Issac T. Hopper Project

Illustration of Isaac T. Hopper

Liz Regosin, Professor of History, is working with the Digital Scholarship Group to develop a dynamic website focused on Isaac T. Hopper. Hopper was an American abolitionist active in Philadelphia in the prison-reform, anti-slavery movements, and protecting fugitive slaves and free blacks from slave kidnappers.

In preparation for an upcoming seminar, Regosin has focused on materials created by Hopper. Regosin states, "On a trip to the New York Public Library archives two years ago, I came across the 'Diary' (record keeping document) of the head of the Committee on Discharged Convicts for the newly formed (1844) Prison Association of New York (PANY). At the time, I knew I had found something special:  a beautifully documented collection of over 500 pages that took account of every single person–man or woman–who came to the PANY office in New York City for some kind of assistance after having been released from prison in New York State. There is nothing like this out there among the published documents; indeed, historians often lament the dearth of information about the lives and experiences of the incarcerated (from their own perspective) in the 19th century."   

I spent my sabbatical taking a deep dive into this collection. Early in my sabbatical, with the help of both funds from my Dana professorship and the History department’s Vilas Faculty Research funds, I went back to the archives to work on collecting more material from the diary. At that point, I had already taken images of about 15% of the diary. It soon became clear that if I were to do any serious work with the diary, I’d have to have it digitized. Thanks to Vilas funding, I was able to do that (and the NY Public Library now is able to post a PDF of the diary online for all users).

Doing History

Regosin notes, "Another project I’ll be doing is using the diary as the basis of a 300-level seminar on 'Doing History' in the spring. At this stage of planning, my thought is that the students and I will build a website that offers transcription and annotation of the diary that maps all the many geographic elements of the diary (incarceration sites, clients’ residences, places of business that hired discharged convicts, etc.), and allows the students to research and blog about their findings. We’ll read Child’s biography of Hopper, look at the NAS, explore Hopper’s 'Tales of Oppression,' and look at the PANY Annual Reports. I’m hoping to share the wonderful experience of discovery with my students."

Project team