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March 16, 2019

Historical Data at the Enslaved Conference

March 16, 2019 | By | No Comments

On March 8th and 9th, Michigan State University hosted a conference titled Enslaved: Peoples of the Historic Slave Trade. The conference brought together scholars using databases to research the lives of individuals connected to slavery and the slave trade. The list of presenters can be found here, and videos of the presentations can be found on the Matrix YouTube channel. Most presenters at the conference focused on the lives of enslaved people in the Americas as captured in archival sources. The two dominant geographic areas for this type of research included the United States and Brazil. Other presenters drew from archaeological methods to explore the material pasts of slavery. Oral history and biographies also featured as methodologies used to build databases. Two themes emerged early in the conference and persisted throughout the presentation sessions: First linking different types of data and second developing best practices for data collection and management.

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February 13, 2019

Transforming Historical Data into Visualizations

February 13, 2019 | By | No Comments

A central component of my CHI project is working with historical data. The creation of a database from historical documents is a long and tedious process, so I have decided to use one already available online. A group of economic historians published the African Commodity Trade Database (ACTD) by working with the Rural Environment History Group at Wageningen University. One of their datasets includes more than nine thousand commodities exported from Africa from the early nineteenth century to World War II. I plan to build from their work by transforming some of their data into visualizations on a website. This process includes several decisions that will shape my final visualizations and the historical contextualization I will contribute to explaining them. I’ve described part of that process below by highlighting some of the decisions I’ve made in selecting which data to use.

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January 31, 2019

Africa’s Imperial Commodities

January 31, 2019 | By | No Comments

Europe’s exploitation of Africa is a common narrative in African history. Scholars continue to use archival records to investigate the movement of enslaved persons and commodities from Africa to the Americas and Europe. In the past ten years, scholars have also produced digital projects that enhance economic, social, and cultural studies related to the transportation of African slaves to the Americas. However, there remain few digital projects harnessing the possibilities of Africa’s commodity data. Economic historians of Africa, more so than others, have contributed to the collection and publication of product-based datasets. While some of them publish their data online, it remains in digital formats requiring knowledge of data analysis software. The goal of my CHI project, then, is to re-purpose the available data as part of interactive visualizations that facilitate access for students and scholars.

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December 6, 2018

Rethinking Quantification in African History

December 6, 2018 | By | No Comments

Numbers remain unwelcome facets of African history. Foreigners collected most of them until independence, and after independence the published numbers tend to reflect Africa’s lack in terms of economic and social development. Of course, these numbers, most of which have been extrapolated from trade and population statistics, reflect the preoccupations of those who collected them. Thus, many African historians rightly ignore the numbers to tell other types of African history.

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November 8, 2018

Data from the Atlantic Slave Trade, Part 2

November 8, 2018 | By | No Comments

In my last post, I discussed how historians use ethnonyms in historical datasets. The main take-away from that post is ethnonyms are difficult to interpret but can reflect the movement of African slaves with similar socio-cultural characteristics to specific regions in the Americas. Historians use this information to explore cultural continuities between Africans and African-descended people in the Americas.

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October 11, 2018

Data from the Atlantic Slave Trade

October 11, 2018 | By | No Comments

I am currently supporting Matrix with Enslaved, a digital project that links historical datasets related to the Atlantic slave trade. My work includes looking at data compiled by different historians and reorganizing that data so it is easier to link to other datasets. Most of these datasets are organized by person and include a number of characteristics for each person, as enumerated in the historical documents. The characteristics may include name, birthdate, sex, age, and occupation. They may also include descriptors for color/race, ethnonym, and place of origin.

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September 14, 2018

Introducing CHI Fellow Ryan Carty

September 14, 2018 | By | No Comments

I am a second year graduate student in the history department where I focus on African history. My specific focus is on the White Volta and Oti River regions of West Africa from the 1890s to 1960s. I am interested in skilled work in that region and its influence on cultural, social, and political changes.

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