Nebraska Forum on Digital Humanities

Digital Legal Studies Plenary & Webinar Registration

Sponsored by the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, American Society of Legal History, University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Law, and the Digital Legal Research Lab.


October 6, 5:30-7:00PM
University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Law, 109 or Zoom
Holly Brewer, Linford Fisher, Julia Lewandoski
Richard Leiter, Director of the Schmid Law Library and Professor of Law
Kevin Abourezk, Community Welcome

A scholarly discussion of digital humanities tools and approaches uniquely suited to community-engaged projects drawing on archival legal materials. Will Thomas will moderate the conversation and invite each scholar to describe their projects and the strategic choices built into those projects. The audience will be encouraged to ask their own questions about public-facing projects and the unique challenges inherent to digital analysis of archival legal material.

The Nebraska Forum on Digital Humanities is a regular event that has been hosted by the CDRH since 2006. Though it has taken different forms over the years, it has maintained its focus on highlighting the work of early career scholars and the diverse intellectual activity of the digital humanities field. After a brief hiatus, we are pleased to welcome the Forum back in 2022.

If you cannot attend the plenary in-person, you may register for the webinar on this page.

Full Schedule of Events


October 6, 2022

10:00-11:30: Structuring Legal Data in Critical Ways

Dinsdale Family Learning Commons, 235
Katrina Jagodinsky, Beth Redbird, Lydia Curliss
Vice Chancellor Bob Wilhelm, Welcome

Our panel examines creative and critical models for structuring legal data to highlight the tensions and contradictions that make up the American legal landscape. With projects that span the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we invite discussion from the audience about the unique challenges legal data poses and the tools we can use to facilitate user-friendly and interoperable projects.

Beth Redbird is working with a comprehensive database of 1,053 tribal constitutions or amendments from 304 tribes (88% of the currently 345 federally recognized Indian tribes in the continental U.S.), representing nearly 150 years of tribal constitutional history. Her team has developed a comprehensive coding scheme to map constitutional provisions and track historical change over time.

Katrina Jagodinsky is building a database that currently holds roughly 500 habeas petitions and will eventually include more than 6,000 from throughout the American West. Using XML and CSV tools, Jagodinsky aims to structure legal data in ways that highlight marginalized people’s engagement with the law and aspires to develop an interoperable interface that can ingest multiple types of legal case data.

Lydia Curliss will discuss her work with the Stolen Relations Project, emphasizing the digital methods most suited to projects concerned with Indigenous knowledge, archival collections, accessibility, ethical care of Indigenous collections, and community based archival and research practices. She is interested in researching the infrastructures of Tribal community archives, and rematriation of archival collections back to Tribal communities.

11:45-1:15: Provided Boxed Lunch

Dinsdale Family Learning Commons, 2nd floor Collaboration Space (202)

1:30-3:00: Histories of Slavery & Freedom-Making with Digital Tools

Dinsdale Family Learning Commons, 235
Will Thomas, Holly Brewer, Cory Young
Dean of Libraries Claire Stewart, Welcome

Our panel highlights three digital legal history projects, each engaged in using digital tools to document, analyze, and make accessible records related to slavery, law, and freedom-making. Holly Brewer's Slavery Law & Power project aims to bring together disparate sources that help to explain the long history of slavery and its connection to struggles over imperial authority in colonial America. The project's edited collection of court cases, statutes, administrative documents, and letters and accounts concentrate on the unfolding contest over slavery and other forms of unfreedom in 17th and 18th century British and American law.

Cory Young's A Just and True Return: A Dataset of Pennsylvania's Surviving County Slave Registries contains information about more than 6,300 Black people and their enslavers from extant registries across fifteen Pennsylvania counties. Pennsylvania's 1780 gradual abolition law required enslavers to register with their county clerk any people they wished to continue holding in lifetime slavery and later laws added children. JATR is the first effort to compile all surviving registration data in a single location, provides access to biographical information, and tracks slavery’s continuation during "gradual" abolition in the northern United States.

Will Thomas' O Say Can You See: Early Washington, D.C. Law and Family brings together every freedom suit filed in Washington, D.C., including those in Alexandria, Va., and all predecessor cases in Maryland and Virginia related to these freedom suits. The project's encoding schema seeks to note every relationship (witnesses, jurors, lawyers, and family members, etc. . . ) mentioned in the court documents for each case, collectively more than 50,000 relationships across more than 500 lawsuits).

The panel will highlight each project briefly and discuss the possibilities and limitations of digital tools for the history of slavery and freedom making. In particular, we will ask whether digital legal history has the capacity to support a broader public reckoning with the history of slavery in the United States.

5:30-7:00: Plenary In-Person & Webinar (Reception to Follow)

See above for more information and registration.

October 7, 2022

10:00-11:30: Decolonizing Maps and Treaties: DH Approaches to Empire

Dinsdale Family Learning Commons, 235
Julia Lewandoski, Jeannette Eileen Jones, Ng'ang'a Wahu-Mũchiri
Dean of College of Arts & Sciences Mark Button, Welcome

Our panel examines historical maps and treaties produced during the nineteenth century in the context of expanding imperialism in North America and Africa. We interrogate DH tools themselves, like ArcGIS, as representations of space. How can these technologies do more than replicate colonial aesthetics?

Julia Lewandoski uses ArcGIS to explore vernacular mapping practices that display social and kinship networks of Indigenous landownership in Mexican and U.S. California between 1840 and 1870.

Jeannette Eileen Jones uses TEI to explore treaties signed between the United States and African polities before the 1884 Berlin Conference that led to partition of Africa.

Ng’ang’a Wahu-Mũchiri works on The Ardhi Initiative, an online curation of Nineteenth century land treaties from eastern, southern, and west Africa.

Land Acknowledgment Statement

"We would like to begin by acknowledging that the University of Nebraska is a land-grant institution with campuses and programs on the past, present, and future homelands of the Pawnee, Ponca, Oto-Missouria, Omaha, Dakota, Lakota, Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Kaw Peoples, as well as the relocated Ho-Chunk, Iowa, and Sac and Fox Peoples. Please take a moment to consider the legacies of more than 150 years of displacement, violence, settlement, and survival that bring us together here today. At the University of Nebraska, we respect and seek out inclusion of differences, realizing we can learn from each other, and we look forward to building long-lasting relationships with the Indigenous People of Nebraska." - Chuck Hibberd, Nebraska Extension Emeriti