Ethical Commitments

As a collaborative group of library and archives workers, historians, and technologists, the Core OTG Team is working to create a linked open data descriptive model sufficient to represent the lived experiences of the enslaved people who labored for colleges and universities. We have approached our work from a perspective of radical empathy and have centered the enslaved lives in all aspects of our discussions and work. Together, we have proceeded with the following ethical principles in mind:

  1. We acknowledge the centuries-long effort to dehumanize Black and Indigenous people through enslavement and racist practices. We are committed to centering the humanity of Black and Indigenous people in all aspects of our work.
  2. We acknowledge that historically archival materials have not been described in a way that enables access to the stories of the enslaved. We are committed to identifying as many enslaved people within the archival sources as possible, and to specifically describing their lived experiences in an ethical way.
  3. We acknowledge that the creators of the archival materials did not recognize the humanity of the enslaved people they described. As such, the records often written in forms we might regard as neutral (such as accounting forms) are artifacts of this dehumanization. We are committed to reading them for evidence of human strength and struggle that they contain. We acknowledge that to clearly and specifically describe these experiences is to describe trauma and oppression, as well as instances of joy and human connection.
  4. We acknowledge that we are a core project team of white individuals at primarily white serving institutions who bring inherent biases to our work. We are committed to the ongoing process of identifying those biases and trying to remediate them. We are grateful for the engagement and collaboration that helps us address these issues.
  5. We acknowledge that digital systems and infrastructures are never neutral. In creating a linked open data descriptive framework, we are committed to building a technical infrastructure that is oriented toward reparative and anti-racist practices. That commitment plays out in the way that we assemble existing and create new descriptive properties, in the language we use in our controlled vocabularies, and in the supporting documentation we develop to assist others in deploying the model.
  6. We acknowledge that for too long the history of enslaved people and their experiences has been held within the academy. In producing an open access digital project, we are committed to facilitating unfettered access to the information developed in the course of our work. Furthermore, in developing a shared descriptive model, we are committed to facilitating others in undertaking similar projects to surface and describe the lives of the enslaved people who labored for their institutions.
  7. We also acknowledge that engaging with the evidence of the myriad types of violence inherent in the slave system takes a significant toll on all who work with these collections, including archival workers and researchers alike. We are committed to acknowledging that vicarious trauma and to developing labor conditions that support archival workers through those experiences. To support researchers, we are committed to raising awareness of trauma as evidenced within these collections.
  8. We acknowledge that the project of reparative description is an unfinished one. We are committed to working transparently and collaboratively with other memory workers, slavery studies scholars, and descendants to develop systems and practices that are attuned to respecting the lives of the enslaved.

In drafting these statements, we were influenced by the thought and work of many groups and individuals to do ethical description and digital work.