Date ArticleType
2/14/2020 Member News

National Archives Awards $250,000 Grant to La Florida: Interactive Digital Archives of the Americas

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Feb. 13, 2020) - La Florida: The Interactive Digital Archives of the Americas housed at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg has been awarded a $250,000 major initiatives grant from the National Archives.


The grant will go towards a new La Florida initiative titled “Europeans, Indians, and Africans: Lost Voices from America’s Oldest Parish Archive, 1594-1821,” which is designed to make St. Augustine's diocesan archives accessible to a global audience. These ecclesiastical records, which number around 9,000 handwritten documents, provide rare insight into the daily lives and relationships of the multi-ethnic population of Europeans, Africans and Native American residents that comprised the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the continental U.S.


The work from this collaborative initiative will end up on the La Florida digital platform, allowing teachers, students, scholars and the general public to view, conduct searches on individuals and demographic changes and create custom infographics from the entire collection.


“Receiving this grant from the National Archives reinforces that we have a project here and Florida has a history that speaks to an audience that is much broader than the state, and resonates with a national and a global audience,” said Dr. J. Michael Francis, Executive Director of La Florida and the Hough Family Endowed Chair of Florida Studies at USF St. Petersburg. “It is a testament to just how fascinating these records are.”


Piecing together clues about the little-known lives of Native Americans, free and enslaved Africans, and “conquistadors” from Europe, La Florida brings early Florida's diverse population to life through short videos, interactive maps and a searchable population database. It weaves together the lives and events of more than three centuries of Florida's colonial past, from Juan Ponce de León's 1513 expedition to 1821, when Florida became a U.S. territory.


The two-year “Lost Voices” initiative will build on the expertise of paleographers, historians and translators to transcribe and translate the entire collection of St. Augustine's colonial ecclesiastical documents, which are largely written in Spanish, along with hundreds of Latin documents. The collection includes baptism, confirmation, marriage and death records, including a 1598 baptism entry of a German-Native American child named Lucas, the oldest recorded mixed-race baptism in any region of what would become the United States.


Other documents identify the names of dozens of runaway slaves who risked their lives to escape English plantations in search of freedom in Spanish Florida.


“These records give us biographical sketches and can help us track individuals through time. When combined with other records from Florida and Spain, we can flesh out stories of individuals that hardly ever appear in historical records, such as women and Native Americans and free and enslaved African Americans,” explained Francis.


Some of the individuals recorded in the parish records were buried in St. Augustine's historic Tolomato Cemetery. Lost Voices will enable historians to connect individuals in the cemetery to their actual historical records and start geotagging events in those individuals’ lives. The people documented in these records will also be added to a searchable population database, allowing users to link individuals to the original records in which they appear.


La Florida’s fundamental goal is to combine cutting-edge technology with rigorous historical research in order to share Florida’s colonial history in compelling and innovative ways,” said Rachel Sanderson, Associate Director of La Florida.


Out of 20 nationwide proposals, La Florida was one of only four to receive grant funding from the National Archives’ Access to Historical Records: Archival Projects program. The grant program supports projects that promote access to America’s historical records to encourage understanding of democracy, history and culture.


About USF St. Petersburg

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg (USFSP) is a separately accredited, research-active institution. USFSP offers more than 40 undergraduate and graduate programs in three colleges: Arts and Sciences, Business, and Education. USFSP is recognized for its significant commitment to community involvement and civic engagement by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. For more information, visit