On Reading and Sharing Eighteenth-Century Louisiana Judicial Records

A guest post by Prof. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall

Me July 2018
Gwendolyn Midlo Hall in July of 2018, courtesy of Prof. Hall

Gwendolyn Midlo Hall is a public intellectual and professor who studies histories of enslavement in Latin America, the Caribbean, Louisiana, Africa, and the African Diaspora. In the 1980s and 90s, Prof. Hall and her team of researchers created The Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy (1719-1820) Database. They used archival documents from Louisiana, France, Spain, and Texas to compile information on the background of some 100,000 people enslaved in 18th and 19th-century Louisiana. Her publications include the path-breaking work Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century and Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas: Restoring the Links (2005). Prof. Hall’s reflections on reading and sharing 18th-century Louisiana Judicial Records come in advance of the New Orleans Jazz Museum’s first colonial documents transcribathon. 

Bravo for this wonderful program. I only wish I could attend. Both scholars and genealogists will find a unique world in these documents which have now been digitized and made available online.

Let me tell a little story about how rare and important they are and how difficult they are to read. After my book, Africans in Colonial Louisiana: the Development Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century, first appeared in 1992 relying on these and other rare documents, my colleague Liliane Chauleau, then Director of the Archives of Martinique asked to visit me so she could see the French Superior Council of Louisiana documents.

She told the Director of the National Archives of France about its testimony by slaves. He replied, “What!  Testimony by slaves! We don’t even have testimony by peasants in the Archives of France.” After she saw them she was so impressed we had a lengthy negotiation so she could put the microfilm into the Archives of Martinique.

And she told me something I did not know. She said they had about 50 trained native French speaking archivists in the French West Indies. They could read nineteenth-century documents but she was the only archivist who could read eighteenth-century documents. French historians could not read them either so they wrote only about the nineteenth century. She had attended a special advanced school in Paris, l’Ecole de Chartes to learn how to read them.  She was amazed that I had taught myself how to read them.

But now technology has advanced so we can see them all online on our computers and the transcribathon system will help transcribe them into more readable form. Please do take advantage of this opportunity. You will have a rare, unique skill which is in much demand. And you will enter the new, fascinating world of eighteenth-century New Orleans.

Click HERE to RSVP for the Transcribathon
at the New Orleans Jazz Museum on October 13.

We need collaborators and volunteers! For more information, and to find out how you can get involved, send an email to nolajazztranscribathon@gmail.com or check out the event blog at www.nolajazztranscribathon.wordpress.com

 

 

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