ABSTRACT

This article examines several projects that apply digital technologies to the study of transatlantic slavery and assesses the potential benefits of these projects while also noting their limitations. It argues that despite the absence of race, and specifically African American history and culture, in much digital humanities scholarship, the study of slavery has been considerably enhanced and transformed by the work of archivists and digital humanities scholars who apply digital technologies to the study and representation of slavery and enslaved people. This subject must continue to be studied so that we understand not only the past but also slavery's impact on the present. Digital technologies such as databases and geographic information system mapping have been useful in helping us understand this chapter of human history more fully and in new ways. Digital applications to archival materials relating to transatlantic slavery not only increase access to these materials for students and researchers, but also offer ways of obtaining new insights into this topic. However, to enhance our understanding of the history of slavery and to be effective agents of progressive social change, such initiatives should be cognizant of how data analysis can be driven by false assumptions of neutrality and can unwittingly contribute to the reification and dehumanization of people of African descent that was characteristic of transatlantic slavery. Digital humanities as a field should both continue such digitizing initiatives and also use digital tools to create critical analyses of oppressive hierarchies to weaken or destroy them.

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