Release date: June 21, 2006
Contact: Elaine Justice at 404-727-0643 or

Trans-Atlantic Slave Voyages Data to Go Online

The Fredensborg II heading for St. Croix with a cargo of slaves. (From The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record)
Scholars at Emory University have been awarded grants to revise and expand a renowned database of slave trade voyages—fully 82 percent of the entire history of the slave trade—and make the material available for free on the Internet for the first time.

The grants include $324,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and $25,000 from Harvard University's W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research. The expansion of the current database is based on the seminal 1999 work "The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade," a CD-ROM that includes more than 27,000 slave trade voyages and has been popular with scholars and genealogists alike.

"We're trying to do for African Americans what's been done for Euro-Americans already," says David Eltis, Robert W. Woodruff Professor of History at Emory and one of the scholars who published "The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade." Eltis and Martin Halbert, director of digital programs and systems for Emory's Libraries, are directing the project.

"Everyone wants to know where their antecedents came from, and certainly Europeans have been more thoroughly covered by historians," says Eltis. "There are more data on the slave trade than on the free migrant movement simply because the slave trade was a business and people were property, so records were likely to be better. What the database makes possible is the establishment of links between America and Africa in a way that already has been done by historians on Europeans for many years."

In addition to increasing the number of slave trade voyages from the original work by nearly 30 percent, the grant will allow the addition of new information to more than one-third of the voyages already included in the 1999 CD-ROM. The expanded database making its debut on the Internet will include auxiliary materials such as maps, ship logs, and manifests. It also will be presented in a two-tier format: one for professional researchers, another for K-12 students and general audiences. At the end of the two-year project, online researchers also will be able to submit new data to an editorial board for vetting and future inclusion in the database.

In bringing the materials online, "we are thinking about the needs of very different groups of users," says Halbert. "Scholars and researchers in higher education will want to look at specific time periods and generate comparative statistics, charts, graphs and geographic displays of information. K-12 students have much less background knowledge so will need more context to be able to use the material effectively."

At the time of its publication, "The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade" database transformed scholarly research in the field. Since then it has become increasingly rare to see publications on the slave trade that do not cite the CD-ROM, and the volume of queries and suggestions its authors receive has increased every year since its publication. The database also appeals to a wide range of academic disciplines and research expertise.

"This resource is more than a capstone to half a century of research," says Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard's DuBois Institute. "It is a way of marrying scholarship with the wide general interest in the slave trade that has developed."

A research associate at Harvard's DuBois Institute since 1993, Eltis is the author of prize-winning books on the Atlantic slave trade: "Economic Growth and The Ending of the Transatlantic Slave Trade" (New York, Oxford Univ. Press, 1987) and "The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas" (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2000). He also has edited and contributed to "Coerced and Free Migration: Global Perspectives" (Stanford University Press, 2002).

The project is part of Emory Library's MetaScholar Initiative, which focuses on supporting a range of scholarly work with the goal of realizing the possibilities for research and scholarship in the digital age. Through the initiative, Emory is gaining a national reputation as a leader in digital library development. In the past five years, the initiative has received more than $3.6 million in grant support from organizations such as the Mellon Foundation, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and NEH.

NEH is an independent grant-making agency of the United States government dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities. NEH has designated this project a "We the People" grant—an honor that singles out projects of great significance to the understanding of American history.


Emory University is known for its demanding academics, outstanding undergraduate college of arts and sciences, highly ranked professional schools and state-of-the-art research facilities. For nearly two decades Emory has been named one of the country's top 25 national universities by U.S. News & World Report. In addition to its nine schools, the university encompasses The Carter Center, Yerkes National Primate Research Center and Emory Healthcare, the state's largest and most comprehensive health care system.

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