Comments on Metadata

Our collaborators over at the University of North Texas have been posting about questions related to metadata in their runaway slave ad database. Use this post to comment on their posts, linking directly to the post(s) you want to respond to.

5 Responses to Comments on Metadata

  1. In relation to this comment, I believe that the geographic locations of the runaways (where they are caught, where they are from, or where their masters think they have gone) is a central element of the questions that can be answered given the advertisement data set. However, the language the master uses to describe the slave is not necessarily accurate to how the slave is treated. Initially in our discussions, we focused on how the advertisements give us information on what the master thinks, but after deeper analysis, we realized that the information is still staged, something that is viewable by the public and something that acts as a performance. In addition, there is no guarantee that the owner himself placed the ad: in the case of larger plantations, the ads could have been written from the perspective of the overseer. Another comment mentioned the usefulness of pairing the census data with the advertisements, which provides an additional source comparison. Along with the slave ads, this information could be grouped to answer some of the questions suggested, even giving an idea of who wrote the ad (based on the size of the plantation.

  2. This post from the collaborating UNT blog mentions the potential importance of Texas’s proximity to Mexico for runaways, as geographical information to include in the metadata. Another important piece of information mentioned is who slaves ran away with, perhaps a friend or relative. As a way to synthesize these important questions, we could ask whether the geographical location near Mexico affected who slaves ran away with. For example, in our class today we discussed the possibility that some slaves might have run away with the assistance of Mexican citizens.

  3. Aaron Braunstein

    Rachel, I read your post Metadata in Regards to Runaway Slave Advertisements and agree on the information you feel important to collect. That said, I think you underestimate the importance of collecting the date of publishing. With that information, we could answer historical questions such as “How long did slaveholders generally wait to advertise their runaways?”

    We might very well discover there are regional differences between Texas and the rest of the South. Perhaps slaveowners published their ads rather quickly in Texas because of the high risk of success among runaways fleeing to Mexico or the Indian nations. The data might also indicate differences in the purpose of running away among slaves. From our class’s readings this semester, I’ve learned that some of the times slaveowners would not advertise their runaways right away because of the popularity of “lying out”-running away to nearby areas for a span of days to weeks to months with the intent of returning, among hard-worked slaves who needed a rest, or who wanted a bargaining chip to improve their conditions or protest being sold or overworked. The data might answer, with some extrapolation, what slaveholders thought the purpose of their slaves running away was, as well as fears they had regarding their ability to retrieve their human property.

    In general, I just recommend collecting as much metadata as possible. Even if a use is not readily apparent, the more data we have, the more questions we can try to answer.

    • Not to mention, the date of ad posting in some situations reflected more when the slaves were needed (i.e. when the demand for their labor was highest) than when they ran away. So it’s not necessarily redundant information. Slaves often ran away for short periods of time to visit family members in other areas with the intent of returning, and with that knowledge in hand, masters wouldn’t advertise them right away. With the metadata, we could look at whether this trend held in Texas, as well. I don’t think it would to the same degree as the rest of the South, where prompt advertising wasn’t as essential to ensure retrieval of their property (for reasons like presence of slave patrols, higher population density that made runaway detection more likely, distance from “free” territories, etc). Slaveholders in Texas might have advertised their runaways more promptly than their counterparts in South Carolina, for example, because the likelihood of their runaway slaves succeeding in making it to Mexico or Indian territories was higher so close to the frontier. But with the data we could investigate.

  4. A lot of the metadata that amph notes aligns well with our discussion today about if patterns of runaway slaves in Texas are different than elsewhere in the south. The geographic information that Amph talks about could help us see if Texas’s proximity to Mexico makes a difference in the frequency or success of runaway slaves. Additionally, knowing if the runaway took animals or weapons with them could help us learn more about slave resistance as well as the role or importance of geography.