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1856 Project Receives $200K Grant to Investigate Slavery's Ties at UMD

By University Libraries Staff

The University of Maryland’s 1856 Project has been awarded a $200,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation’s Public Knowledge program to establish a two-year research incubator program that will investigate slavery’s ties to UMD and document histories of enslaved individuals, ensuring their stories and contributions are recognized, honored and preserved.

In collaboration with the Lakeland Community Heritage Project, Riversdale Historical Society and Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, The 1856 Project will establish the Research Incubator for Reparative Histories and Social Justice. Campus and community researchers led by Lae'l Hughes-Watkins, co-chair of The 1856 Project and UMD Libraries’ associate director of engagement, inclusion and reparative archiving, and Georgina Dodge, UMD’s vice president for diversity and inclusion, will produce “micro-histories” incorporating firsthand accounts, historical research, cultural anthropology, ethnography and literary practices.

“Receiving this grant from the Mellon Foundation reinvigorates our commitment to confronting historical injustices, promoting dialogue and honoring the contributions of enslaved individuals,” said Hughes-Watkins. “Work resulting from the research incubator will not only enrich the understanding of generations of racialized trauma rooted in the university's past but also contribute to fostering a more inclusive and empathetic campus culture moving forward.”

In addition to funding original research, the grant will support documentation of best practices for similar reparative archives work. Leaders of The 1856 Project, part of the Universities Studying Slavery consortium, plan to develop a model for collaborations between academic institutions and community partners focused on investigating the impact of the slave economy on surrounding communities and the role of academic institutions in perpetuating human subjugation.

The grant will also fund community training sessions to equip emerging researchers with the skills needed to navigate databases, engage in genealogical research and work with archival material. Educational modules developed through the research incubator will be used in courses at UMD and other academic institutions and in public community centers, amplifying the impact of the project beyond the University of Maryland.

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