historic photo

Slave voyages, through a digital lens

Catherine Zimmermann-Mulgrave (pictured third from the left) was a survivor of a slave voyage that embarked from Angola in 1833, bound for Cuba. When the vessel, the Heroina, wrecked off the coast of Jamaica, she escaped, along with other slaves, and received her western name, which referenced then-Governor of Jamaica, the Earl of Mulgrave.

Mulgrave's experience is one of 35,000 slave journeys documented on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. Accessed at slavevoyages.org, it gives researchers, students, and the general public a chance to "rediscover the reality of one of the largest forced movements of peoples in world history." Through essays, maps, images, timelines, and more, the project contains a variety of entries into understanding the forcible embarkation of more than 12 million Africans for transport to the Americas between the 16th and 19th centuries. It also offers lesson plans for K-12 teachers and connects to African Origins, a database of 91,491 Africans taken from captured slave ships or African trading sites.

An international effort led by Robert W. Woodruff Professor of History Emeritus David Eltis, Voyages originally was produced and published in 2008, with help from the Emory Libraries. This year, Eltis and his co-editors will work with Emory Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS) to enhance, update, and recode the website, thanks to a new Digital Humanities Implementation Grant from the NEH. They also will translate the site into Portuguese, which will allow access by many more viewers.

ECDS regularly collaborates with Emory faculty, students, and staff on such projects, providing digital tools and methods to make research come alive in a new way. "We are like a new publishing center that offers an alternative to the traditional way knowledge is shared," says historian Allen Tullos, who co-directs ECDS. "Our goal is to promote public scholarship and create public-facing work that reaches all kinds of scholars." Reflecting that spirit, the staff also share that expertise by repurposing their methods for other institutions.