By Published: Feb. 27, 2017

Funding will underwrite research in the emancipation of Africans kidnapped in the 1800s and on the palace intrigue of the last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I

Two University of Colorado Boulder history professors received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities in December, with projects in Elizabethan politics and the emancipation of Africans taken during the outlawed slave trade in the 1800s.

“The NEH is a very important organization for a number of projects” said history Professor Henry Lovejoy about the federally funded research, education, preservation and public programs in the humanities that occur under the NEH umbrella. “For historians, having that support is unbelievable.”

Lovejoy received $50,400 under the NEH-Mellon Fellowships for Digital Publication for his Liberated Africans Project and website (, a clearinghouse of information regarding hundreds of thousands of African slaves who were liberated by British and international courts cracking down on the slave trade.


Henry Lovejoy

He said the funding will allow him time to begin sorting through thousands of digital files regarding the trials held in Brazil, Cuba, St. Helena and Sierra Leone. But the funding also comes at a time in which he is moving the site to a more database-driven format with the help of a Harvard grant and the support of Michigan State’s Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences.

“Between 1808 and 1896, a network of courts emancipated about seven to 10 percent of an estimated 3.5 million enslaved Africans. The Liberated Africans Project attempts to document the lives of over 200,000 people emancipated in the British-led campaign to abolish slavery,” Lovejoy said.

Both the British and the United States outlawed the slave trade in 1807, and though emancipation wouldn’t come to most American slaves until the Civil War, the kidnapping and transporting slaves across the Atlantic was illegal in our country during this time.

More than 1,000 ships were seized, and in about 80 percent of those cases the cargo of enslaved Africans were emancipated. Sadly, most of these people were still subjected to some sort of indentured servitude, but their histories are important both in historical context and, in more human terms, to their descendants.

“But there is a real importance to this historically, as well,” Lovejoy said. “This is also the foundation of some the world’s earliest international human-rights courts.”

Professor Paul Hammer will use his $50,400 fellowship to once again take a long look at a much-maligned figure from the Elizabethan era, Robert Devereux, and that look may change how other scholars interpret literature, music and art from the reign of the last Tudor monarch.

Hammer believes that the casting of Devereux as a traitor to the queen was really just political maneuvering, essentially because Devereux supported the eventual monarch, James the Sixth of Scotland, as the successor to the heirless queen.


Paul Hammer

“The interpretation that was established by the crown’s prosecution of him, which has just been repeated in history, is in itself a partisan, political fabrication,” Hammer said.  Devereux, long a favorite of the queen, was executed in 1601, but Hammer said that the “Essex Rising” that led to this not a revolt but actually a failed attempt to avoid being accused of rebellion.

For instance, Devereux supporters paid Shakespeare’s Troupe to perform Richard II at a public theater in London on the eve of Devereux arrest, which may have been an extremely pointed political statement for the time. Essentially, the political fights were over succession within the world of the English elite, and theater and even art and music were part and parcel of the infighting.

Hammer's project will mark the culmination of many years work and result in a sequel to his first book, “The Polarisation of Elizabethan Politics: The Political Career of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, 1585–1597” published in 1999.

“It seems like a project that I’ve been working on forever – it’s just become enormous,” Hammer said. “But it’s not just a look at the end of the Elizabeth’s reign; it can change the context of understanding a lot of the literature of the English Renaissance, and create a whole new set of interpretations of the art, literature and music of the period.”