During the last week, two new and notable resources on the web have come to my attention relevant to emancipation in the American Civil War.
The first, Visualizing Emancipation, produced by the University of Richmond, literally maps out events in the Civil War era about emancipation. “Funded by a We the People grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities,” Visualizing Emancipation, “shows how emancipation occurred unevenly across the South, beginning before the first major battles and ending after the end of the Confederacy. It shows the complex interactions between federal policies, armies in the field, and the actions of enslaved men and women on countless farms and city blocks.” Practically speaking, this website allows users to create maps of emancipation-relevant events documented in books, newspapers, official records, and personal papers. It categorizes these events as: 1) abuse of African Americans; 2) African Americans helping the Union; 3) capture/enslavement/re-enslavement of African Americans by the Confederates; 4) capture of African Americans by Union troops; 5) conscription and recruitment, Union (army or labor); 6) conscription, Confederate (army or labor); fugitive slaves/runaways; 7) irregular fighting (insurrection/raid); 8) orders or regulations; 9) protecting slave property from Union troops; 10) uncategorized.
Although he keeps his credit for this site relatively modest, Visualizing Emancipation displays the clear imprint of Edward L. Ayers, the President of the University of Richmond and noted scholar of the Civil War and the American South. Quantitative data, computers, group projects, and pioneering use of the Internet long have characterized Ayers’ scholarship. His most notable contribution in this regard before Visualizing Emancipation is The Valley of the Shadow, a pioneering website on the Civil War, with documentary resources on two piedmont counties, in Virginia and Pennsylvania, respectively, during the Civil War era. It remains to be seen if Visualizing Emancipation has the impact of its predecessor site, but it looks like it will be valuable both to scholars and the public. Ayers and company are to be congratulated for this timely contribution.
The second new web resource is the emancipation petitions at Civil War Washington. As many readers are no doubt aware, the sesquicentennial of emancipation in the District of Columbia is only days away. What made the end of slavery unique in Washington, D.C., was that under the emancipation law signed by President Abraham Lincoln on April 16, 1862, it provided for the compensation of slaveholders. Lincoln was pushing at the time for gradual compensated emancipation in the border states, and Congress obliged by passing such a law in the one jurisdiction where its authority over slavery was unquestioned–the District of Columbia. Of course, in order to receive compensation slave owners had to apply for it. What Civil War Washington has done is make these petitions available over the web (heretofore only accessible by visiting the National Archives in Washington, D.C.). This is quite a service, since these petitions represent a priceless social history resource, a snap shot of a large group of slaves in a particular location at the time of their liberation. As with Visualizing Emancipation, these compensation applications will be useful to scholars and beyond. Civil War Washington is to be commended for putting them online.
Hopefully, other institutions will follow the lead of Visualizing Emancipation and Civil War Washington by making more resources about emancipation during the Civil War available over the web (hint hint, Leslie Rowland at the Freedmen and Southern Society Project at the University of Maryland).