Emory Report
December 15, 2008
Volume 61, Number 15

Call for action
against trafficking

“Despite the abolition of [one of] the largest human trafficking movements in recorded history, the practice continues illegally around the world,” said Rick Luce in his opening remarks at the “Voyages” conference, marking the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

“The U.S. State Department has estimated that at least 600,000 to 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year. As we explore the Trans-Atlantic slave trade of two centuries ago, let us resolve at the close of this important anniversary year that we will do what we can to bring an end to human trafficking in our own time, as well.”



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December 15
, 2008
Conference launches ‘Voyages’

By elaine justice

The excitement was palpable as an eclectic group of international scholars, museum directors, students and the public gathered in Woodruff Library’s Jones Room for the conference celebrating the debut of the Web site “Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database” (www.slavevoyages.org).

“‘Voyages’ is a wonderful example of how libraries and scholars can combine knowledge and skill to create knowledge together that neither could create alone,” said Rick Luce, director of University Libraries, in opening remarks. Over time, he said, “multiple institutions have and will grow this database into a force of knowledge that none of them, either, could have created alone.”

David Brion Davis, Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University and one of the foremost experts in the field, spoke to an overflow crowd on “Putting American and British Slave-Trade Abolition in Broader Perspective.” He called the “Voyages” launch “by far the most significant and productive breakthrough in slavery research in the half-century that I’ve been working on this broad subject.”

Davis delivered a tour de force on the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the complex path that led to its abolition. He illustrated its magnitude, which only hints at the extent of human suffering: By 1820, enslaved Africans constituted “some 80 percent of all people who embarked for the Americas since 1500.”

He also revealed the “pathological consequences of a world view that subordinates all human relationships to free-market choices.” Davis said the value of Southern slaves in 1860 equaled “80 percent of the Gross National Product, or what today would be equivalent to $9.75 trillion. There were good reasons why, in 1860, two-thirds of the richest Americans lived in the slaveholding South.”

David Eltis, co-director of the “Voyages” project, said that the effort to launch the site had been a true collaboration of scholars and disciplines: Close to 1,000 people have contributed materials to the project since 2001, and he credited the collaboration with Martin Halbert and the team at University Libraries for providing the technical expertise and vision that enabled the project to secure funding and move forward.

Aggregating information and curating it in new ways to make it broadly available “is really the wave of the future,” said Halbert, director of digital innovations for Emory Libraries. “What we and others are seeing in ‘Voyages’ is a model for scholarship and research in the 21st century.”

“The conversation sparked at this gathering and the explorations of ‘Voyages’ that began during the conference will continue far into the future,” said Luce.

Leslie Harris, associate professor of African American studies and history, chaired a graduate student panel and noted the number of people — non-academics — from Atlanta who attended “and were highly interested in the research and its meaning for society today.

The conversations we had at the conference were informed by a true diversity of opinion, from within and outside academia, and that really made for a stimulating, thought-provoking experience.”

One result of the conference is that the University of Hull in England will “mirror” the Web site. Eventually, says Eltis, the plan is for the “Voyages” site

to be mirrored in locations around the world, which will safeguard against bandwidth overloads or server crashes and help improve the site’s performance.

Just one day after its debut, “Voyages” Web site had its busiest day ever, with 183,957 pages viewed by 7,901 visitors on Dec. 6. From Dec. 1-9 the site had 454,280 pages viewed by 22,828 visitors.

For those who missed the conference, a recording of sessions will be available at Emory on iTunes U. An accompanying exhibit on “Voyages” is currently on display in the hallway outside the Jones Room, and will on display through March 15.

Two recent books based on the project are published by Yale University Press: “Extending the Frontiers: Essays on the New Transatlantic Slave Trade Database,” edited by Eltis and David Richardson of the University of Hull (September 2008) and the forthcoming “Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade” featuring 170 maps that draw on data from the project.