopics under the umbrella of “slavery / antislavery.”

That is only one possible application of one of the collections in the overall project. It is not hyperbolic to say that this comprehensive digital collection is not only valuable, it is a treasure trove."

CHOICE review, December 2009

Enabling researchers to search across several content types, Slavery and Anti-Slavery (SAS) represents a consummate resource for examining slavery. Included in its 1.5 million-plus cross-searchable pages are manuscripts, books, pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals, Supreme Court records, and other legal documents, all of which were previously available only on microfilm. Researchers may easily access collections related to the slave trade, the institution of slavery, the abolitionist movement, and Emancipation. Searching this archive is intuitive. Users have the option of a basic keyword search or an impressively robust advanced search feature. In addition to searching by fields including title, author, publication date, and source library, users may limit a search by content type (e.g., manuscripts and Supreme Court documents), document type (e.g., personal accounts, correspondence, and images), and language. Users may also perform a fuzzy search to identify potentially relevant content by retrieving near matches on a term.

Beyond the vast archive of primary source materials, SAS features an invaluable Research Tools section. Here one finds a comprehensive chronology of world slavery, beginning with 594 BCE (citizen slavery in Athens was abolished) and ending with 1962 CE (slavery became illegal on the Arabian Peninsula). This section also includes a dozen essays written by preeminent scholars on topics such as abolition in America, the Constitution and slavery, and pro-slavery writings. Undergraduates and neophyte researchers will find the chronology and topic essays very useful — they do a fantastic job of contextualizing slavery and the anti-slavery movement. Unfortunately, the biographies of important individuals (Douglass, Tubman, L'Ouverture) and the background of significant events (Amistad Rebellion, Harper's Ferry) included in the Research Tools section are a bit anemic. The exclusion of important individuals, such as Denmark Vessey and Nat Turner, and pivotal events, such as the Stono Rebellion, is baffling. However, one senses that these sections will be developed in the future, as this is an ongoing project. The inclusion of a bibliography and list of germane Web sites--both of which are exhaustive and well organized--allows for research beyond SAS.

This database is an unparalleled resource for expert historians and undergraduate students alike. What's particularly exciting is that the current iteration is merely the beginning of an ongoing endeavor. Continuing with the release of Slave Trade in the Atlantic World in 2011, the editors plan an additional part every year through 2013. Simply put, nothing comparable to SAS (and the proposed future iterations) exists. This project is unequivocally the most important undertaking related to the study of slavery since Eugene Genovese's epochal Roll, Jordan, Roll (CH, Nov'75).

Summing Up: Essential. Upper-level undergraduates through faculty/researchers.
– R. Walsh, Three Rivers Community College, CHOICE review, December 2009

Booklist Review, November 2009

Ken Black, Booklist Review, November 2009
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