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Honoring Black History Month by Noting a Unique DH Project

February 16, 2022

One digital humanities project which explores the hard history of the enslavement of African Americans in the United States is the “Last Seen” project. It brings to light the brave endeavor by former slaves to reunite with loved ones sometimes decades after emancipation.

Judith Giesberg, Ph.D., a professor of history at Villanova University, began by partnering with genealogists at Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia to discover nineteenth-century newspaper ads that help to tell the story of the separation and survival of black families during and after the U.S. Civil War.

Under the coordination of Dr. Giesberg, graduate students have digitized and transcribed thousands of “Information Wanted” advertisements placed by former slaves in many different newspapers from across North America and as late as the 1920s.

“Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery” has opened once closed avenues for researchers to trace painfully ruptured genealogies and give voice to formerly silenced African American family histories. While always overseen by the “Last Seen” project team, anyone can volunteer to transcribe digitized ads.

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