• The Morant Bay Rebellion as Digital Bridge between Caribbean and Victorian Studies
    Laurie Taylor (University of Florida), Leah Rosenberg (University of Florida)
  • Louisiana Slave Conspiracies
    Bryan Wagner (University of California, Berkeley)
  • Digitizing the Barbados Mercury Gazette: Not the End, but a Beginning
    Amalia S. Levi (The HeritEdge Connection)
  • Moderator: Roopika Risam (Salem State University)

The Morant Bay Rebellion as Digital Bridge between Caribbean and Victorian Studies
Rhonda Cobham-Sander (Amherst College), Laurie Taylor (University of Florida), Leah Rosenberg (University of Florida)

Sociology views field notes, maps, and specimens as boundary objects because of their plasticity in being understood differently by different communities and interpreted differently across communities. In the digital age, the boundaries and borders for existing fields are crossing ever more frequently. The digital age, digital libraries, and digital communities present opportunities for digital collections and libraries to serve as boundary objects for new ways of meaning-making within fields, and for meaning-making to connect across fields. In this presentation, we take the example of the Morant Bay Rebellion as a shared space that crosses fields, focusing specifically on Caribbean literary studies and Victorian Studies. In addition to political writings and literature, newspapers, photographs, and folk songs provide an interdisciplinary archive of sources on Morant Bay. Many of these sources are available digitally and we are building these into the Digital Library of the Caribbean to facilitate Caribbean and Victorian Studies crossings. Texts about the Morant Bay rebellion were prominent in England where the leading intellectuals of the 1860s debated the nature of human rights and British political ideology by writing in support or in condemnation of Governor Eyre’s brutal response to the Morant Bay Rebellion; his supporters included Thomas Carlyle, James Anthony Froude, John Ruskin, Alfred Tennyson and Charles Dickens while his detractors included Herbert Spencer, J. Stuart Mill, and Charles Darwin. In Jamaica, Morant Bay has been the subject of poetry (Claude McKay), drama (Roger Mais), and fiction (Herbert de Lisser, Roger Mais, Vic Reid). For Jamaican writers, the rebellion was often construed as part of a linear march towards Jamaican nationhood and a vehicle for articulating the political vision of the author. Thus, the Morant Bay Rebellion has played different roles in Victorian and Caribbean letters and studies. We aim to engage scholars in both fields across disciplinary and geographic boundaries, to critique Caribbean and Victorian studies and to produce interdisciplinary resources for scholars, teachers, and the public. This presentation builds on the Digital Caribbean workshop that will be held at the North American Victorian Studies Association Conference in October 2018.

Louisiana Slave Conspiracies
Bryan Wagner (University of California, Berkeley)

We are a collaborative and multidisciplinary research project dedicated to preserving, digitizing, transcribing, translating, analyzing, and publishing manuscripts related to two slave conspiracies organized at the Pointe Coupee Post in the Spanish territory of Louisiana in 1791 and 1795. Our online repository uses a facing-page display to present French and Spanish manuscripts alongside original transcriptions and English translations, allowing users to search, browse, and navigate among documents, interactive maps, and network visualizations derived from a database tracking persons, places, events, and assertions. In our analysis of this data, we take a new approach to a problem that is widely recognized in the existing historiography on slave conspiracies. The problem is that knowledge of these conspiracies is based upon unreliable evidence. Confused and self-contradictory, paranoid and at times delusional, most available records are based on rumor and hearsay generated from within a forensic setting in which individuals supply unresolved, competing accounts of the same set of events. By bringing data science approaches to bear on this problem, our intention is not to resolve things once and for all. Rather, it is to analyze and visualize our uncertainty about initiative, collaboration, causation, and communication by representing the forking alternatives suggested by extant records. The technical challenges here are considerable, not least the challenge of balancing the categorical certainty implied by our maps and data visualization with the inconclusive nature of our evidence.

Digitizing the Barbados Mercury Gazette: Not the End, but a Beginning
Amalia S. Levi (The HeritEdge Connection)

This presentation will discuss the digitization of the historic newspaper The Barbados Mercury Gazette (1783-1839) through an Endangered Archives Programme grant by the British Library, the result of collaboration between scholars and practitioners in North America and Barbados. The Barbados Mercury (1783-1839) sheds light on the years leading up to the largest slave revolt on the island in 1816. On the surface, the newspaper presents the reality of everyday life in a slave society from a planters’ and merchants’ perspective. Underneath the seemingly mundane though, a revolt is percolating. Reading in-between the lines, particularly through the runaway slave ads, we see a network of rebels forming, moving, and organizing their resistance. We see this project as a beginning, rather than a “finished product.” The aim is not simply to facilitate reading the gazette in a digital format. If so, then digitization would risk reproducing and re-inscribing inequalities, silences, and exclusions. Considering that we find precious little on the enslaved in archives, it is our hope that making available The Mercury freely online will promote broader engagement by scholars, particularly through digital humanities scholarship, and the public through a variety of outreach programs. This presentation will explore the following questions: How do we enable projects that give voice to marginalized populations, particularly the enslaved? What structural means can archives employ to overcome gaps in their collections and facilitate novel scholarship? How can we engage the public in ways that can instill pride in and a new understanding of a traumatic past?