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Christer Petley Publishes Slaveowner’s Letters at “Slavery and Revolution”

Christer Petley (University of Southampton) recently launched Slavery and Revolution: Jamaica and Slavery in the Age of Revolution “an internet resource for research about Jamaica and Atlantic slavery in the Age of Revolution.”

From the website:

“This site uses a blogging format to showcase excerpts from letters written by Simon Taylor (1738-1813), a slaveholder and plantation owner who lived in Jamaica during a period characterised by revolution, war, and imperial reform. ‘Slavery and Revolution’ is a free resource and open to anyone. The material on the site is intended for use by academics, students, and others to use in their research, teaching, and learning.

Taylor wrote from Jamaica to friends, family members, business associates, and political allies in Britain. The letters showcased here were written between the 1770s and Taylor’s death. These were years of uncertainty and change for all the inhabitants of the British Caribbean, enslaved and free. They included rebellions and resistance by enslaved people, hurricanes, drought, disruption to trade, the rise of the British abolition movement, the French and Haitian Revolutions, war between Britain and France, the Second Maroon War, civil rights campaigning by free people of colour, and the abolition of the slave trade. The letters provide insights into aspects of life in Jamaica and the history of the British Atlantic from Taylor’s perspective….

…The letters have been transcribed as accurately as possible, with few corrections made to style and presentation, preserving the often rough-and-ready punctuation and spelling of the eighteenth-century originals. Each excerpt is accompanied by a short paragraph placing it in its historical context, and there are occasional notes within the excerpts, given in square brackets, to explain specific words, terms, and references from the letters….”

Eschewing the database interface for the hierarchical posting structure of the blog gives the project a less formal and more conversational feel.  Letters are themselves inherently personal, intimate, and hierarchical and the text and texture of letters translates easily in a blog format even as the WordPress structure simulates the experience of letter writing and reading (even the dates of the posts correspond to the dates of the original letters).  Petley also transcribed and republished the letters as posts instead of providing .jpgs or .pdfs of the original documents.  The choice may give more conservative historians pause but is a refreshing change that works alongside the presentation choices to increase the site’s accessibility.

As a result, “Slavery and Revolution” allows visitors of all ages to enter immediately into dialogue with the primary documents. I could easily ask my undergraduate students to dive into the site for material but I could also use the site with graduate students to think through ways digital humanities and new media intersect with publishing and presenting histories of slavery.

Explore the site and share your thoughts hereWould you use “Slavery and Revolution” in a class?