The University Libraries has selected the University of South Carolina and the University of Virginia to be partners for On the Books: Jim Crow and Algorithms of Resistance, funded by the Mellon Foundation.
On the Books uses text mining and machine learning to identify racist language in North Carolina legal documents during the Jim Crow era (1866-1967). Libraries at the partner institutions will work with the project team at UNC-Chapel Hill to compile machine-readable versions of their states’ laws and identify Jim Crow language in them.
The University of South Carolina and the University of Virginia were selected through a competitive call for proposals. Both partners have diverse project teams made up of experts in legal information, Jim Crow and machine learning.
The University of South Carolina team includes experts from the law school, the libraries, and the Center for Civil Rights History and Research. Kate Boyd, Lance DuPre and Bobby Donaldson will lead the effort. The team will focus on the progression of racist and problematic language in South Carolina’s Jim Crow laws and how these laws uniquely impeded South Carolina’s ability to be a democratic society for all its citizens.
The University of Virginia team is led by Carmelita Pickett and Amy Wharton and comprised of specialists from the library, law library, law school and department of history. It will build on the research of team members Justene Hill Edwards and Andrew Block to investigate the legal architecture of structural racism and how legacies of Jim Crow have shaped current racial inequities.
To achieve these goals, partners will use workflows and documentation developed by Carolina’s On the Books team to create textual datasets of laws. They will also use machine learning techniques developed at Chapel Hill to identify Jim Crow language in the laws.
“We are excited to work with our new partners,” said Amanda Henley, principal investigator for On the Books. “Each has an exciting vision for this project and well-rounded project teams with disciplinary scholars, legal information experts and technical specialists. We plan to improve our workflows based on what we learn and hope that the improvements will make it easier for additional states to pursue this work in the future.”
Kate Boyd is the director of digital services at the University of South Carolina University Libraries.
Lance DuPre is the digital technologies development librarian at the University of South Carolina University Libraries.
Bobby Donaldson is an associate professor of history and director of the Center for Civil Rights History and Research at the University of South Carolina.
Carmelita Pickett is associate University librarian for scholarly resources and content strategy at the University of Virginia Library.
Amy Wharton is the director of the Arthur J. Morris Law Library at the University of Virginia School of Law.
Justene Hill Edwards is an assistant professor of history at the University of Virginia.
Andrew Block is an associate professor of law at the University of Virginia School of Law.
Amanda Henley is the head of digital research services at UNC-Chapel Hill University Libraries.