Grant Will Help Librarians Examine Jim Crow Laws Through Lens of Data

December 14, 2018

A newly awarded grant will help librarians at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill explore the laws and legacy of Jim Crow in groundbreaking ways.

The University Libraries was named Wednesday as part of the first cohort for Collections as Data – Part to Whole. The national initiative is based at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and the University of Iowa. It distributes funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation toward projects that approach library collections as rich data sources.

At Carolina, a team composed of librarians and a disciplinary scholar will undertake the project “On the Books: Jim Crow and the Algorithms of Resistance,” which received an award of $59,267.

Using optical character recognition and machine learning, the team will build a text corpus of North Carolina session laws from the end of the Civil War through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and will then compile a listing of North Carolina’s Jim/Jane Crow laws. This effort builds upon work done by civil rights pioneer Pauli Murray in the 1950s.

Additional products will be a website for educators and researchers, a white paper describing methodologies, a code repository and presentations, including a workshop for the Triangle Digital Humanities Institute.

The 16-month project will begin in January. The investigators are librarians Nathan Kelber (principal investigator and project lead), Lorin Bruckner, Sarah Carrier, María Estorino, Amanda Henley (co-principal investigator) and Matt Jansen, along with historian William Sturkey.

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