In January, we presented our project, the Baptismal Record Database for Slaves Societies, at the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association. This was the second time we showed our project in public. The first time we did it was during a workshop organized by Vanderbilt University, by professor Jane Landers in November 2015. On that occasion, we presented BARDSS in front of renowned scholars working in several digital projects related to African slavery and the Atlantic Slave Trade. It was an exciting opportunity to discuss many topics of great concern for digital humanists working on databases today such as how to standardise fields, how to put together different databases about similar but not the same topic, or how to define conflicting concepts such as race and nation which usually change dramatically along the Americas. After two intense days of discussion, the only implicit agreement was that there is a need to link diverse but related digital projects on slavery. In that direction, professor Walter Hawthorne coordinated a group of panels for the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association.
Our presentation at the AHA had little to add to what we already have done three months before at Vanderbilt. At that point, we had already agreed with our programmer to work on the visualization/search interface. Thus, we presented how we envisioned this interface. Most important, we showed the different search tools that users will have available and the charts and graphics that the system will create after this search. We discussed again some of the challenges we faced while drafting BARDSS. Some of them, already pointed out, were, for instance, to choose what fields from the documents deserved to be in the main search tool and not in the miscellaneous section or how we would treat different languages across the Americas. We were not sure at the beginning of this enterprise if we had to translate definition of races, even if this would be possible. We kept race definitions it in their original languages, and the reasons we took these decision will be another blog content. Rather, I would like to focus on one of the main issues that we discussed at the AHA: Is it possible to merge different databases in a single database?
The question raised because some of the similarities of the projects presented at that panel. In particular, because professor Patrick Manning presented his interesting project of creating a meta-database of human population. The questions were addressed mainly to him because the ambitious character of his project. There are basic fields, all we agreed, that can be compared or subsumed into a single project, such as sex, age, height, professions. There are other databases related to specific universe of documents that make little sense out of their documentary logic. A database on runaway slaves had particularities that does not exist for other type of databases like, for instance, date of capture. The same applies to projects on liberated Africans that contains non-replicable data such as the capture of the ships where the slaves were transported to the Americas. The main challenge is –this is still the issue- to create a dialog among different projects; Is it possible to create at least a sort of soft linkability. This is a discussion still opened to more points of view.