Atlantic World Slave Database Conference

This is a call for papers for an international conference, "Databasing Individual Slaves in the Atlantic World: 15th through 19th Centuries." A major objective is to encourage collaboration among scholars databasing slaves by presenting, interpreting, discussing, coordinating, and moving towards integrating and preserving the many slave databases in various stages of development and construction initiated during the past decade or more by scholars studying the Afro-Atlantic world while offering assistance to those seeking to create new slave databases.

In 2011, with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, MSU’s History Department and MATRIX initiated Biographies: The Atlantic Slave Data Network (ASDN). We seek to provide a platform for researchers to upload, analyze, visualize, and utilize data they have collected, and to link it to other databases which together will complement each other in ways to create a much richer resource than the individual databases alone. There is a significant need for such a collaborative research platform. During the past two decades, there has been a seismic change in perception about what we can know about African slaves and their descendants throughout the Atlantic World (Africa, Europe, North and South America). 

East African slaves aboard the Daphne, a British Royal Navy vessel

Scholars have realized that, far from being either non-existent or extremely rare, various types of rich documentation about African slaves abound in archives, courthouses, newspapers, prisons, churches, government offices, museums, ports, and private collections. Since the 1980s, a number of major databases were constructed in original digital format and used in major publications of their creators. But they have lacked a platform for preservation and therefore are at risk of being lost as their creators retire. A growing number of collections of original manuscript documents have been digitized and are beginning to be made accessible free of charge over the Web. However, our task as historians is more than to preserve images of primary sources, but to interpret those sources by finding new ways to organize, share, mine and analyze as well as to preserve original materials which might otherwise be discarded or lost.

Rescued slaves crowd the deck of the HMS Daphne.

All our sessions will be plenary. We will open with a progress report on our best practices slave database and our discussions of how to integrate it with The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. There are many distinct types of document of varying complexity with greater or lesser descriptive details about slaves. At this, our first conference, we will focus only on a few types of documents which can best enlighten us about the specific origins of slaves born in Africa. One session will compare documents and databases about emancipados created at the University of Havana and others about emancipados created by Brazilians throughout Brazil. Another session will focus on runaway slaves throughout the Atlantic world. Our final session will deal with the creation and use of slave databases by Afro-descended genealogists.

Please send a brief description of your slave database including place, time, type or types of documents, number of records and fields, graphics if any, how it has or can be used to ask and answer new questions, and to link to other slave databases. Limit 500 words.

November 8-9, 2013
Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI