Partner Projects

African Origins and Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database


Project Lead:

David Eltis, Professor Emeritus, Emory University

African Origins contains information about the migration histories of Africans forcibly carried on slave ships into the Atlantic. Using the personal details of 91,491 Africans liberated by International Courts of Mixed Commission and British Vice Admiralty Courts, this resource makes possible new geographic, ethnic, and linguistic data on peoples captured in Africa and pulled into the slave trade.

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database has information on almost 36,000 slaving voyages that forcibly embarked over 10 million Africans for transport to the Americas between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. The actual number is estimated to have been as high as 12.5 million. The database and the separate estimates interface offer researchers, students and the general public a chance to rediscover the reality of one of the largest forced movements of peoples in world history.

Biographies of the Enslaved at the Hutchins Center at Harvard

African American National Biography (AANB); Dictionary of African Biography (DAB); and Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography (DCALAB).

Project Leads:

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director, Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University
Steven J. Niven, Executive Editor, AANB, DAB, DCALAB, Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University
Abby Wolf, Executive Director, Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University

Biographies of the Enslaved at the Hutchins Center at Harvard builds on three award winning biographical dictionaries that have been joint projects of the Hutchins Center and Oxford University Press since 2002. The three projects include 11,000 biographies of people of African descent from the ancient world to the present day, and from all realms of renown. Subjects include Toussaint Louverture, Frederick Douglass, Nanny of the Maroons, Xica da Silva, Olaudah Equiano, Dido Belle, and the enslaved West African passengers of the Liverpool slave ship, the Zong, who were thrown overboard to preserve the white crew’s access to the ship’s dwindling water supply. Authors and subject editors include John Hope Franklin, Natalie Zemon Davis, Darlene Clark Hine, Laurent Dubois, Júnia Ferreira Furtado, James Sweet, Barry Higman, Enslaved partners Jane Landers, Henry Lovejoy, Paul Lovejoy, and Daryle Williams, and over 2000 other experts on Africa and its diaspora.
As of 2018, all 3 projects are in print and can be viewed by subscription at OUP’s African American Studies Center.

Biographies of the Enslaved will be a separate site, available for free through the Hutchins Center website. It will focus only on biographies of people who were enslaved or connected to the transatlantic slave trade from the 15th to the 19th centuries. The site will provide access to around 200 completed biographies of enslaved people, along with images and other multimedia links. It will also make available a downloadable, searchable database containing biographical details of over 2000 enslaved people and enslavers in Africa, the Western Hemisphere, and Europe.

Freedom Narratives

Project Lead:

Paul Lovejoy, York University

Freedom Narratives focuses on the enforced migration of “Atlantic Africans,” that is enslaved Africans in the Atlantic world during the era of the slave trade, through an examination of biographical accounts of individuals born in West Africa who were enslaved in the 16-19th century. The focus is on testimony, the voices of individual Africans. The Project seeks to use an online digital repository of autobiographical testimonies and biographical data of Atlantic Africans to analyze patterns in the slave trade from West Africa, specifically in terms of where individuals came from, why they were enslaved, and what happened to them. The Project focuses on people born in Africa and hence in most cases had been born free rather than on those who were born into slavery in the Americas. The contribution concentrates on those who experienced the “Middle Passage,” i.e., the Atlantic crossing, which is often seen as a defining moment in the slavery experience but also on the movement of enslaved within West Africa. The genre “slave narrative” is thereby expanded through a study of accounts of slaves born in Africa whose testimonies can more accurately be labelled “freedom narratives” because most individuals whose accounts have survived were born free and subsequently regained their freedom. Freedom Narratives focuses on biographical testimony as the fundamental unit of analysis, whether text arises from first person memory or via amanuensis, and whenever possible is supplemented with biographical details culled from legal, ecclesiastical, and other types of records.

Legacies of British Slave-ownership

Project Lead:

Keith McClelland, University College—London

 Colonial slavery shaped modern Britain and we all still live with its legacies. The slave-owners were one very important means by which the fruits of slavery were transmitted to metropolitan Britain. Legacies is based on the belief that research and analysis of this group are key to understanding the extent and the limits of slavery’s role in shaping British history and leaving lasting legacies that reach into the present.

Liberated Africans

Project Lead:

Henry Lovejoy, University of Colorado Boulder

Liberated Africans attempts to document the lives of the approximately 250,000 illegally enslaved Africans emancipated in the global campaign to abolish the slave trade. The Atlantic and Indian Ocean slave trades lasted for almost four centuries and involved more than twelve million men, women and children. Over one quarter of those people boarded slave ships after the British and US Acts for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807. As world powers negotiated anti-slave trade treaties thereafter, British, Portuguese, Spanish, Brazilian, French and US authorities began seizing ships, raiding coastal prisons, and detaining newly landed slaves in the Americas. These rescued captives were then escorted into British courts and international mixed commissions located around the Atlantic and Indian Ocean littorals. Between 1808 and 1896, the network of courts emancipated about 7-10 percent of an estimated 3.5 million enslaved Africans. Liberated Africans reconstructs on a case-by-case basis widely dispersed archival evidence from a rich, transnational collection of primary sources made by the earliest international human rights courts.

Slave Biographies

Project Leads:

Daryle Williams, University of Maryland
Gwendolyn Midlo HallProfessor Emeritus, Rutgers University
Walter Hawthorne, Michigan State University

Slave Biographies: The Atlantic Database Network is an open access data repository of information on the identities of enslaved people in the Atlantic World. It includes the names, ethnicities, skills, occupations, and illnesses of individual slaves. Users of the website can access data about slaves in colonial Louisiana and Maranhão, Brazil. They can download datasets, search for ancestors, and run statistical analysis.

The Slave Societies Digital Archive

Project Lead:

Jane Landers, Vanderbilt University

The Slave Societies Digital Archive (SSDA) preserves the oldest records for the slave societies of the Americas and is now the largest archive of its kind in the world, holding approximately 500,000 images dating from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries. These unique records document the lives of approximately six million free and enslaved Africans, their descendants, and the indigenous, European, and Asian people with whom they interacted in Cuba, Brazil, Colombia, and what was then Spanish La Florida. In addition, SSDA preserves African materials collected in Angola, Benin, and Cape Verde. The SSDA’s largest and oldest collections were generated by the Catholic Church, which mandated the baptism of African slaves in the fifteenth century and later extended this requirement across the Iberian Empire. The baptismal records preserved in SSDA are the oldest uniform and serial data available for the history of Africans in the Atlantic World and offer the most extensive information regarding their specific ethnic origins. SSDA  also preserves secular records including bills of sale, property registries and disputes, dowries, and letters of manumission, among other record types.

Technical Advisory Board

Leif Isaksen, Professor of Digital Humanities, University of Exeter
Eric Kansa, Technology Director & Open Context Program Director, The Alexandria Archive Institute
Sharon Leon, Associate Professor, Department of History, Michigan State University; Director of Digital Public History, Matrix, Michigan State University
Jeff Mixter, Senior Software Engineer, OCLC
Daniel Pitti, Associate Director, Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, University of Virginia
Mia Ridge, Digital Curator, Western Heritage Collections, British Library