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Princeton & Slavery Project Launches Website

Lawrence Charles B. Samuel Stanhope Smith 1750–1819, Class of 1769, President 1795–1812.

By Doug Wallack

On Monday, November 6, the Princeton & Slavery Project—an initiative of Princeton University—launched its website as a means of publicizing its ongoing research into the University’s relationship with the institution of slavery. Visitors to the site can find over 80 articles that, for instance, tease out the links between the fortunes of the University’s early benefactors and slavery, or examine the slave holdings of University presidents, trustees, and other affiliates. Also included online are hundreds of primary documents, data visualizations and maps that track the proportional enrollment of southern students at Princeton, and video documentaries in which students and alumni reflect on their own families’ relationships to slavery. 

The Princeton & Slavery Project was initiated by Professor Martha Sandweiss, who, after joining Princeton’s history department in 2009, learned that the University had never undertaken a substantial scholarly accounting of its own ties to slavery. In an effort to redress this shortcoming, in 2013, Sandweiss organized an undergraduate seminar to investigate the topic. What started as a class and an opportunity for students to practice archival research grew into a multi-year interdepartmental research initiative, with participation not only from undergrads, but also from graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, faculty, and staff. 

The project is a remarkable research effort and work of public history that stands to reshape the thinking of both University affiliates and Princeton area residents. Among its many discoveries, the project has revealed that the first nine presidents of the University were at one point in their lives slave owners (though the researchers have not found evidence that the University as an institution ever owned slaves). 

 On November 16-19, on the heels of the website launch, the Princeton & Slavery Project will host numerous discussions, performances, and a symposium (which will include Toni Morrison as the keynote speaker), and on November 18-19, McCarter Theatre will premiere seven short one-act plays intended to expand the discussion of Princeton and slavery beyond the limits of academic history. For more information on the upcoming programming, visit slaverysymposium.princeton.edu.

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