UVA’s IATH Launches its Latest Humanities Project Website ‘Virginia Emigrants to Liberia’ Facilitates Local and Trans-Atlantic Research

October 24, 2023

Today, the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) launched a greatly enhanced and expanded Virginia Emigrants to Liberia website. The National Endowment for the Humanities funded the project with a Humanities’ Collections and Reference Resources award.

The website will facilitate grassroots-level research on Black Virginians who emigrated to the west coast of Africa under the auspices of the American Colonization Society, and together established the colony of Liberia. In 1847, the colony became the first independent republic in Africa, with Virginian Joseph Jenkins Roberts elected its first president. The heart of the website, the major enhancement, is a dataset that reveals often detailed information on 3,882 emigrants, 157 potential emigrants, and about 350 white agents—slaveholders, emancipators, facilitators, and supporters—associated with specific emigrants and colonization efforts. Much of the information comes from the voluminous Records of the American Colonization Society housed at the Library of Congress, and myriad other sources.

This website shares and builds upon the research of Dr. Marie Tyler-McGraw, whose book, An African Republic: Black and White Virginians in the Making of Liberia, explores the web of connections in Virginia and across the Atlantic. The second major enhancement is that the database provides links in the records of the individuals to digital images of more than 1,000 letters and other primary sources that document those individuals. Together, these resources illuminate family and community life across the color line on both sides of the Atlantic, as people wrestled with issues of daily life, slavery and freedom, race and citizenship. They are rich in information that is scarce on Black individuals in that era, including surnames, ages, family relationships, occupations, literacy, religion, and enslavers’ names and localities.

Records of emigration reveal a complex web of motives and hopes that drove people to fund and to risk a dangerous voyage from one hostile environment to another. We hope to be able to build on this work to connect with descendants of the emigrants on both sides of the Atlantic and to explore the long consequences of these journeys.

Virginia Emigrants to Liberia was made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom. Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

IATH is a research unit established by the University of Virginia in 1992, now part of the University of Virginia Library. The team’s goal is to explore and develop information technology as a tool for scholarly humanities research. Their research projects and websites are the products of a unique collaboration between humanities and computer science research faculty, independent historians and researchers, computer professionals, student assistants and project managers, and library faculty and staff.