By Tiffany Edwards, University Relations

Dr. Loren Schweninger, professor of history, has received a 2005 award from the National Endowment for the Humanities to create a Digital Library on American Slavery. The project is the final part of the Race and Slavery Petitions Project that Schweninger has worked on since 1991.

The $200,000 award is the largest grant he has received from the endowment, and one of the largest humanities grants in the university’s history. To date, Schweninger has received $1.5 million in funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

The digital library, expected to be complete in 2008 and housed in the university’s Jackson Library, will include data on 120,000 slaves, including where possible, cross references to the slaves’ owners, genealogy, occupation, health and more. The information was collected from legal petitions held in 200 county courthouses located in the 15 formerly slaveholding states and the District of Columbia.

Researchers will find the archive unique not only for its large scope, but also for its content.
“There is more information on women as slaveholders than anywhere else,” Schweninger said. “And it’s not self-serving as you’d find in diaries.”

Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of the library, however, will be the personalities of the individuals that are evident within the collection.

“This project will give a face to individual slaves,” said Marguerite Ross Howell, senior assistant editor for the project.

Thus far, the Slavery Petitions Project has published five, bound guide/indexes, between 450 and 697 pages in length, for the microfilm edition (107 reels), a letterpress collection of select petitions titled “The Southern Debate over Slavery,” and a searchable database ( of nearly 3,000 legislative petitions. With the completion of the Digital Library, scholars and interested members of the public can access a total of 17,500 legislative and county court documents.

Also to come are an additional 48 reels of microfilm and a second book containing 250 petitions. Howell and fellow assistant editor Nicole Marcon Mazgaj are currently selecting petitions for the letterpress sequel that reflect stories from a cross section of states and topics, including race, gender and legal issues. Among the petition writers featured are slaves with famous connections, such as to slaveholder Robert E. Lee and solicitor Francis Scott Key.

“We intend to include boiler plate petitions as well as unique stories,” Mazgaj said. “We will try to show the callousness with the occasional flicker of humanity.”