The Princeton & Slavery Project developed from a small undergraduate research seminar first taught in the spring of 2013 by Professor of History Martha A. Sandweiss. Taught in the University Archives, with assistance from University Archivist Dan Linke and his staff, the class sought evidence that might clarify whether Princeton University benefited from enslaved labor or money derived from slave labor. Students also sought to understand whether early college faculty and staff owned slaves, whether students brought slaves to campus, and how the larger culture of slavery in America shaped campus conversations and life.
With two generous grants for postdoctoral fellows from the Princeton University Humanities Council, an experimental class began to develop into a broader project far more ambitious in scale and scope. From 2013-2015, postdoctoral fellow Craig Hollander worked with students and delved into University and regional archives, uncovering key documents. From 2015-2017, post-doctoral fellow Joseph Yannielli conducted additional research and spearheaded the work for the website, developed in collaboration with the Center for Digital Humanities and designed by Grafton Studio. Graduate student Isabela Morales joined the team as a research assistant in 2013-2016 and editor and project manager in 2017. Following the Humanities Council’s lead, close to a dozen other University departments, programs, and affiliated groups contributed essential organizational and financial support for the project.
The research presented on this site represents the collective work of 50 authors and 15 research assistants, including more than 40 undergraduate and graduate students at Princeton as well as faculty and professional colleagues at various institutions. The commitment to this website, rather than a published book, signals our intent to make this an ongoing research project that will continue to grow, as users contribute new documents and additional research.
Although it draws inspiration from earlier studies at other universities, the Princeton & Slavery Project is distinctive in three key ways. First, rather than being commissioned by the University administration, it grew organically from an undergraduate class to become a project involving a large number of academic partners. Second, the Princeton & Slavery Project is, by far, the largest study of its kind. At its launch in November 2017, the project website featured more than 80 interactive stories – the equivalent of more than 800 printed pages of scholarly research – and some 360 primary source documents. Those numbers continue to grow as the project expands with new original research.
Finally, the project is distinguished for the community partnerships that allow it to reach broader audiences through theater, art, film, and community education programs. Working with documents provided by the Princeton & Slavery Project: the McCarter Theatre commissioned seven new short plays; the Princeton University Art Museum commissioned a site-specific work of art; theater artists collaborated with students to create a new musical theater piece, and a new walking tour of campus. Students in Professor Sandweiss’s freshman seminar in fall 2016 produced short video pieces exploring the enduring impact of family stories about slavery in the lives of Princeton students and alumni. And the Project collaborated with filmmaker Melvin McCray to produce a longer film exploring the impact of these family stories within the extended Princeton community.
The Princeton & Slavery Project has also partnered with the Princeton Public Schools, Princeton Public Library, and Historical Society of Princeton. The schools produced three new curriculum units based on local documents describing enslaved and free African Americans in 18th and 19th century Princeton. The Library designed related reading groups aimed at adults and youth. The Historical Society collaborated with the Library to produce a special exhibition of historical documents.
Through these partnerships and with its innovative website, the Princeton & Slavery Project seeks to stimulate further scholarship and to engage a broad public audience in a conversation about the many issues raised by the University’s engagement with the institution of slavery.