Rutgers University

From the 2022 Award for Scholarly Distinction citation in the 2023 Annual Meeting Awards Ceremony booklet

Gwendolyn Midlo Hall was professor emerita at Rutgers University. Hall was a pioneering scholar of the African diaspora and the slave trade and the author of six books and dozens of scholarly articles. For 40 years, she established herself as the preeminent expert on the history of African slavery in Louisiana. In addition, she was an innovator in digital humanities, building the first online database of enslaved people, a database that became the inspiration for similar projects, including the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database.

Hall’s best-known book, Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century (1992), uses multiple parish archives from the French and Spanish colonial periods in Louisiana to detail the African backgrounds of the enslaved. Hall was one of the first scholars to demonstrate how African languages and cultures persisted in colonial North America, eventually contributing to Louisiana’s distinct creole culture. Africans in Colonial Louisiana won nine prizes, including from the American Studies Association and the Organization of American Historians.

Hall made extraordinary and enduring contributions to digital scholarship. In 1999, she published a searchable database of more than 100,000 enslaved people identified in Louisiana’s historical records. The database was novel in its ability to sort by categories crucial to social and cultural historians, including fields such as enslaved name, age, sex, African ethnicity, and occupational skill. Hall developed methods that are used widely today to code and to standardize this information, allowing searches across data fields for quantitative analysis. Hall shared her data and methods, collaborating with dozens of scholars around the world to broaden and expand her approach. She also trained genealogists and members of the public how to use her database to recover African American family histories.

For her remarkable scholarly contributions, as well as her fearless civil rights activism, Hall was honored by the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, French and Spanish Ministries of Culture, NAACP, and Whitney Plantation. In 2020, students and faculty at Tulane University removed the name of a segregationist from a campus building and renamed it the Gwendolyn Midlo Hall Building. Hall passed away on August 29, 2022.