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Case Study

Harvard University

Interactive Website and Research Tool

For forty years, historian Richard Dunn, a professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, researched two plantations which consisted of 431 enslaved people consisting of seven multi-generational families in Jamaica and Virginia.

Origins

Harvard University's History Design Studio entrusted Grafton Studio to build a home with heart for this compelling research and data.

This website was to act as a supplementary research tool for the readers of Dunn's book "A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia."

Our Approach

Our main challenge was to display this data in a crisp digital format, and at the same time maintain the heartbeat of four decades of research into the depths of slave life.

In order to maintain the integrity of the story that emerged from Professor Dunn's research, we placed his unique, hand-drawn family diagram - extending over 5 feet - as a central feature of the website. The website proved to be the ideal home for this asset as, given its size, it was not well suited to the book medium.

Although fascinating, the family diagram was relatively illegible. We custom-built a digitized version of the hand drawn family diagram which was also featured on the website, and could be clicked for additional information about each family member.

We also built a family list with search functionality, allowing users to filter family members as they please. Interestingly, Dunn's research pre-dated the first census that included African American slaves, so we included an additional filter which provided relatives of these families the ability to trace their ancestry back further than ever before.

The Result

An easily searchable and beautifully designed website that invites you into the culturally significant, life's work of Richard Dunn, and the troubling history of the american slave trade leading up to the US civil war.

The background and significance of the "Two Plantations" website is discussed on BBC Radio, in an interview featuring Vincent Brown, Director of the History Design Studio at Harvard University:

Take a Listen

“Working with Grafton Studio was not only a productive and satisfying experience, it was enlightening as well. The team's openness to novel ideas, adaptability, and creativity produced a remarkable result. By developing a clean and intuitive design for family diagrams and biographical sketches, Grafton's website highlighted aspects of our data that had been obscured in other renderings, and we learned something new. I very much look forward to our next project together.”
Vincent Brown, Founding Director of the History Design Studio at Harvard University

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