The group worked with two datasets: the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (www.slavevoyages.org), an SPSS-formatted database currently run out of Emory University, containing data on 36,002 individual slaving expeditions between 1514 and 1866; and the Climatological Database for the World’s Oceans 1750-1850 (CLIWOC) (www.kaggle.com/cwiloc/climate-data-from-ocean-ships), a dataset composed of digitized records from the daily logbooks of ocean vessels, originally funded by the European Union in 2001 for purposes of tracking historical climate change. This second dataset includes 280,280 observational records of daily ship locations, climate data, and other associated information. The team employed archival materials to confirm (and disconfirm) overlaps between the two datasets: the students identified 316 ships bearing the same name across the datasets, of which they confirmed 35 matching slaving voyages.
The students had two central objectives: first, to locate where and why enslaved Africans died along the Middle Passage, and, second, to analyze patterns in the mortality rates. The group found significant patterns in the mortality data in both spatial and temporal terms (full results can be found here). At the same time, the team also examined the ethics of creating visualizations based on data that were recorded by the perpetrators of the slave trade—opening up space for further developments of this project that would include more detailed archival and theoretical work.
Image credit: J.M.W. Turner, Slave Ship, 1840, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (public domain)
Faculty Lead: Charlotte Sussman
Project Manager: Emma Davenport