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Digital Approaches to the History of the Atlantic Slave Trade  

Daryle Williams

The robust, sustained interest in the history of the transatlantic slave trade has been a defining feature of the intersection of African studies and digital scholarship since the advent of humanities computing in the 1960s. The pioneering work of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, first made widely available in CD-ROM in 1999, is one of several major projects to use digital tools in the research and analysis of the Atlantic trade from the sixteenth through the mid-nineteenth century. Over the past two decades, computing technologies have also been applied to the exploration of African bondage outside the maritime Atlantic frame. In the 2010s, Slave Voyages (the online successor to the original Slave Trade Database compact disc) joined many other projects in and outside the academy that deploy digital tools in the reconstruction of the large-scale structural history of the trade as well as the microhistorical understandings of individual lives, the biography of notables, and family ancestry.

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André do Couto Godinho  

Lucilene Reginaldo

André do Couto Godinho was born in 1720 in the Brazilian captaincy of Minas Gerais, in the town of Mariana, and died in the Kingdom of Kongo, probably around 1790. Born not only a slave but the slave of a slave, he went on to obtain his freedom, becoming literate, later studying at a university, and finally going on to serve as a missionary in Africa. Between the beginning of his life, in Brazil, and its end, in Africa, he spent a number of years in Portugal, in the cities of Coimbra and Lisbon. While his life story is certainly extraordinary, it provides a window into the possibilities of, and strategies for, social and geographic mobility of free and freed black people in different parts of the Portuguese Empire during the second half of the 1700s. Retracing André Godinho’s footsteps is an exercise in micro-history, a technique that, when used as a counterpoint to a more global analysis, offers fresh insights into familiar subjects, with the seemingly insignificant details of an individual life raising questions that would have gone unnoticed in a strictly macroscopic analysis. André’s path in life, as a free man of color helps understand the larger historical contexts that defined the possibilities, choices, and limitations of his personal history. Godinho’s story provides insights into African descendants’ possibilities for social ascension, also clarifying the limitations imposed by emerging social hierarchies based on skin color and slave origin.