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Freedom on the Move: Discovering the Plight of Runaway Slaves in the United States

Presenter 1
Ed Baptist
Cornell University
Presenter 2
Jeremy Williams
Cornell University
Presenter 3
Bill Block
Cornell University

Slavery is one of the most traumatic and defining aspects of United States history. Despite this fact, there is a paucity of machine actionable data about the individuals who were bought and sold as slaves in the United States. Substantial information does exist, however, in the form of advertisements, placed by enslavers, in antebellum newspapers. These advertisements included any detail that might help readers identify the fugitive: the name, height, build, appearance, clothing, literacy level, language, accent and so on of the runaway, but are not in formats that are amenable to analysis. Led by Cornell University, Freedom on the Move (FOTM) is a comprehensive and highly collaborative effort to transcribe and parse an estimated 100,000 advertisements using OCR and crowd-sourcing to create a new academic data resource. The data is stored in a relational database which is described and published using DDI-DISCO and W3C-PROV ontologies. This paper will introduce the project, provide an overview of the system architecture, and describe how FOTM hopes to use semantic metadata to facilitate discovery by researchers, data citation, and interoperability with other datasets.

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