Saturday, January 29, 2011


Wow. Unfortunately, I have nothing wiser, wittier, more insightful, or more intelligent to say because my mind has been blown away by Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database.

I am responding to the scale of both the slave trade and the database: There is information here on about 35,000 slaving voyages that transported more than 10 million Africans to the Americas between the 16th and 19th centuries.

The database is the work of two historians, one based at Emory University (US) and the other based at Hull University (UK). You can search the database and view maps, charts and tables, and images of manuscripts and drawings of some of the people who were enslaved. There also are educational materials, such as lesson plans, that grade 6-12 teachers can use in history / social studies classes.

A review of the database and of a new book, Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, appears in the current issue of The Nation. Reviewer Robin Einhorn notes that the United States, in fact, had played a smaller role in the Atlantic slave trade: Less than 5 percent of Africans were sent here. "These larger and smaller numbers, of course, have no moral significance. Even the lower figures are shockingly high," Einhorn writes. "But even if they weren't, the relevant crime was any participation in the slave trade - or slavery itself - rather than some degree of participation."

Think about the fact that a reason why a database of this kind could be amassed is that there was reasonably good bookkeeping and inventorying of enslavement: It was a commercial trade.

What I find especially astounding is the African Names Database, which provides information on more than 67,000 individuals (out of more than 10 million): Here, they each are named.

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