Slave Biographies

Last week, I discussed the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database and two of its offshoot projects, the African Names Database and the African Origins Project.  While the focus of my piece was meant to be on the quantitative data on slaving voyages, readers responded most strongly to these connected projects, which aim to recover lost names and identities of peoples sold in the slave trade.  I had already planned to discuss Slave Biographies, a project with a similar aim, but this seems all the more important given the reactions last week.

Slave Biographies is an open-access data of the identities of enslaved peoples in the Atlantic World, combining data compiled from communities in Maranhão, Brazil (collected by Walter Hawthorne) and colonial Louisiana (compiled by Gwendolyn Midlo Hall).  Included in the data are the names, ethnicities, skills, occupations, and illnesses of individual slaves.  Like the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, Slave Biographies is completely downloadable in its entirety; you can download all 108,500 entries to the database (100,000 of those from Louisiana and 8,500 from Brazil).  You can also analyze the entries that you find using the search function through the site’s analytical parameters which allow users to explore each individual data set, sorting entries by owners, race, skills, health, region, and age.

The next phase of the project aims to expand on the initial datasets from Brazil and Louisiana.  Inviting researchers to contribute their own sources (more information on the contribution process is available here), the project aims to “make data about Atlantic slavery widely available to scholars, teachers, and the public.”  Though the list of resources provided shows the wide range of data on the slave trade available online (a list that will be of great interest to researchers, in particular), it is pretty exciting to think about what is still out there, waiting to be digitized and made available online.  Thousands of people, lost in the historical record, waiting to be discovered.  It’s a thrilling thought.

I’ll be taking a brief break next Friday for the holidays, but I’ll be back in 2015 with World War 1 Africa.  As always, feel free to send me suggestions in the comments or via Twitter of sites you want us to cover in future editions of Digital Archive.

**This post is dedicated to the memory of Jeff Guy, a brilliant historian who reveled in the thrill of historical discovery and recognized the value of digital scholarship.**

Liz Timbs

PhD Candidate in History at Michigan State University, Studying gendered ethnic identity amongst Zulu-speaking people. Advocate for Digital Humanities.

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