My CHI project, Volta River Commodities, is built around a dataset that I created from West African colonial trade statistics. Officials from the Gold Coast (what is now Ghana) were stationed at preventative stations along the colony’s borders to control the movement of people and goods. The information that they recorded included descriptions of objects carried by traders, the amount carried, and the direction traveled. By translating the information from paper documents into digital tables, I created a dataset with a total of 7,735 records, which illustrate the diversity of objects carried across the Volta River and the changing trends in internal trade.

Hausa Trader in the Gold Coast, 1925
A Hausa Trader in the Gold Coast, 1925: BMArchives

The website I created to publish the final dataset includes essays that introduce users to the history of trade along the Volta River and the archival documents from the preventative stations. I built the website using Jekyll because I wanted to learn a different front-end library. In learning Jekyll, I found the file structure to be the most confusing aspect. It wasn’t immediately apparent to me how layouts, pages, and page components fit together. Eventually, I found Minimal Mistakes, a flexible theme created by Michael Rose, that already had the layouts I intended to use on my website, along with extensive documentation. Once I setup the website pages, I could write the content in markdown files, which I prefer to HTML.

The core feature of my digital project, though, is the final dataset. In addition to writing contextual information, I described the process I used to create the CSV and JSON files published on the website. This process began at the Public Records and Archives Administration Department in Accra and Tamale, Ghana where I translated information from paper documents into digital tables. I used R, a computer language for statistical analysis, for the remainder of the process, which included combining the different tables into one dataset and standardizing the fields and values. All of the decisions I made during this process are recorded in an R file, which is available for download in the R project folder on the Volta River Commodities website.

As my second year as a CHI fellow comes to a close, I am happy to launch my digital history project Volta River Commodities.