This review was published in the September 2013 issue of Library Journal. It is reprinted here with permission.
By Cheryl LaGuardia
Product: Southern Life and African American History, 1775–1915, Plantations Records I; Slavery and the Law
CONTENT: ProQuest History Vault is a remarkable full-text, full-image database comprised of multiple subject modules providing full access to digitized letters, papers, photographs, scrapbooks, financial records, diaries, and other historical primary-source documents.
This review is of Southern Life and African American History, 1775–1915, Plantations Records, Part 1, module 6 of History Vault, and the closely related module 4, Slavery and the Law (for a full list of History Vault modules, see the LibGuide).
Items in Southern Life and African American History, 1775–1915, Plantations Records, Part 1 (SLAAH) come from major repositories throughout the South, including the South Carolina Library, University of South Carolina; the Maryland Historical Society; Tulane University; the Louisiana State Museum; Louisiana State University; and the Virginia Historical Society. The module includes two series: Records of Ante-Bellum Southern Plantations from the Revolution Through the Civil War and Records of Southern Plantations from Emancipation to the Great Migration. Material here includes plantation journals, crop books, overseers’ journals, account books, personal diaries, and business and personal correspondence. [For a fuller description of the collection, see the ProQuest LibGuide, Southern Life and African American History, 1775–1915, Plantations Records, Part 1 (Module 6).]
Items in the Slavery and the Law (SAL) module come from the state archives and local courthouses of Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. They include just about every legislative petition on the subject of race and slavery from 1789 to 1865, as well as State Slavery Statutes, the record of the laws governing American slavery during that period. [See the ProQuest LibGuide, Slavery and the Law (Module 4).]
USABILITY: The History Vault interface is blessedly clear and straightforward: at screen top is a toolbar that includes links to advanced search, browse events and collections, and LibGuides. A simple search box is accompanied by a list of suggested searches, such as agricultural labor, Confederate army, free persons of color, Reconstruction, and women and property. The browse events box offers links to information on military campaigns and battles and slaves and slavery; clicking on a subject reveals a time line of events significant to the history in that module, from which users can retrieve relevant documents. The browse collections box allows users to enter the individual collections in the module, beginning with essay introducing the collection.
Clicking one of SLAAH’s suggested searches, “Sale of slave children,” resulted in 526 results of mostly petitions to the court about buying and selling slave children in harrowing detail and businesslike language. A search for Richard Henry Lee in all fields excluding full-text retrieved 32 results, the first 22 or so of which were Lee’s letters and speeches, followed by about 10 false hits. When I looked at screen left after doing the search, however, I saw a limiting link for “Person as Subject” and clicked it to find 19 spot-on results.
A browse of the State Slavery Statues in SAL pulled up 848 results from 1789 to 1865—invaluable, detailed material that will be gold to scholars of American history.
Documents are downloaded as PDFs, and for lengthy items, that can mean multiple downloads. However, comparing the time and effort it would take to locate, access, and record the originals for individual scholars makes this a negligible carp.
The virtually exhaustive content of plantation records and court documents available here is astonishing, bringing to the scholar’s desktop a treasure trove of historical material on the Southern economy from 1789 to 1865, interwoven with the personal and legal realities of the slave trade and system. The accessibility of the content is excellent, and the digitized images are surprisingly clear and readable, given their age. ProQuest-produced LibGuides that accompany both modules add considerably to the files’ ease of use.
PRICING: Southern Life and African American History, 1775–1915, Plantations Records I is sold either as a subscription or a perpetual archive. Price is based on a number of variables, including FTE. An academic library with an enrollment of 5,000 can expect to pay about $9,464 for a perpetual archive, or $1,893 for an annual subscription.
VERDICT: These SLAAH and SAL modules of History Vault are extraordinary, necessary historical resources. Highly recommended for libraries serving serious scholars of Southern, African American, and women’s history.
Cheryl LaGuardia is a Research Librarian for the Widener Library at Harvard University and author of Becoming a Library Teacher (Neal-Schuman, 2000). Readers can contact her at email@example.com.