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Research Highlights

Rare Look at Slaves’ Lives

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Top: From left, Susan Lawrence, Kenneth Winkle, Katherine Walter, Kenneth Price and Elizabeth Lorang

Before the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery across the South, the Compensated Emancipation Act freed all slaves in Washington, D.C. Signed in April 1862, the act produced rare documentation of the era: reimbursement petitions by former slave owners that included names and descriptions of 3,000 African Americans. With a $220,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant, a team of UNL scholars has transcribed hundreds of petitions and published digital versions on the Civil War Washington website. History, English and libraries faculty teamed on the inter-disciplinary digital research project through UNL’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities. The documents reveal the largely overlooked story of these slaves’ lives and elevate the understanding of emancipation in real, human terms, said Kenneth Winkle, Sorensen Professor of American History and project co-leader. “And it is a remarkable story.” 

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