This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

William Blake. Europe, [Frontispiece]. 1794. New York Public Library.

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From runaway slaves to the Bentham papers, a special digital archival edition of this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Runaway Slaves in Britain: bondage, freedom and race in the eighteenth century

Runaway Slaves in Eighteenth-Century Britain Project
University of Glasgow

There were many thousands of people of African, Asian and Indigenous American descent in eighteenth-century Britain. A few such as Olaudah Equiano and Ignatius Sancho became quite famous but we know relatively little about most of these people because so few have left any records of their existence. Some were sailors and dock workers, others were craftsmen, labourers and washerwomen, and still more the domestic servants and workers in the households of elite and mercantile families who had spent time in or had connections with the British Empire’s colonies. Some were free, others were bound and indentured servants, and some were enslaved.

The Runaway Slaves in Eighteenth-Century Britain project has created a searchable database of well over eight hundred newspaper advertisements placed by masters and owners seeking the capture and return of enslaved and bound people who had escaped. Many were of African descent, though a small number were from the Indian sub-continent and a few were Indigenous Americans. To the enslaved flight represented one of the greatest acts of self-determination, and some historians have argued that runaways challenged the slave system from within and contributed to their own and others’ eventual emancipation. While some were not enslaved, many were described by their masters as slaves and property. [continue reading]

New York Public Library’s Rich Digital Collection Has Over 180,000 Images to Download

Jessica Stewart
My Modern Met

The New York Public Library has just made it a lot easier to take advantage of their digital collection. Not only have they released more than 180,000 pieces of digitized information into the public domain, they’ve also made it accessible without having to log in. From the letters of Thomas Jefferson to Farm Security Administration photographs by Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, it’s a virtual treasure trove.

Botanical illustrations, sheet music, vintage phone books, and etchings that span all eras and provenance make the NYPL’s release truly exciting. And in an effort to make the resource user-friendly, the interface has also gotten an upgrade, making it easier to filter by public domain materials and with clear buttons for downloading your finds. For scholars, educators, and researchers, there are also bulk export capabilities and analysis. [continue reading]

Quarterly Release of Newly Digitized Foreign Relations Volumes

History at State

The Department of State today announces the release of newly digitized versions of fifteen volumes from the Foreign Relations of the United States series, the official documentary record of U.S. foreign relations. These volumes cover events that took place between 1874 and 1887 and were originally published in print between 1875 and 1889.

Today’s release is part of the Office of the Historian’s ongoing project, in partnership with the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Center, to digitize the entire Foreign Relations series. The University graciously provided high quality scanned images of each printed book, which the Office further digitized to create a full text searchable edition. These volumes are available online and as free ebooks at the Office of the Historian’s website ( This is the latest in a series of quarterly releases, which will continue until the FRUS digital archive is complete. [continue reading]

Bentham Papers now completely digitised!

Louise Seward
Transcribe Bentham

A monumental day has finally dawned – the digitisation of Bentham’s papers is now complete! The digitisation of Bentham’s writings has always been a central element of the Transcribe Bentham initiative, in order to make his philosophy more accessible to researchers and members of the public.  We have achieved something tremendous – thousands upon thousands of images of Bentham’s manuscripts are now available in electronic form. We owe special thanks to UCL Digital Media Services (Tony Slade and Raheel Nabi especially), UCL Library Special Collections (Mandy Wise, Dan Mitchell and the rest of their team) and The British Library (Sandra Tuppen, Neil Mcowlen and their team) for taking care of the digitisation.  I would also like to thank present and past staff of Transcribe Bentham for the work that they have done to support the digitisation.

We now have digital images from the 173 boxes of Bentham Papers held in Special Collections at UCL, which include Bentham’s thoughts on his Constitutional Code, the Panopticon prison and the Church of England amongst other subjects.   A further 20 boxes of material from The British Library have also been digitised, some of which comprise letters to and from Bentham and his family.  In total, we now have a whopping collection of over 95,000 digitised images (around 80,000 from UCL and 15,000 from The British Library).  These images are linked to detailed metadata prepared by Bentham Project researchers, some of which is available online via the Bentham Papers Database. [continue reading]

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