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Atlantic Slave Database project is launched in N.O.

7th January 2013   ·   0 Comments

On Sunday, January 6, the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities (LEH) and Michigan State University (MSU) hosted the launch of Biographies: the Atlantic Slave Database, a digital project led by scholars Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, PhD, and Walter Hawthorne, PhD, of MSU and funded by a National Endowment for the Humanities grant. The event was held at 1:30 p.m. at the Louisiana Humanities Center and was open to the public.

The original Louisiana Slave Database 1719-1820 was initiated in 1984 by Dr. Midlo Hall and supported by a grant from the LEH and the NEH. This work contributed to a seismic change in perceptions about what we can know about African slaves and their descendants throughout the Atlantic World (Africa, Europe, North and South America). Dr. Hawthorne, with support from NEH, collected data about slaves in the Brazilian state of Maranhão from plantation inventories, which is the basis for his book, From Africa to Brazil: Culture, Identity, and an Atlantic Slave Trade 1600-1830. Hall and Hawthorne are working with MSU’s MATRIX digital humanities center to design a new online database that will make available datasets compiled by multiple researchers from various types of documentation located at archives, courthouses, churches, government offices, museums, ports, and private collections spread throughout the Atlantic World.

Since the 1980s, a number of major databases about enslaved Africans were constructed and used by their creators in major publications. However, there has not been a platform for preserving and sharing these datasets so that they can be organized, shared, mined and analyzed in new ways to promote comparative — and collaborative — humanities scholarship.

“We especially welcome academics and museum directors throughout Louisiana in parishes where slave documents are located so we can discuss planning for data entry for the entire period of slavery taking up where the Louisiana Slave Database left off,” says Dr. Hall.

With support from the NEH Preservation and Access program, the project has built a digital repository with a comprehensive set of fields about slaves to which scholars will be invited to upload, preserve, and provide public access to datasets from diverse sources and regions throughout the Atlantic.

This article was originally published in the January 7, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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