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Digital Resources: Modern Slavery and the Slave Trade in Latin America  

Jorge Felipe-Gonzalez

The expansion of the Internet and computing technologies has transformed, heuristically, methodologically, and epistemologically, the scholarship on modern Atlantic slavery and the slave trade. An increasing number of primary and secondary sources are now available online. Archives, universities, libraries, research centers, and other institutions have digitized partially or entirely historical collections and archival records and made them public through digital portals in a variety of formats. Users can instantly access, analyze, search, share, transfer, visualize, and interact with a vast amount of historical data on slavery and the slave trade, which, in the late 20th century, was scattered across archives and libraries. The increasing Web presence of digital repositories on Latin American historical slavery and the slave trade is changing previous scholarly perceptions about broader demographic, historical, and social issues, as well as about the everyday life of enslaved Africans. Digital databases on the slave trade, for instance, are answering long-term historiographical concerns regarding the number of captives carried to the Americas, their African embarkation regions, or the nationality of the carriers. Digital repositories and databases help to better understand the African geographical origins of the slaves and their ethnicities, a key component in the formation of the Afro-Latin American culture. Digitized repositories such as baptismal, marriage, and burial archival records and databases on runaway or self-liberated slaves, plantation lists, or court cases are filling gaps in scholars’ understanding of the internal dynamics of the institution of slavery, which characterized most of Latin American history for about three centuries.

Article

Digital Resources: The Study of Brazilian History  

Álvaro Pereira do Nascimento

At least four major periods help to understand Brazilian history from pre-contact until modern times: the era of indigenous societies prior to 1500; the Portuguese colonial period (1500–1808); the experience of the Monarchy (1808–1889); and the Republic (1889–2019). Although the expanding and varied repositories offering digital resources do not necessarily cover these four highlighted periods thoroughly, researchers should still know them before navigating through the documents and images such repositories are making freely available to the public. Historical Brazilian digital holdings can be grouped into nine broad areas: (1) documents produced by national, state, and municipal governments; (2) records relating to specific historical moments; (3) sources for immigrant, indigenous, and African and Afro-Brazilian studies; (4) collections helpful for examining labor, industry, and plantations; (5) sources relevant for sex and gender studies; (6) materials for the history of science; (7) personal and private collections; (8) periodicals (newspapers and magazines); (9) and sources related to artistic, patrimonial, and cultural production. Researchers will find abundant sources about Brazilian society, political changes, the economy, education, commercial relations, wars and revolts, urban reforms, companies, violence, customs, and values, among many other topics and issues. Scholars and students can access interviews, photographs, newspapers, magazines, books, civil and parish records, laws and reports from government institutions, correspondence, music, movies, documentaries, maps, and much more.

Article

Digital Resources: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database  

David Eltis

The Slavevoyages website completed ten years of successful operation in 2018. Drawing on four decades of archival research on five continents, a revolution in computer-processing costs, and the more recent explosive growth of the worldwide web, the site currently offers public access to several databases on slave trading in the Atlantic World. The two most important of these are first, a database of 36,000 slave-trading voyages between Africa and the New World, and second, a database of 11,400 voyages from one port in the Americas to another—a traffic known as the intra-American slave trade. The time span covered is from the 16th to the late 19th century. The site also offers personal information on 92,000 Africans found on board some of those voyages, which is stored in a separate database, as well as an interface that permits users to explore our estimates of the overall size and direction of the transatlantic slave trade broken down by each of the 340 years of its existence. In other words, the site attempts to allow for voyages for which information has not survived. The site currently averages over 1,000 visitors per day, who consult a mean of eight pages per visit. It was one of the first web-based databases to use crowdsourcing to correct existing information and attract new contributions to its core database. These are currently refreshed on an approximately annual basis and earlier versions are made available to users on a download page. Slavevoyages has become the basic reference tool for anyone studying the transatlantic slave trade, and is used widely by teachers, genealogists, and scientists as well as historians and, more specifically, scholars of slavery and the slave trade.

Article

Palm Oil and Afro-Brazilian Cultures  

Case Watkins

Palm oil is fundamental in Afro-Brazilian cultures, economies, and ecologies. Perhaps no other single material is as essential to Afro-Brazilian identities and cosmologies as is palm oil. Known in Brazil as dendê, or more precisely, azeite de dendê, palm oil exemplifies the intricate relations linking cultures and environments in the African diaspora. During colonial overseas expansion, the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq.) crossed the Atlantic to become a transformative but underappreciated African contribution to cultures and ecologies in the Americas. In Brazil, the palm interspersed within mangrove ecosystems, secondary forests, shifting agriculture, and diversified agroforests on the coasts of Bahia, creating complex landscapes and economies that supplied palm oil for a variety of Afro-Brazilian cultural expressions. In complement to those landscapes of domestically produced dendê, by the 18th century, transatlantic commercial networks had begun importing palm oil in bulk from West and Central Africa to Bahia. Along with a range of other ancestral goods, including colorful West African textiles and stimulating kola nuts, African palm oil served as an essential base material in growing Afro-Brazilian foodways, aesthetics, and religions. When these trades fell into decline in the late 19th century, demand for locally produced palm oil spiked, and Bahia’s domestic economy consolidated regional dendê cultures, ecologies, and markets. In the 21st century, palm oil remains integral in Afro-Brazilian identities and cultures, and complex traditional landscapes continue to supply local and national markets. Enduring as a living monument to resistance in the African diaspora, dendê provides livelihoods for rural communities, the unmistakeable flavor of Afro-Brazilian foodways, and a sacred symbol and ritual element in Afro-Brazilian religions.