Crowdsourcing, Databases, and the Study of African Origins in the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World

AHA Session 58
Friday, January 3, 2014: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Thurgood Marshall Ballroom East (Marriott Wardman Park)
Daniel B. Domingues da Silva, University of Missouri–Columbia

Session Abstract

Since 2008, two resources that live on the web have been collecting, processing, and making available information about the largest forced migration in global history. One is the transatlantic slave voyages database ( that allows users to access information on more than 35,000 transatlantic slaving expeditions. In the nineteenth century about 200,000 of the 12.5 million Africans carried off across the Atlantic during the slave trade era were diverted from the plantations in the Americas for which they were intended, mainly as a result of interception by the British navy.  Personal details of 92,000 of the “Liberated Africans,” as the intercepted captives were called, form the core of a second database available at This information includes African names, from which inferences of languages and the ultimate geographic origin of the individual captive can be drawn. These two sites have very different goals but they share a dependence on crowdsourcing, which is to say they not only provide easily accessible information and analytical tools to those interested in the African diaspora, but they are designed to create new information from users, both within and outside the academy. Their usefulness needs to be measured in terms of the knowledge they create as well as the knowledge they distribute.

The session will therefore address two questions, one on method, and one on content. What have we learned about the effectiveness of crowd-sourcing for historians of this diaspora (papers by Misevich, Eltis), and what do we know about the late eighteenth century nineteenth century African diaspora itself that we did not know six years ago (papers by all Misevich, Eltis, Lovejoy)? Audience will comprise those interested in using the web to involve non-scholars in their work, as well those interested transatlantic issues of identity for people leaving Africa in the transatlantic slave trade era and their descendants.

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