Vanderbilt wins top awards at 2024 ARL Film Festival 

Preservation process of the Slave Societies Digital Archive

Quantum Potential, Slave Societies Digital Archive recognized 

Vanderbilt University and the Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries won three awards at the ninth annual Association of Research Libraries Film Festival on May 8 at the Harvard Film Archive in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  

The “ARLies” recognize excellence in multimedia projects that highlight library collections and their impact. This year’s festival featured 34 submissions from major research libraries across North America.  

Vanderbilt’s entry, “AI Unearths Untold Stories: Slave Societies Digital Archive,” picked up the awards for Best Collections-Focused Film, Best Production and Best in Show. The project, part of the university’s Quantum Potential video series, highlights the innovative work of Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of History Jane Landers and Daniel Genkins, digital library architect and curator of the Slave Societies Digital Archive. Landers, Genkins and their collaborators are using artificial intelligence and computer science techniques to scan through thousands of historical documents to assemble the world’s largest colection of records documenting the history of Africans and their descendants across the Atlantic World. The archive is housed at the Heard Libraries.  

“Vanderbilt University’s winning film showcases both a groundbreaking project and the pivotal role of research libraries in preserving our shared cultural history,” ARL Executive Director Andrew K. Pace said. “I congratulate Vanderbilt on these awards, which underscore the vital importance of digital preservation in academic research.”   

Jad Abumrad, Distinguished Research Professor of Cinema and Media Arts and Communication of Science and Technology, created Quantum Potential in collaboration with Vanderbilt Communications and Marketing, and he hosts the series.   

“When I first learned of the Slave Societies Digital Archive and Jane’s work, I was floored,” Abumrad said. “Her team is quite literally re-writing history—or writing it for the first time, because so many of the names on the worm-eaten records she’s recovered exist nowhere else in the historical record. It’s an extraordinary act of un-erasing.”  

“For more than 20 years, my teams have been racing against time to save the endangered history of Africans and their descendants across the Atlantic World,” said Landers, director of the SSDA. “Thanks to Jon and the Heard Libraries, these records are now preserved and accessible to the world, and thanks to Jad and his Quantum Potential project, more people will know about our work.”  

The 2024 awards, Vanderbilt’s first-ever ARLies, mark a milestone achievement for the Heard Libraries, said University Librarian Jon Shaw.  

“This honor highlights Vanderbilt’s commitment to significant historical research and digital preservation and emphasizes the libraries’ dedication to leveraging advanced technologies and fostering radical collaboration to enhance discovery,” Shaw said. “We are immensely proud of this achievement as well as the deep partnerships among our librarians, curators, students and faculty.”