Robin Petterd, Kit Candlin, and Cassandra Pybus: The Black Loyalist Project: Developing a digital repository to enable eResearch

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Cassandra Pybus (University of Sydney), Kit Candlin (University of Sydney) and Robin Petterd (Sprout Labs)


This paper will explore the development of an online digital repository based on the Book of Negroes and the current and emerging aspects of the project that are relevant to eResearch in the Humanities. The repository is the central project of an international project that aims to undertake a long-overdue interrogation of one of the most significant sources on the slave experience in early American history: the Book of Negroes.

The Book of Negroes is a meticulous record of the personal details of 3,000 runaway slaves whom the British evacuated from the United States to settle as free people in various parts of the Atlantic world at the end of the American Revolution. The paper will explore:

  • The usage of existing web development frameworks to accelerate the development of the project
  • The development of REST API’s for the database
  • The limitations of the written text in conveying the complexity of the many interconnections between the slaves, and the use of
  • Visualizations to convey this complexity
  • The extent and barriers of those visualizations to give specific and detailed information
  • How eResearch is affecting the methodology of the researchers

About the speakers

Robin PetterdRobin Petterd is founder of Sprout Labs. He received a PhD from the Tasmanian School of Art, The University of Tasmania, in 2002. His research interests include experience design, visualisation and human computer interface design.

His work has been included in numerous events across Australia, the USA, and Europe, including Siggraph. He currently helps educators and researchers to transform their work by the application of emerging technologies.





Cassandra Pybus holds the Australian Research Council Chair in History at the University of Sydney and is a Visiting Professor at the Institute of Historical Studies at the University of Texas in Austin. She has published extensively on Australian, American and Transatlantic history, with interests that span as broadly as Australian social history, colonial history in North America, South East Asia, Africa and Australia, slavery and the history of labour. Her most recent books are: “American Citizens British Slaves: yankee political prisoners in an Australian penal colony” (2002); “Epic Journeys of Freedom: runaway slaves of the American Revolution and their global quest for liberty” (2006); “Black Founders: the unknown story of Australia’s First Black Settlers” (2006 and as co-editor with Marcus Rediker and Emma Christopher, “Many Middle Passages: Forced Migration and the Making of the Modern World” (2007). Since 2008 Cassandra has been working on a large digital project to trace the lives of African American loyalists who fled the United States after the War of Independence. She is also working on a collaborative documentary film project to trace African-American lives in Britain in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. She continues to publish widely.

Kit Candlin studied history at the University of Sydney for both his Honours and PHD. Kit’s research interests range broadly across the spectrum of Eighteenth and Nineteenth colonial and imperial studies as well as the history of the Atlantic World.

In 2009 following the successful completion of his PhD, Kit was made a full time research assistant at the University of Sydney to work on a project with Cassandra Pybus, Ira Berlin, Rhys Isaac and Jim Sidbury. This on-going project tracks the lives of hundreds of American ex-slave loyalists who evacuated New York with the British in 1783. The results so far can be viewed online at His first article ‘The Expansion of the Idea of the Refugee in the Early Nineteenth Century Atlantic World’, is due to be published by Slavery and Abolition: the Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Societies) in November 2009.