This piece considers one increasingly important method of bringing the lives of the invisible to light: the digitisation and dissemination of archival historical sources related to slavery and its afterlives. I draw upon personal experience arising from two research projects in the state of Paraíba, Brazil. The first project successfully digitised 266 ecclesiastical and secular documents stored at three institutions: the Waldemar Bispo Duarte Historical Archive; the Paraíba Historical and Geographical Institute in the coastal state capital of João Pessoa; and the Church of Our Lady of the Miracles of Saint John of the Cariri in the town of São João do Cariri in the interior of the state. The project digitised many types of documents, but the most exciting are the baptismal, marriage, and death records, which list the names and places of origin of the free, freed, and enslaved, as well as early land grants from the Portuguese government that describe the terrain in great detail.
A second project, currently underway, focuses on criminal and notarial records (such as wills, land deeds, and other documents that require official stamps and signatures), and is projected to nearly double the first project in size. All of the materials generated by both projects are made accessible via the Ecclesiastical and Secular Sources for Slave Societies (ESSSS) website, which is housed at Vanderbilt University. Both projects have been supported by the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) of the British Library, in turn supported by Arcadia, a fund dedicated to both environmental and historical conservation.
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