Enslaved Background Image

Project History

Enslaved: Peoples of the Historical Slave Trade has a long history with digital collections about enslavement. In 2011, the project originated from an earlier digital humanities project Slave Biographies: The Atlantic Database Network funded by the National Endowment of the Humanities. This project initiated six years of work to develop the needed partnerships as well as plans for possible infrastructure, controlled vocabularies, and data models to do a larger project that would bring together datasets on enslaved people from around the world. A larger project offered many challenges given the disparate, dispersed, and idiosyncratic structure of much of the data.


In 2017, the opportunity to move Enslaved.org project forward came with a planning grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. After a successful planning stage, in 2018, the Foundation funded Phase 1 of Enslaved.org, to build a proof of concept. The idea was simple: given the complex nature of the plans and the many problems with the data and the innovative nature of the technologies, we needed to prove the project could be done. After successfully doing so, in 2019, Mellon funded an implementation grant to begin populating Enslaved.org with data and begin publishing the Journal of Slavery and Data Preservation as a gateway for including new datasets through peer review into Enslaved.org.


To be more specific about the mission, personnel and data, Enslaved.org, like its predecessor Slave Biographies, focuses on the scourge of African enslavement and its global reach. Enslaved.org has 5 key objectives: People: Build an interconnected system of services and tools that would (1) Allow individuals involved in the slave trade to be identified and recognized across all participating project databases; Allow those identified and recognized individuals to be searched, and explored and visualized in Enslaved.org. (2) Use Linked Open Data (LOD) approach to facilitate federated searching and browsing across all linked project data on the Hub; it also creates a network and community framework that supports the preservation of current and future slave data projects. (3) Develop and disseminate best practices for data collection, metadata standards, ontologies, and workflows; and to provide guidance for participating in the Hub. (4) Foster scholarly recognition through peer review to give credit to humanists for depositing data, for digital humanists for developing digital projects, and for public institutions that are rarely rewarded for their hard work in serving their publics. (5) Enhance preservation and sustainability by providing a space for preservation of datasets as well as both to help identify projects in danger of going offline and to develop a wide community to support and expertise.


Under the direction of Dean Rehberger (Principal Investigator, Michigan State University), Walter Hawthorne (Co-Principal Investigator, Michigan State University), Ethan Watrall (Co-Principal Investigator, Michigan State University), and Daryle Williams (Co-Principal Investigator, University of Maryland), and joined by the project and technical teams at Matrix at Michigan State University, led by Head of Software Development, Seila Gonzalez, and supported by advanced data researchers Catherine Foley and Alicia Sheill, and Head of Systems, Jeff Goeke-Smith, Enslaved.org began with the Slave Biographies’ three core datasets: the Louisiana Slave Database (Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, creator; 280,488 records including 161,109 person records), the Maranhão Inventories Slave Database (Walter Hawthorne, creator; 8,602 records including 8,341 person records), and the Free Black Database (Brian Mitchell, creator; 11,821 records including 3,596 person records).


Following the successful proof-of-concept phase (01/1/2018-06/30/2019), to develop a linked open data architecture and an ontology of digital slave studies sources from a community of subject specialists, additional datasets were integrated into Enslaved.org. During the second implementation grant (07/01/2019 - 09/30/2020), Enslaved.org successfully linked data from long-standing legacy projects including Voyages: The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database (David Eltis, et. al., creators, 171,571 records including 146,217 person records) and the Legacies of British Slave-ownership (Keith McClelland, et. al., creators; 599,354 records including 382,810 person records), coordinated the data extraction of the lives of the enslaved from the African American National Biography  (Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, and Steven J. Niven, creators; 5,055 records including 1,307 person records), and supported the development of a suite of datasets about Free Africans and others in nineteenth-century Brazilian slave society (Daryle Williams, et. al, creators; 60,000 person records).


With just these contributions, Enslaved.org has built a linked open data platform that makes available more than 750,000 records of People, Events, Places, and Sources that span slavery in North and South America, Africa, and Western Europe, from the early fifteenth century to final slave emancipation in Brazil, in 1888. Under the Journal of Slavery and Data Preservation, Enslaved.org has also launched a pioneering peer-review publishing platform for humanities datasets. The journal provides a new and innovative model for peer review publication of datasets and digital projects in the field of digital humanities and provides a gateway for data contribution from scholars, public history sites, museums, archives, and libraries.


We anticipate that Enslaved.org -- the LOD, journal, stories, and resources -- will be an ongoing project for decades as the need to find those enslaved is great and the possible datasets for inclusion are many.


Founding Partners

African Origins


David Eltis, Emory University

Biographies of the Enslaved Era

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University
Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, History Department, Harvard University
Steven J. Niven, Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University

Free Africans of Brazil

Project Overview

Daryle Williams, University of Maryland

Free Black Database


Brian Mitchell, University of Arkansas Little Rock

Freedom Narratives


Paul Lovejoy, York University

Legacies of British Slave-ownership


Keith McClelland, University College - London

Liberated Africans


Henry Lovejoy, University of Colorado Boulder

Louisiana Slave Database


Gwendolyn Hall, Michigan State University

Maranhão Inventories Slave Database


Walter Hawthorne, Michigan State University

Slave Societies Digital Archive


Jane Landers, Vanderbilt University

Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database


David Eltis, Emory University