Eltis, David, and David Richardson. Extending the Frontiers: Essays on the New Transatlantic Slave Trade Database. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.
A series of scholars of slavery and the slave trade join Eltis and Richardson for a study on the function and utility of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (available for use and viewing here).
Since 1999, intensive research efforts have vastly increased what is known about the history of coerced migration of transatlantic slaves. A huge database of slave trade voyages from Columbus’s era to the mid-nineteenth century is now available on an open-access Web site, incorporating newly discovered information from archives around the Atlantic world. The groundbreaking essays in this book draw on these new data to explore fundamental questions about the trade in African slaves. The research findings—that the size of the slave trade was 14 percent greater than had been estimated, that trade above and below the equator was largely separate, that ports sending out the most slave voyages were not in Europe but in Brazil, and more—challenge accepted understandings of transatlantic slavery and suggest a variety of new directions for important further research.
Fields-Black, Edda L. Deep Roots: Rice Farmers in West Africa and the African Diaspora. Indiana University Press, 2008.
Gilbert, Erik. “Coastal Rice Farming Systems in Guinea and Sierra Leone, Deep Roots: Rice Farmers in West Africa and the African Diaspora. By Edda L. Fields-Black.” The Journal of African History 50, no. 03 (2009): 437-438.
From the review by Erik Gilbert:
“The role of African technologies and agricultural knowledge in the development of rice farming in the Americas has drawn considerable scholarly attention in the last decade. That Africans might have contributed not just their labor to the tidal rice-farming systems of the South Carolina Low Country but also essential knowledge of the techniques needed to grow rice in that challenging environment is highly appealing. It gives agency to enslaved Africans and recognizes the sophistication of West African riziculture. The most recent expression of this idea has been Judith Carney’s Black Rice.1 Carney’s work has been challenged by David Eltis, Philip Morgan, and David Richardson, who have argued that the number of slaves coming to South Carolina from rice-growing areas of Africa is too small to explain the development of American rice farming.2
Edda Fields-Black’s new book contributes to this debate primarily by adding to our knowledge of the coastal rice-farming systems of Guinea and Sierra Leone, where rice-farming techniques most closely resemble the tidal irrigation systems of the South Carolina Low Country. In this part of Sierra Leone, farmers clear mangrove swamps and, through careful control of the movement of fresh water through the fields, drain and desalinate the soil. This is a process that can take years and that can be reversed almost instantly if embankments built to keep salt water out are breached. Managing the water supply to these fields requires careful harnessing of tides in the river estuaries so that salt water is kept out but fresh water is allowed in. Early observers of this system assumed that the stateless societies of the coast were unlikely to have created so complex a technology and that it must have been introduced either by Europeans or by Africans from the states of the interior….”
This month’s American Historical Review features a forum on Judith Carney’s much discussed work Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas (Harvard University Press, 2001). Scholars S. Max Edelson, Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Walter Hawthorne, David Eltis, Philip Morgan and David Richardson weigh in.
AHR Exchange: The Question of “Black Rice”
Beyond “Black Rice”: Reconstructing Material and Cultural Contexts for Early Plantation Agriculture
S. Max Edelson
Africa and Africans in the African Diaspora: The Uses of Relational Databases
Gwendolyn Midlo Hall
From “Black Rice” to “Brown”: Rethinking the History of Risiculture in the Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Atlantic Walter Hawthorne
Black, Brown, or White? Color-Coding American Commercial Rice Cultivation with Slave Labor
Over 34,000 individual slaving expeditions between 1527 and 1866 that have been identified and verified to have actually occurred make up the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. Records of the voyages have been found in multiple archival sources which are listed in a variable in the dataset. These records provide details about vessels, enslaved peoples, slave traders and owners, and trading routes. The database enables users to search for information about a particular voyage or group of voyages and it provides full interactive capability to analyze the data and report results in the form of statistical tables, graphs, maps, or on a timeline. In addition to information in the database itself, specific voyages are linked to images and to copies of primary sources in the “Resources” section, and “Educational materials” like lesson-plans are linked in turn to relevant voyages in the main database. Users are encouraged to compare findings from the main database with “Estimates” in the first section. The latter are somewhat higher because they represent an attempt to take into account the number of slaves on voyages for which information is lacking or not yet included in the main database.
The the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database is an invaluable resource for anyone doing research on the Atlantic African diaspora.
The website is still incomplete. There are empty links where crucial pages on methodology, authors, and lesson plans will be. There also don’t appear to be any author credits available yet. The Cambridge version for the CD-ROM is only a touch better, describing the CD-ROM “a data set compiled by respected historians and draws on the archival work of Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish, English, and French scholars” without mentioning a single one anywhere on their site. To actually know that this is phenomenal work of David Eltis, David Richardson, Stephen Behrendt and Herbert Klein (and many research assistants) or that the project was sponsored by the W. E. B. DuBois Institute at Harvard University, requires some Google searching.
All that said, that this extensive database is now accessible online, not just on CD-ROM, is very exciting.
Visit the website (hopefully completed soon) here.
[Update: The site should be completed and open to the public; the above link is working fine. Thank you for the emails and comments of concern!]
David Eltis, Philip D. Morgan, and David Richardson, “Agency and Diaspora in Atlantic History: Reassessing the African Contribution to Rice Cultivation in the Americas,” American Historical Review 112, no. 5 (December 2007): 1329-1358.
First Paragraph Steal:
Broadly speaking, two contrasting models dominate interpretations of Atlantic history. One draws on Old World influences to explain the nature of societies and cultures in the Americas, while the other assigns primacy to the New World environment. One stresses continuities, the other change. The polar extremes are persistence and transience, inheritance and experience. An emphasis on inheritance prioritizes the cultural baggage that migrants brought with them, whereas a focus on experience highlights the physical and social environments, such as climate, natural resources, and settlement processes, that they encountered. In modern parlance, one approach focuses on folkways, the other on factor endowments.