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Database Description

Definition

A “slave house” includes all the domestic slave buildings in which housing was one of the functions of the building.  It was very common for slaves to work and live in the same building. This is especially true for kitchens and washhouses, because these services were in high demand.

 

“To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.”

-Voltaire

Project Description

The “Slave House Database” is a central repository for information and data pertinent to all the known slave houses in the United States. The Database is designed to include geographic information; ownership history; local, state and national historic listings; architectural information; completed surveys and documentation; archaeological excavations; census data; genealogical references and ex-slave narrative descriptions. The Database is a crosswalk for diverse fields (architecture, architectural history, anthropology, archaeology, historic preservation, history, genealogy and folk culture) to access and reference. The Slave House Database can be used to identify, locate, analyze and interpret slave houses, as well as connect to other existing resources.

Two key features of the Database are that it is publically accessible and is keyword searchable. Currently, the database contains over 26,300 files describing a slave house and its occupants. Each image has keywords associated with it that allows the user to easily search for any aspect of the slave house or its occupants. The Database includes both a dictionary and a thesaurus of terms specific to slave houses. The dictionary provides a detailed definition for all the words or phrases that have been used historically to describe the people and architecture of slavery. The thesaurus is an effort to create a uniform glossary of terms that uses accurate descriptive terminology in place of euphemisms.  The goal of the thesaurus is to help shape future scholarship and aid researchers in their investigations of the historical record.

The Slave House Database has two parts – documentation and interpretation. The documentation is the visual representation of the spaces; and the interpretations are descriptions of the spaces from the actual inhabitants who lived and worked there during slavery. The architectural drawings and images of slave houses represent snapshot in time. In this context, slave houses are considered artifacts, and like all artifacts, they can convey important messages about their makers, occupants and uses. The most direct way of getting at an accurate interpretation of the uses, activities and feelings associated with the historic slave house is through the accounts left by the former slaves themselves. The narratives recorded from former slaves by the Federal Writers’ Project breathe life into the two-dimensional drawings and photographs of slave houses.