Research News

Vanderbilt slavery archive set to reach wider audience through new multi-institutional data hub

A digital archive of the oldest records for Africans in the Americas directed by Jane Landers, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of History, and hosted at Vanderbilt’s Jean and Alexander Heard Library will join a new online data hub to be hosted at Michigan State University.

The data hub, called “Enslaved: The People of the Historic Slave Trade,” is supported by a $1.5 million grant from the Andrew H. Mellon Foundation. The project is expected to take 18 months to complete. Once it launches, it will enable both researchers and the public to access and analyze millions of pieces of data from collections across eight institutions, including Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt’s Slave Societies Digital Archive is the largest digital collection of records for Africans in the world, begun in 2002 and now approaching 600,000 records from the United States, the Caribbean region and Latin America. The records span four centuries and document the lives of as many as 8 million enslaved Africans, their free and enslaved descendants, and the indigenous, European and Asian communities they lived alongside.

Landers says this hub will enable scholars and the public new ways to interact with documents that would otherwise be far too fragile or remote to be shared or compared. “One of our team described what we do as ‘guerrilla preservation,’” Landers said. “We work in some pretty difficult places and race against the clock to preserve these invaluable sources for African history because they are being lost daily to neglect, climate, fungi and other damage.”

In addition to Vanderbilt, the partner projects in the initial rollout will be:

  • Relevant collections housed within Matrix: The Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University
  • “African Origins and Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database” led by David Eltis, professor emeritus, Emory University, and Paul Lachance
  • “Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography” and “Dictionary of African Biography and African American National Biography” led by Henry Louis Gates Jr., Steven Niven and Abby Wolf, Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University
  • “Freedom Narratives” led by Paul Lovejoy, York University
  • “Legacies of British Slave-Ownership” led by Keith McClelland, University College, London
  • “The Liberated Africans Project” led by Henry Lovejoy, University of Colorado Boulder
  • “Slave Biographies” led by Daryle Williams, University of Maryland