Suggested Digital Activities

Activity #1: Understanding Slavery through Eighteenth-Century Newspapers

Using the Bentley Rare Book Museum's collection of eighteenth-century newspapers, have students search for and analyze advertisements and notices featuring enslaved people and/or people in servitude. Students should reflect on the following questions:

  1. Consider the title of the newspaper. Based on this title, what type of content can you expect to find? Describe the layout of the newspaper.​ Is it easy to read? Why or why not?

  2. Describe the range of advertisements and pay special attention to advertisements featuring enslaved people or people in servitude. What do you find most interesting/surprising/challenging about these advertisements?​

  3. Select two advertisements featuring enslaved people and/or people in servitude. Compare and contrast the content, structure, and context surrounding these advertisements.
  4. Consider how these eighteenth-century newspapers fit into the wider archival landscape. Whose voices are we hearing through these records and whose voices are we not hearing? Why is this important?

Additional Readings/Resources:

  • The Classic Slave Narratives edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. (1987; latest edition published in 2012)

  • "Pretends to Be Free": Runaway Slave Advertisements from Colonial and Revolutionary New York and New Jersey by Graham Russell et. al. (reprinted in 2019). 

Activity #2: Surveying Manuscript and Print Culture in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

Using digitized excerpts of manuscripts and printed materials from medieval and early modern Europe, have students critically analyze each text as a historical artifact. Students should reflect on the following questions:

  1. Discuss the structural differences between manuscripts and printed texts. What types of materials were used to create them?

  2. What common themes/subjects are represented in these texts? How is this indicative of Renaissance culture?

  3. Closely observe how words are used and structured in each of the texts. Consider fonts, languages, spellings, spacings, abbreviations, etc. How do these variations affect your reading experience?

  4. Many of these texts contain written or printed commentary in the margins. What are the benefits of marginalia, and how can it serve as historical evidence?

Additional Readings/Resources:

  • Scribes and Illuminators by Christopher de Hamel (1992)

  • The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe by Elizabeth L. Eisenstein (1983; latest edition reprinted in 2012)