From the Cataract House to Canada: African American Activism and the Underground Railroad in the Niagara River Borderland

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Do you possess the design skills to help build a web site that tells the story of African American Activism and the Underground Railroad in the Niagara River Borderland? Do you want to help make an impact on a local, regional and national scale about these important historical events? 

Project description

The project is an intensive, interdisciplinary and collaborative program of research about the Cataract House hotel, the busiest Underground Railroad crossing on the Niagara frontier. Burned in 1945, its foundations lie under Niagara Falls State Park at the rapids above the Falls. The project will compile and interpret new archival information in light of earlier archaeological and remote sensing investigations, to identify places in which hotel employees worked, and where freedom seekers were once hidden. This will culminate in a web site and book illuminating the lives of the hotel's entirely African American staff who helped freedom seekers cross the river, and of the African Canadians who received them on the other shore. Applying borderland theory retrospectively, written in clear English and richly illustrated, the publication will be accompanied by an interactive web site and intensive knowledge mobilization campaign of talks, media coverage, and conferences presentations to reach the widest possible audience.

Project outcome

A comprehensive knowledge mobilization plan will be implemented for the dissemination of the results of the proposed program of interdisciplinary study. This will include the book itself, the development of an long-lived, interactive web site, scholarly lectures delivered at academic conferences relevant to both history and archaeology; popular lectures in public venues; and an extensive media and social media campaign. 

Project details

Timing, eligibility and other details
Length of commitment This is a 3-year project and the web page we create will live long after the project ends, so open to help on varying time scales 
Start time Anytime
In-person, remote, or hybrid? Hybrid project
Level of collaboration Open to suggestions and team approach could involve several students 
Benefits Academic credit
Work study 
Who is eligible All undergraduate students 

Core partners

  • Project Director Dr. Douglas Perrelli, PhD, UB Anthropology
  • Co-Director Dr. Karolyn Smardz Frost, PhD
    Karolyn Smardz Frost was Senior Research Fellow for African Canadian History at York University’s Harriet Tubman Institute for several years and remains an Associate Research Fellow of the Institution. She is an adjunct professor at Acadia and Dalhousie Universities in Nova Scotia.
  • Co-director Dr. Judith Wellman, PhD
    Judith Wellman is Professor Emerita, State University of Oswego, where she taught U.S. history from 1972-2010. Since 2000, she has also been the Founding Director of the award-winning Historical New York Research Associates(, specializing in research, writing, and public speaking for historic sites relating to the Underground Railroad, African American history, historic preservation, and women’s rights in New York State.
  • Heather Lackos, MA, UB Anthropology/Archaeological Survey

  • This will involve collaboration between the publisher, the University at Buffalo and the collaborating scholars, working with sites ranging from the Underground Railroad Interpretive Center at Niagara Falls, New York and the Harriet Tubman National Historic Park at Auburn, New York, through local, state and national organizations. It will be linked to the websites of historic sites, museums, libraries and those of archaeological and historical associations. We will make special efforts to connect with those whose focus is African American and African Canadian heritage, such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture; the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati; the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the African American Museum Association, the Black Canadian Studies Association and the Ontario Black History Society. 

Project mentor

Douglas Perrelli

Clinical Assistant Professor


Phone: (716) 645-2297


Start the project

  1. Email the project mentor using the contact information above to express your interest and get approval to work on the project. (Here are helpful tips on how to contact a project mentor.)
  2. After you receive approval from the mentor to start this project, click the button to start the digital badge. (Learn more about ELN's digital badge options.) 

Preparation activities

Once you begin the digital badge series, you will have access to all the necessary activities and instructions. Your mentor has indicated they would like you to also complete the specific preparation activities below. Please reference this when you get to Step 2 of the Preparation Phase. 

Reading and familiarizing with the UGRR context and book/webpage materials we are beginning to collect, meeting with the project team to better understand goals and aspirations for the public/digital dissemination of information, all materials will be provided by the project team 

  1. Article 1
  2. Article 2
  3. Article 3
  4. Article 4


Anthropology, archaeology, humanities, borderlands, slavery Underground Railroad, freedom seekers, archival, research, web site production, digital humanities, public outreach