Mapping Free Africans and Circuits of Information in Mid-19th-Century Rio de Janeiro
Thursday, January 7, 2016: 1:20 PM
Regency Ballroom VI (Hyatt Regency Atlanta)
Between September 1849 and July 1851, Robert Hesketh (1789-1868), British Consul posted to Rio de Janeiro, took down personal information about nearly 1000 Free African men, women, and children, most residing in or near the central parishes of the Brazilian capital. Much of the “particulars” registered by Hesketh were given to him in face-to-face interviews with Africans who volunteered information about occupation, time in Brazil, place of residence, wages, treatment, and family life. The consul's registries provide some direct, visible insight into the personal experiences of Africans in a large American slave city. Using a GIS-based and word mapping digital humanities tools developed at the Spatial History Lab (Stanford University), this paper explores the visualization of the largely hidden circuits of information built between Hesketh and his informants. It looks at an initial happenstance encounter between an unnamed African and the consul that developed quickly into a spatially and temporally dynamic network of shared information about these Africans, largely unbeknownst to Brazilian officials, at the twilight of the clandestine transatlantic slave trade to Brazil.