Making "slave ownership" visible in the archival catalogue: findings from a pilot project

Miriam Buncombe, Julia Prest*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This article outlines a pilot project aimed at making ‘slave ownership’ more visible in archival catalogues. The project began with the premise that it is incumbent upon academic communities and record-keepers to make known Britain’s slaving past and the ongoing legacies of that past as part of a drive to dismantle systemic (and often invisible) racism across the sector. Specifically, it explored different ways of cross-referencing the Legacies of British Slave-ownership database ( with the Special Collections catalogue at the University of St Andrews with a view to updating the information provided in the latter. Six methods of identifying matches were trialled, each of which is presented and reflected upon here. Although some methods produced more matches than others, the collective results point towards the need for a multifaceted approach. Our findings also raise important questions about types of involvement in enslavement (direct/indirect), how different levels of certainty regarding the identity of certain individuals might be indicated in the record, and how collection-level and item-level descriptions might be updated. The project also highlights how our own assumptions about who is — and is not — likely to have ‘owned’ enslaved people can influence our very methods for uncovering those people.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)228-247
Number of pages20
JournalArchive and Records
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2022


  • Slavery Compensation Act
  • 'Slave ownership'
  • Enslavers
  • Descriptive practice
  • Cataloguing
  • Legacies of British Slave-ownership database


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