A New Online Database: “Enslaved: Peoples of the Historic Slave Trade”

From the Smithsonian Magazine web site:

A detail from a page in a 1767 slave inventory from Maranhao, Brazil. It lists the household slaves belonging to a judge in the city, including their ages and birthplaces. (Walter Hawthorne III)

The study of the historic slave trade depends on numbers—the 12.5 million people kidnapped from Africa and shipped to the New World between 1525 and 1866, the 10.7 million who survived the two-month voyage, the 3.9 million enslaved in the United States just before the Civil War. These figures are horrifying, but at the same time their very enormousness can have a numbing effect, which is why contemporary historians are increasingly turning to biography.

“Individual stories make a difference,” says Leslie Harris, a historian at Northwestern University, who writes about and teaches the history of slavery. “We do need to know the vast numbers that we’re talking about, that this was the largest forced migration in history, but when you begin to talk about these big concepts in terms of individual lives, you can better understand what these things mean.”

Daryle Williams, a historian at the University of Maryland, is one of the principal investigators of a massive new online database called “Enslaved: Peoples of the Historic Slave Trade,” which will launch in 2020. It aims to serve as a clearinghouse for information about enslaved people and their captors. Headquartered at Matrix, the Center for Digital Humanities & Social Sciences at Michigan State University, and funded by a founding $1.5 million grant from the Mellon Foundation, Enslaved will serve as a hub for many smaller digitization projects, Freedom Narratives among them. For the first time, says Williams, anyone from academic historians to amateur genealogists will be able trace individuals, families, ethnic groups and populations through dozens, hundreds or even thousands of archives, making connections that will enrich our understanding of slavery.

“This tool,” Williams says, “will have the potential to show that even in the context of this horrible crime, there are still threads that hold people’s lives together.”

You can read the full story in an article by Amy Crawford in the Smithsonian Magazine web site at: http://bit.ly/2PZq26F.

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