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date: 15 October 2019

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

Summary and Keywords

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.

Keywords: Internet, databases, slavery, slave trade, Latin America, online resources, digital humanities, digitization, digital projects

Digital Presence of Latin American Slavery and the Slave Trade

Arranging, classifying, and listing a publishable sample of digital resources come with many challenges. A feature among digital resources is their variety in content and format. Though the majority of existing projects on the Web display digital copies of archival records, others use the sources to create databases, interactive sites, maps, or animations. They are also diverse in their historical scope. Most projects on slavery and the slave trade focus on the 18th and 19th centuries, rather than previous periods. Another method to classify online content could be based on historiographical themes such as gender and slavery, legislation, urban and rural coerced labor, manumission, or runaway slaves. Last, digital collections can be separated by modern-day nations or, in some cases, broader geographical regions. Types of digital content, their periods, themes, or geography overlap. It is appropriate to mix those divisions in two main categories: the slave trade and slavery.

Readers may also notice that most of the websites presented below, although about Latin America, are mostly developed in English. Latin America is underrepresented in the field of digital projects on slavery despite being the first Atlantic region to import and enslave Africans in terms of numbers and period. The global digital divide is the lens through which to understand the nature of the digital presence of Latin American projects. Technological development is uneven worldwide. Although access to fast and fully functional Internet is part of everyday life in developed nations, this is not the case in other parts of the globe. Slow speed connections; the high cost of research tools like software, hardware, or Web hosting service providers; and a lack of resources to maintain digital projects are primordial causes of the low presence on the Web of Latin American projects on slavery and the slave trade undertaken by Latin American institutions. Digitizing archival documents, developing platforms to display them functionally, uploading the records to the Web, and sustaining the site are all costly endeavors. It requires technologies, software, a workforce, and, most importantly, support from local and state institutions that often relegate humanities and social sciences to a secondary position. Furthermore, studies on slavery have suffered historically from an implicit and often open bias and rejection among Latin American countries. The topic is relegated to a secondary place in historical studies even though the continent had the longest history of enslavement of Africans in the Americas. As a result of the lack of resources in the region, reduced institutional interest, and lack of access to reliable Internet, many of the digital projects listed below were funded by outsiders.

The fact that many digital projects on Latin America originate in developed countries could be interpreted as a variation of cultural imperialism. However, documents that otherwise could have been lost forever are rescued from years of neglect, lack of institutional support, and a probable disappearance, and this is not the only gain. Historical documents became freely available to researchers from anywhere in the world. The history of those countries became accessible to outsiders who, from new perspectives, sometimes challenge traditional historical analyses. Besides, it opens the door for more comparative historiographical approaches across different Latin American nations. Digitized resources make the research process cheaper, more democratic, and accessible across the globe.

Digital Projects on the Slave Trade in Latin America

Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database: In 1992, the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research at Harvard University provided funding to historians David Eltis, Stephen Behrendt, and David Richardson to develop a digital database entailing slave ships arriving in the Americas. The project unified in a single platform several datasets created and published over past decades by scholars in the subject such as Huguette and Pierre Chaunu, Serge Daget, David Richardson, Herbert S. Klein, Robert William Fogel, Stanley L. Engerman, and others.1 Such datasets comprised detailed information on British, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and Danish-flagged slave ships crossing the Atlantic from a variety of regions along the African coast to any port in the Americas. The first digital version of Voyages was released in 1999 on a CD-ROM and contained 27,233 slave ship entries. In 2008, the project migrated to the Web. The 2019 version has around thirty-five thousand voyages, which account for around twelve million Africans embarked on slave ships.

Voyages revolutionized the study of slavery and the slave trade. Since the launch of the database, every single piece of scholarship on the subject acknowledges the site among its sources. Because of this project, scholars better understand broader demographic patterns of forced migration, changes in transportation over time, and regional distribution of the slaves across ports of embarkation and disembarkation. Historians have also gained a better picture of the gender and ethnic identities of the captives carried on-board slave ships.

In 2019, Voyages had forty-two different data variables drawn mostly from the type of information a historian can expect to find in archival shipping sources, such as vessels’ names, captains, dates of embarkation, dates of disembarkation, the number of slaves carried on-board, and the nationality/flags of the vessels. An additional twenty-two imputed variables pointed out estimates developed by the database’s authors from figures and patterns derived from other voyages such as the mortality rate of the slaves and the length of the journey. Each entry or ship in the database comes with its sources—archival or secondary—which makes the website a reliable historiographic and bibliographic compendium on the slave trade. Other features include maps, lessons for classes, images, document galleries, and a 3D video description of a typical 18th-century slave ship. Most importantly, the database allows users to turn their search results into graphics, tables, and dynamic maps after selecting any combination of variables. Users can access the content in English as well as in Portuguese and Spanish.

For those users interested in the slave trade directed toward what is today Latin America, there is not a better research tool than Voyages. In its beginnings, the first version of Voyages had more data on slave ships arriving in the British and French West Indies, the United States, and Brazil, respectively, and mostly during the 18th and early 19th centuries. However, the continuous update of the site by an international community of researchers has corrected this imbalance. More data on the importation of slaves to the Portuguese and Spanish colonies, such as the modern-day Latin American regions of Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic, have been incorporated.2 This collaborative academic expansion of the database has delivered groundbreaking discoveries. For instance, it is clear that the Spanish colonies, most of what is today Latin America, imported more slaves than all the British West Indies combined.3

The Voyages database has been criticized over the years for accounting for only slave voyages crossing the Atlantic and not the vast movement of smaller slave ships from one port to another in the Americas. This problem was solved with a project accounting for intra-American slave voyages.

Historians Gregory O’Malley and Alex Borucki were awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Grant to create the Intra-American Slave Trade Database. The database was inspired by the award-winning book by O’Malley, Final Passages, where the author pointed out the lack of historical knowledge on the transshipment of slaves within the Americas.4 The Intra-American database follows the same variable structures used by Voyages; both sites are part of the same digital platform. It allows users to track the movement of slave ships across the Americas from embarkation to disembarkation ports, including midway stops. Most of the intra-American maritime slave trade took place in the Caribbean due to the position of islands as commercial hubs. Therefore, the database on the intra-American slave trade is crucial to users interested in the slave trade in what is today the countries of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Venezuela. Besides, Final Passages contains crucial information regarding the transshipment of slaves between Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. The data, as in Voyages, resulted from the collaboration of many historians.5

Voyages was not only criticized for excluding the intra-American leg of the slave trade but also for focusing on only the demographic aspects of this commerce while paying less attention to the individual slaves on-board. Many counterarguments could be leveled against such criticism. Yet, the creators of Voyages, in collaboration with other scholars, have included searchable tools for individual captives.

African Origins is a website created by the historians David Eltis, Martin Halbert, and Philip Misevich. The database contains the lists of “liberated Africans” produced by the Mixed Commission Courts from Freetown and Havana.6 The database contains around ninety-one thousand individual freed slaves with their African and Christian names, physical marks (some of them the result of iron branding made by slave traders and others their ethnic scarifications), age, and height. In order to list the slaves liberated from captured slave ships, British or Spanish officers asked the captives their names and wrote them down phonetically. The website authors have audio-recorded these African names in both English and Spanish pronunciation, striving to find their origins by interviewing African informants. The goal was to answer the historiographical question of from what region in the interior of Africa had the slaves come. The website is a trove of information for scholars studying the institution of slavery and the slave trade in Cuba. More specifically, this site is essential for those scholars interested in the ethnic composition of slave cargoes.

Historian Henry Lovey used a more abundant number of records from the Mixed Commission Courts to create the website Liberated Africans, the most comprehensive digital repository on the international operations of the abolitionist courts. Liberated Africans contains interactive and searchable lists pertaining to slaves captured on-board slave ships and liberated or emancipated in Freetown, Havana, and Rio de Janeiro. The database is searchable by categories such as African and Christian names, gender, nation/ethnicity, and age. In addition, users can find digitized versions of the records produced by each Spanish/Cuban and Portuguese/Brazilian slave ship captured by the British navy, such as legal proceedings, documents seized on-board captured slave ships, and the transatlantic correspondence between British, Spanish, and Brazilian commissioners between Sierra Leone, Cuba, and Brazil. A gallery of images of captured slave ships visually supports the vast collection of written primary sources on the site. This project is particularly important because the 19th-century illegal slave trade is in the process of revision in the Latin American historiography on the slave trade. Lovejoy’s site sheds light on the persistence of the slave trade after abolition as well as the ethnic identities of the slaves transported to the Americas. For users interested in the institution of slavery in Brazil and Cuba, Liberated Africans is a remarkable digital source.

Slave Movement During the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries: The University of Wisconsin-Madison hosts a Data & Information Services Center that provides access to demographic data and sources on different regions in the Americas and Africa, among them, on slavery and the slave trade. In the Latin American case, the data on the slave trade is mostly from Brazil and Cuba, specifically Havana and Rio de Janeiro. The section titled “Slave Trade to Rio de Janeiro, 1795–1811” resulted from the research of historian Herbert S. Klein who used sources located in the Brazilian National Archive. Klein’s digital dataset—accessible in Voyages—contains information on each ship’s region of departure in Africa, date of arrival in Rio de Janeiro, number of slaves carried on-board, total number of slaves landed, slave mortality during the voyage, slave mortality upon landing, the rig of the vessel, and more. A different section, titled “Slave Trade to Rio de Janeiro, 1825–1830,” by the same author, gathers data from Diario do Rio de Janeiro and Journal do Comercio in the National Archive. The data file contains information on the date of arrival, type of ship, ship’s name, African port of embarkation, number of sailing days, number of slaves who died at sea, number of slaves shipped, and the name of the person or company to whom the slaves were consigned. “Internal Slave Trade to Rio de Janeiro, 1852” has information from the “Register of Slaves, Police of the Imperial Court” located in the National Archive. The data file contains information on the ship identification, dates of arrival, ports of origin, type of ship, ages, sex, skin color, place of birth, and occupation (by sex) of the slaves. Finally, the section “Slave Trade to Havana, Cuba, 1790-–1820” contains data from Havana’s port registers located in the Archivo General de Indias, Seville. The files contain information on the Cuban port of arrival, arrival date, rig of the ship, nationality, name, captain of the ship, the number of slaves landed, African sailing date, slave mortality, and the number of slaves by sex. The data on the transatlantic slave trade between Brazil and Cuba is now in the Voyages database mentioned above.

The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes: This interactive website, designed and built by Andrew Kahn and Jamelle Bouie, animates more than twenty thousand voyages extracted from Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. The authors excluded voyages for which there is incomplete or vague information in the database. Users can visualize an animation of dots, representing individual slave ships, crossing the Atlantic from any African region to the Americas from the early 16th to the 19th century. The larger the dot, the more enslaved people were on-board. Moreover, if the users pause the map and click on the dot, they will learn about the ship’s flag, its origin point, its destination, and its history in the slave trade. The graph at the bottom accumulates statistics based on the raw data used in the animation and, again, represents only a portion of the actual slave trade—about one-half of the number of enslaved Africans who were transported away from the continent. Users can visualize the trajectory of slave ships from Africa to what is now Latin America. This site is particularly useful for classrooms and thus was added to Voyages in February 2019.

How to Look for British Transatlantic Slave Trade Records in The National Archives, London: After 1808, the British led an aggressive international campaign to abolish the transatlantic slave trade. The colony of Freetown, Sierra Leone, became the epicenter of the abolitionist movement in Africa. A Vice-Admiralty Court was established there and prosecuted slave ships captured by the Royal Navy. As a result of the negotiations of the Congress of Vienna, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, and France signed international treaties with England not only to abolish the slave trade but also to allow the establishment of Mixed Commission Courts in their territories. An extensive collection of the records produced by the Vice-Admiralty and Mixed Commission Courts, the Royal Navy, the British Foreign Office, and all the other nations that in any way took part in the abolitionist process are now in the British National Archives, and they have been used extensively in digital projects, such as those presented above like African Origins, Liberated Africans, and Voyages. Although most of the documentation from the British archives is not digitized, some relevant sources are available online for free. The National Archives has created one of the most functional online catalog of their records.

The collection from the British archives under the title “Foreign Office 84” (FO 84), which is freely available online in its totality, deserves special attention. The Slave Trade Department produced these documents. The earliest paper dates from 1816 and the latest is from 1892. For those scholars interested in the slave trade and slavery in Latin America, the documents from the FO 84 are a trove of information for documenting the illegal slave trade in Brazil and Cuba. The judges of the Mixed Commission Courts, settled in different slaving ports in the Atlantic world, informed one another about slave ships, traders, financiers, and the secret strategies used by slave traders. The commissioners also informed their superiors in London about every aspect of the prosecution of the slave trade. The correspondence and more are available in the FO 84. Besides these records, the documentation confiscated on every ship captured by the Royal Navy and the resulting records from the trials are also available. Finally, there are many reports about the slave trade in Africa created by the many informants that the British placed along the African coast. These records are not new for the study of the slave trade, but their online accessibility, accompanied by a robust search tool provided by The National Archives, is offering a new perspective on the richness and internal structure of this historical source.

The records from the FO 84 have an instrumental counterpart in the United Kingdom. Parliamentary Papers are currently available online in their totality, but only by institutional paid subscription. Among the millions of records produced by the UK legislative branch, there are thousands produced by official institutions that took part in the prosecution of the Atlantic slave trade in the 19th century. They were published, divided into ninety-five volumes organized chronologically and thematically. The material relating to the slave trade falls into three general categories: reports from Select Committees; classified correspondence from British commissioners, agents, and foreign powers (including reports from naval officers); and, finally, general reports, correspondence, and papers. The subject list contains all the papers relating specifically to slavery and the slave trade in each of these categories in the order given, published chronologically.7 The catalog to the British Parliamentary Papers on the slave trade is well-developed and allows basic searches by periods, topics, and any keywords.

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) initiated one of the most significant international projects on slavery and the slave trade in the Atlantic world in 1994 under the title the “Slave Route.” The “Slave Trade Archives Project” aims to improve access to and safeguard original documents related to the transatlantic slave trade and slavery throughout the world. An International Scientific Committee has the task of identifying national archives and related institutions in several African, Latin American, and Caribbean countries, in order to ensure adequate preservation of original records and to obtain copies in appropriate formats of records and other documents on the slave trade and slavery. The first phase is limited to the Atlantic slave trade. Among the Latin American countries included in the project are Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, and Haiti.

Digital Resources on Slavery in Latin America

Although it started as an individual project, the above-mentioned Liberated Africans is part now of Slave Biographies: Atlantic Database Network, a project hosted at MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities & Social Sciences at Michigan State University and supported by generous grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Mellon Foundation. Slave Biographies began as a collaborative project between historians Walter Hawthorne and Gwendolyn Hall who combined their datasets on slavery into a single digital platform. Hall’s database gathered a list of hundreds of thousands of slaves who lived around the port of New Orleans and the lower Mississippi regions. Hawthorne, on the other hand, created a dataset of about 8,500 slaves from Maranhão, Brazil, from the mid-18th century through the early 19th century. Hawthorne spent a few years working with records from the Arquivo Judiciário do Estado do Maranhão in São Luis, where he gathered information for his second book, From Africa to Brazil.8 The data came mostly from plantation lists, and, as such, they contain the names of the slaves, ages, owners, origins, and ethnicities/nations. This aggregated data helped Hawthorne reach essential conclusions about the history of slavery in Brazil, such as tracing the cultural transmission from specific regions in Upper Guinea, such as Bissau, to Maranhão in Brazil.

Brazil was the biggest importer of enslaved Africans in the Americas. It is not surprising that many Brazilian archival collections have a significant number of sources on slavery and the slave trade. The country has today the biggest and best studies on slavery and the slave trade and more sources online about this subject than anywhere else in Latin America. Archives and libraries across Brazil have undertaken different initiatives to digitize parts of their collections. The Digital National Library project has made part of its collections available to the public. The collection from the National Library includes printed pamphlets, manuscripts on slavery from the 19th century, personal letters, manumission records, official documents, drawings, photographs, maps, and several newspapers.

The Arquivo Público do Estado de São Paulo (APESP), supported by the Program for the Development of Ibero-American Archives, digitized a vast collection on slavery under the title “Memória da Escravidão.” The digitized records comprise a period from 1764 to 1890 from Brazil, and they originated from different institutions such as the Department of Agriculture, Commerce and Public Works, the Department of War, and many other 19th-century government offices. A powerful search tool allows the user to search by words, institutions, regions, types of documents, and periods.

Another important source of digital records in Brazil is the site Legislação: Trabalhadores e Trabalho em Portugal, Brasil e África Colonial Portuguesa (Legislation, workers, and labor in Portugal, Brazil, and Portuguese colonial Africa). This online resource was developed between 2008 and 2012 and funded by the “Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo.” The site made available to the public legal documents regarding enslaved Africans and free workers in Brazil between 1521 and 1988. The records include legislation relating to African slaves and Native American forced labor. The search tool allows users to perform searches across periods, themes, geography, and names. It is a crucial resource for historians interested in the demographic aspects of the institution of slavery in the Luso-speaking nation.

In 2003, historian Jane Landers launched the Ecclesiastical and Secular Sources for Slave Societies, a site that changed its name in 2017 to the Slave Societies Digital Archive. This project contains digitized archival records from Brazil, Cuba, Colombia, Spanish Florida, Angola, Benin, and Cape Verde. It has about five hundred thousand digital copies of records from the 16th to the 20th century documenting the lives of some eight million individuals of indigenous, European, African, and Asian origin. For the case of slaves from Africa and their descendants, the Slave Societies Digital Archive is the most extensive digital source on the history of Africans in the new world. The nature of the collection allows for genealogical studies, and it is an excellent source for writing social history on forced labor in Latin America. The site covers the Latin American countries of Cuba, Brazil, and Colombia.9

The subset of records from Cuba derived mostly from churches located in different towns across the island. In collaboration with Cuban researchers, Jane Lander’s team digitized parochial baptismal records. This project also contains a vast amount of secular papers from Matanzas, the most prominent region of the plantation economy in Cuba. Some of the Cuban records have been transcribed (although not translated), which helps those scholars who cannot read the handwriting on the Spanish-language manuscripts. However, it is a pending task for the future not only to transcribe more records but also to transfer the information they contain to a searchable, variable-oriented database.10

The section dedicated to Brazil contains digitized records from Rio de Janeiro, Paraiba, and Minas Gerais. For Rio de Janeiro, users of the site can find baptismal, marriage, and death records of slaves and their descendants. The Paraiba project also includes some secular records from the Instituto Histórico e Geográfico Paraibano in João Pessoa, the Arquivo Público Waldemar Bispo Duarte in João Pessoa, and the Paróquia de Nossa Senhora dos Milagres in São João do Carirí. The project in Minas Gerais resulted from a collaboration with the Núcleo de Pesquisa em História Econômica e Demográfica of Cedeplar of the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais. One source deserves a separate mention. The books of testaments of Mariana, the first city in Minas Gerais, record the last wishes of black Africans and their descendants. Unlike many other documents of this type in Latin America, these were produced by enslaved actors and not by white owners. The project team not only digitized those records but also created a database comprising more than eight thousand individuals with data on intimate and business relations, homes and other properties, and thousands of individual names. These records offer an exceptional picture of the social networks created by Africans who achieved their freedom.

The section on Colombia, under the direction of Jane Landers and Pablo Gómez, harvests documents from El Choco, La Guajira, and Córdoba. These consist of 18th- and 19th-century church and notarial records, photographs, and maps from the First Notary of Quibdó, the Notary of Buenaventura, the Parochial Archive of Tadó, the Parochial Archive of Novitá, the San Francisco de Assis Cathedral in Quibdó (capital of the Chocó), and the Notaria Primera of Riohacha. They cover mostly baptismal, burial, and marriage records from Africans and their descendants. This is an optimal source for historical demography studies on Africans and African descendants in Colombia.

Another principal digital repository containing records about slavery from Latin America is the Endangered Archives Programme developed by the British Library. This program aims to contribute to the preservation of archival material in danger of destruction, neglect, or physical deterioration worldwide. It provides funding to enable successful applicants to locate relevant endangered archival collections, arrange their transfer to a suitable local archival home where possible, create digital copies of the material, and deposit the copies with local institutions and the British Library. Several projects developed in Latin America have preserved many documents that otherwise would have been lost for future generations.

For instance, the Endangered Archives Programme helped historian Oscar Grandío Moraguez to digitize a substantial collection on 19th-century slavery and the slave trade from the Provincial Archive of Matanzas. The collection consists of documents related to slavery, Africans, and Afro-descendants from 1770 to 1886 in the province of Matanzas, a sugar plantation region in Cuba. The material is mostly colonial government correspondence on subjects such as the arrival of slaves, runaway slaves, slave revolts, and the operations of British abolitionists in the island. Another project sponsored by the Endangered Archives Programme is the digital archive of Afro-Colombian history and culture by Pablo Gomez, which gathers black ecclesiastical, governmental, and private records from the Chocó region, Colombia.

In 2019, six projects on endangered collections from Brazil on the topic of slavery or the slave trade were being sponsored by the British Library. The collection on Brazil, contains reproductions of documents from Paraiba, Pará, Maranhão, Rio Grande do Norte, and Bahia. The records cover a vast spectrum of topics, periods, and types of sources, such as ecclesiastical documents that include baptisms, marriages, and testaments. Other sources stem from the labor of colonial institutions and contain maps, official documents, notarial records, and images. Colombia had at least four different ongoing projects aiming to digitize archival records on the slave trade and slavery in the circum-Caribbean region. These four projects focus on the Parish of Santa Cruz de Lorica in Córdoba, El Choco, La Guajira, and Caloto where, in each of these places, a team of historians digitized endangered documents. The affected documents are mostly collections from churches and former colonial institutions.

The Fluminense Federal University in Niteroi developed a website titled Memória, África, Escravidão” intending to rethink the history of slavery and the African diaspora in Brazil. Their common goal according to the site’s front page “is to understand the relationship between slavery and current conceptualizations of citizenship.” The authors of the site focus on the specificities of the living conditions of the African slave population who was forcibly transported to Brazil (around four million individuals) between the 16th and the 19th century. The site is divided into nine projects with different themes. One of them, the project’s Inventory of the places of memory of the Atlantic slave trade and the history of Africans enslaved in Brazil (in Portuguese) contains an index of one hundred places related to the slave trade and slavery in Brazil, such as slave ships, disembarkation ports, slave markets, African brotherhoods, and places of slave rebellions. Geographical locations are accompanied by a gallery of images offering a useful repository for social scientists working on the subject. The subsection on slave narratives, Memories of captivity, resulted from a project initiated by Hebe Mattos, Ana Lugão Rios, and Robson Martins in 1994. It contains transcripts of interviews with black farmers from the former coffee plantation areas of Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, and Espirito Santo. The site also harbors transcripts of depositions of slave descendants from rural areas from the state of São Paulo, a project initially coordinated by Maria de Lourdes Janoti and Sueli Robles in 1987. The project made available not only those valuable oral sources but also academic articles, a gallery of images, monographs, and dissertations. Also, the documentary Memórias do Cativeiro (2005), directed by Hebe Mattos and Martha Abreu, resulted from the development of the project.

Although Brazil was involved in the most voluminous importation of slaves in South America, other areas in what is now called the Southern Cone (Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile) also received slaves and developed some stages of slave societies. The website Seminario Permanente de Historia: Africanos y Afrodescendientes en América (Permanent seminar on the history of Africans and the Afro-descendants in America, 2012) displays some of the latest academic developments in the study of slavery and the slave trade in Latin America. The project is hosted by the College of Humanities and Philosophy at the University of Chile. The goal is to generate a space for discussion on the presence of Africans in Chile, a topic of recent studies. The purpose of this project, according to the authors, “is to favor the cultural identity of the Latin American subcontinent taking into consideration indigenous and African heritage.” This permanent seminar focuses on announcing and discussing the latest academic work on the topic of slavery and the slave trade, such as books, conferences, and academic events.

The Bibliography of Slavery and World Slaving is a database of references published over more than thirty years in a print format about slavery and the slave trade in the Americas. It contains twenty-five thousand scholarly works across all academic disciplines and in all Western European languages relating to slavery and slaving, worldwide and throughout human history, including modern times. The website is simple in its structure, but, properly used, is a reliable reference tool. Users can search by title, author, keyword anywhere in the text, date of publication, type of material (such as books, essays, journals, and dissertations), and, finally, the language of the material. As a suggestion, users can type in the search box any Latin American country, region, city, or place of interest.

Aside from databases and digital repositories of primary sources, there are several institutions in Latin America whose websites contain reliable data of sites of interest that document African slavery and the Afro-Latin American heritage. A reliable online guide for museums and sites honoring those who perished in the condition of slavery can be found at the site Slavery and Remembrance: A Guide to Sites, Museums, and Memory. This project was possible due to a partnership between the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and UNESCO’s Slave Route Project. Some of the places concerning Latin American history are the Afro-Peruvian Museum; the Angerona Coffee Plantation in Artemisa, Cuba; the archeological landscape of the first coffee plantations of southeastern Cuba; and the San Severino Castle in Matanzas, Cuba. For those interested in cultural heritage and material culture stemming from slavery, this site is an important referential source.

An index of many digital resources for the study of slavery and the slave trade can be found in the archives of H-Slavery, a listserv hosted by H-Net. H-Slavery not only contains an index of links but also a weekly updated list of grants, conferences, and reviews of books about slavery, many of them about Latin America. The section “Digital Resources for the Study of Global Slavery and the Slave Trade” gathers about forty-five links of sites pertaining to the African forced migration to the Americas from the 16th through the 19th century and the life of those slaves in the New World.

Discussion of Related Research Tools

The list of digital resources about slavery and the slave trade in Latin America is not by any means exhaustive, and it will probably be outdated in just five years. The increasing number of digital projects show how the Internet has transformed the way scholars approach the past, how historians conduct research today, and how they present the results of their findings. It is not surprising that historians have paid significant attention to the process of migrating archival sources to digitized versions. Even more so, as can be seen above, many online projects have turned primary sources into something more than a replica of the original documents. This second aspect of the analogical revolution, the capacity to process complex data and present it in new formats, has shed new lights on previously unseen historical processes. That said, there is a considerable amount of work yet to be accomplished.

Latin American countries have a low representation in the digital studies of slavery and the slave trade. Most digital projects are hosted or have been developed in universities or institutions located in rich countries. More than academic interest is needed to overcome this obstacle. Besides, existing digital projects are scattered, and they seem disconnected from one another. A challenge for future developers is to create a system that compiles under a single searchable platform the variety of online resources on slavery and the slave trade. In this direction, an important step has been taken at the Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University (MATRIX) where a group of historians and programmers are developing a single platform to connect different databases on slavery and the slave trade. Enslaved: Peoples of the Historic Slave Trade consists of a platform that links open data platforms for the study and exploration of the historic slave trade. It is based on an Enslaved Hub that brings together data from all participating projects, thereby allowing students, researchers, and the public to search over numerous databases to understand and reconstruct the lives of persons who were part of the historic slave trade. Although the project is still a work in progress, it opens the door to find the best practices to connect projects that nowadays are disconnected.

Further Reading

Anderson, Richard, Alex Borucki, Daniel Domingues da Silva, David Eltis, Paul Lachance, Philip Misevich, and Olatunji Ojo. “Using African Names to Identify the Origins of Captives in the Transatlantic Slave Trade: Crowd-Sourcing and the Registers of Liberated Africans, 1808–1862.” History in Africa 40, no. 1 (2013): 165–191.Find this resource:

Borucki, Alex, David Eltis, and David Wheat. “Atlantic History and the Slave Trade to Spanish America.” American Historical Review 120, no. 2 (2015): 433–461.Find this resource:

Eltis, David, and David Richardson. Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Eltis, David, and David Richardson, eds. Extending the Frontiers: Essays on the New Transatlantic Slave Trade Database. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.Find this resource:

Gold, Matthew K., and Lauren F. Klein, eds. Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016.Find this resource:

Hall, Gwendolyn Midlo. Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas: Restoring the Links. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Hawthorne, Walter. From Africa to Brazil: Culture, Identity, and an Atlantic Slave Trade, 1600–1830. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Klein, Herbert S., and Ben Vinson III. African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Landers, Jane G. Atlantic Creoles in the Age of Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Manning, Patrick. Big Data in History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.Find this resource:

O’Malley, Gregory E. Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619–1807. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.Find this resource:

Schmidt-Nowara, Christopher. Slavery, Freedom, and Abolition in Latin America and the Atlantic World. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Wheat, David. Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean, 1570–1640. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.Find this resource:


(1.) Huguette and Pierre Chaunu, Séville et l’Atlantique, 1504–1650, 8 vols. (Paris: A. Colin, 1955); Serge Daget, Répertoire des Expéditions Négrières Françaises à la Traite Illégale (1814–1850) (Nantes, France: Comité nantais d’études en sciences humaines, 1988); David Richardson, ed., Bristol, Africa and the Eighteenth-Century Slave Trade to America, vol. 1, The Years of Expansion, 1698–1729 (Gloucester, U.K.: Bristol Record Society, 1986); David Richardson, ed., Bristol, Africa and the Eighteenth-Century Slave Trade to America, vol. 2, The Years of Ascendancy, 1730–1745 (Gloucester, U.K.: Bristol Record Society, 1987); David Richardson, ed., Bristol, Africa and the Eighteenth-Century Slave Trade to America, vol. 3, The Years of Decline, 1746–1769 (Gloucester, U.K.: Bristol Record Society, 1991); David Richardson, ed., Bristol, Africa and the Eighteenth-Century Slave Trade to America, vol. 4, The Final Years, 1770–1807 (Gloucester, U.K.: Bristol Record Society, 1996); Herbert S. Klein, The Middle Passage: Comparative Studies in the Atlantic Slave Trade (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978); and Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman, Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery (Boston: Little, Brown, 1974).

(2.) For instance, historian David Wheat has contributed with new data on ships disembarking in the circum-Caribbean region during the 16th and 17th centuries. Alex Borucki has contributed with fresh data on the disembarkation of slaves in what is today the countries of Uruguay and Argentina. Manuel Barcia, Marial Iglesias, and Jorge Felipe have supplemented data on the 18th- and 19th-century Cuban slave trade. The scholarship of Daniel Domingues and Walter Hawthorne have increased data available on the Brazilian slave trade. See David Wheat, Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean, 1570–1640 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016); Alex Borucki “The Slave Trade to the Río De La Plata, 1777–1812: Trans-Imperial Networks and Atlantic Warfare,” Colonial Latin American Review 20, no. 1 (2011): 81–107; Jorge Felipe, “Reassessing the Slave Trade to Cuba (1790–1820),” in From the Galleons to the Highlands, ed. David Eltis and Alex Borucki (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, forthcoming Spring 2020); Daniel B. Domingues da Silva, The Atlantic Slave Trade from West Central Africa, 1780–1867, Cambridge Studies on the African Diaspora (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017); and Walter Hawthorne, From Africa to Brazil: Culture, Identity, and an Atlantic Slave Trade, 1600–1830 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

(5.) Greg O’Malley, Alex Borucki, Jelmer Vos, Belmonte Postigo, Daniel Domingues, Jorge Felipe, Herbert Klein, and others have made a significant contribution of data to this project. Final Passages not only accounts for the movement of slaves by sea but also by land within the Americas. Brazilian historian Daniel Domingues put together a dataset on slaves’ transportation between Brazilian ports and rural regions. Therefore, by accessing the combination of Voyages and Final Passages, historians would be able to track the whole forced journey of slaves from Africa to their destination in the plantations in the interior.

(6.) The Mixed Commission Courts were international bodies led by the British court that condemned slave ships after 1819. In the case of Latin America, there were Commission Courts in Cuba and Brazil.

(7.) Paul E. Lovejoy and Vanessa S. Oliveira, “An Index to the Slavery and Slave Trade Enquiry: The British Parliamentary House of Commons Sessional Papers, 1788–1792,” History in Africa 40, no. 1 (2013): 193–255.

(8.) Hawthorne, From Africa to Brazil.

(9.) Mariza Soares, Jane Landers, Paul E. Lovejoy, and Andrew McMichael, “Slavery in Ecclesiastical Archives: Preserving the Records,” Hispanic American Historical Review 86, no. 2 (2006): 337–346.

(10.) Andrew Barsom and Jorge Felipe, “The Baptismal Record Database for Slave Societies (BARDSS),” Journal of Global Slavery 1, no. 2–3 (2016): 137–163.