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 for 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 Mellon Foundation. After a successful planning stage, in 2018, the Foundation funded the first phase 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, the Mellon Foundation 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.
Under the direction of MSU faculty Dean Rehberger, Walter Hawthorne, and Ethan Watrall, as well as Daryle Williams (University of Maryland), and joined by the project-management and technical leads at Matrix (Catherine Foley, Jeff Goeke-Smith, Seila Gonzalez, and Alicia Sheill), Enslaved.org began with the Slave Biographies’ three core datasets: the Louisiana Slave Database (Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, creator), the Maranhão Inventories Slave Database (Walter Hawthorne), and the Free Black Database (Brian Mitchell).
Following the successful proof-of-concept phase (2018-mid 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 phase of the project for implementation (mid-2019-early 2021), Enslaved.org successfully linked data from several projects and coordinated the data extraction of the lives of the enslaved from the African American National Biography, with the support of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Steven J. Niven, the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University, and Oxford University Press. With just these contributions, Enslaved.org has built a linked open data platform that makes available thousands of 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.
Enslaved.org has also launched a pioneering peer-review publishing platform for humanities datasets, the Journal of Slavery and Data Preservation. The journal provides a new and innovative model for peer review 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. Data articles describe the scope, methodology, and historical significance of datasets integrated into the Hub.
Enslaved.org will be an ongoing project for decades as the need to find those enslaved is great and the possible datasets for inclusion are many.
David Eltis, Emory University
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
Daryle Williams, University of Maryland
Brian Mitchell, University of Arkansas Little Rock
Paul Lovejoy, York University
Keith McClelland, University College - London
Henry Lovejoy, University of Colorado Boulder
Gwendolyn Hall, Michigan State University
Walter Hawthorne, Michigan State University
Jane Landers, Vanderbilt University
David Eltis, Emory University