Documenting Runaway Slaves in the Atlantic World: Sources and Uses
As the eminent historian of slavery in the Caribbean-Michael Craton-wrote, “Wherever there were slave plantations, there were runaways” (Testing the Chains [1982: 61)]. One may also note that wherever there were newspapers, there were runaway slave advertisements and notices. This session will build on and extend a series of conference panels (including African Studies Association 2012; American Historical Association 2013) on the subject of documenting runaway slaves in the Atlantic world by focusing on “sources and uses” of these significant but widely scattered primary source materials. Whereas historians have long made use of runaway slave advertisements, though largely for anecdotal purposes, and indeed have debated their utility as primary sources, the focus generally has been on North America (the colonial and antebellum South). This session will emphasize the significance of runaway slave advertisements and notices as primary sources for the study of the Atlantic world in the era of slavery, with a focus on Brazil and Saint-Domingue. This session will also contribute to the development of a scholarly network that we are assembling for a comprehensive, collaborative, and international research project to systematically compile and disseminate collections of runaway slave advertisements and notices throughout the Atlantic world, including North America, the West Indies, Brazil, and Portuguese West Africa. Session participants include scholars at varying moments in their careers, from assistant to associate to endowed chair professors. Daniel B. Domingues da Silva, a scholar of the slave trade between Angola and Brazil, will assess available newspaper sources for nineteenth-century Brazil; Ibrahima Seck, a scholar of cultural-historical connections between Senegal and colonial Louisiana, will evaluate the uses of Internet resources for documenting runaway slaves in the Francophone Atlantic, in particular for Saint-Domingue (colonial Haiti); and Douglas B. Chambers, a scholar of the Igbo diaspora and “Atlantic Africa,” and co-principal investigator of the Documenting Runaway Slaves project based at the University of Southern Mississippi, which has just launched with four digitized collections totaling over 10,000 runaway slaves (18th-century Jamaica; 19th-century Jamaica; Mississippi; Arkansas) will describe a systematic program of research on an international scale, with Max Grivno, a scholar of slavery and emancipation in the U.S. South and co-principal investigator of the Documenting Runaway Slaves project serving as session chair; and Patrick Manning, an eminent scholar of world history, who will serve as formal commentator for this set of discussions. This session relates directly to the overall conference theme of “disagreement, debate, and discussion” by emphasizing the “uses of varied sources and methods” (runaway slave notices, text-based compilations, digital humanities) for studying the Atlantic World in the era of slavery from new perspectives.