Final Project

Transatlantic Slave Trade


The Transatlantic slave trade was the largest forced migrations in human history. From the early 16th to late 19th centuries, slave ships transported African peoples from across the continent to the New World to work on sugar, cotton, and tobacco plantations. By the end of the 19th century, close to 13 million African people had been forced to endure the brutality of the Middle Passage.

While traditional accounts of the Middle Passage have relied on sheer numbers to explain its importance, recent scholarship has focused on the human tragedy that played out over the course of centuries. This new field of Middle Passage Studies has worked to combat the, “violence of abstraction,” that consistently plagued the study of the Atlantic slave trade. In their quest for profit, European traders committed brutal actions on their enslaved cargo as a means of commoditizing human beings. Adults and children of all ages were subject to horrific punishment and dehumanizing torment, a process which served to otherize them and create laborers for imperial projects.

In making this project, my goal has been to analyze the spatial dimensions of the Middle Passage while providing a deeper context to the changes that occurred over time. The Transatlantic slave trade was not a static event, but a process that was acted out day-by-day on an intimate level. While incomplete in its current form, this current iteration serves as a basis for the larger project that I hope to complete.

Dataset and Current Status

The dataset that I use for this project has been downloaded from the Transatlantic Slave Voyages Database. The Voyages Database is a collaborative project headed by the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship. Started in 1993, the Voyages database worked to create a single multi-source dataset that could be worked on and used by a collaborative group of scholars and digital professionals. The project has been supported by a network of scholars and has been funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The version that is used in this project is from the 2016 dataset downloaded from When the latest version is released, I will update this project accordingly. Since I have focused on the regional aspects of the Middle Passage, this project solely deals with the geographic mapping of the trade and the numbers of enslaved people embarked on slave ships. I plan to expand this project to include information on gender, resistance, and details of major events. As it stands, this project is a basic introduction to the scope of the Middle Passage and its spatial dimensions

Map of Slave Ship Voyages

These figures demonstrate the scope of the Middle Passage spatially over the span of the forced migration. Both graphs examine the extent of the trade over time generally. While they do not show the scope of individuals forced across the sea, both maps show how the trade developed over time by region.

Enslaved People Embarked

The second visualization deals with the number of enslaved people embarked on slaving vessels as well as their regional background.

Scale of Participation

The third visualizations track the development of the trade based on region and national registry. The Transatlantic slave trade began in the 1500s and gradually expanded until the 1820s. The major push for the trade began in the 1650s with the expansion of the plantation economy with the expansion of sugar production. The English conquest of Jamaica and the intensification of commodity goods created a demand for cheap labor. After England opened the slave trade to private ventures in the early 1700s involvement increased exponentially. While Portugal was the most dependent on the slave trade due to their Brazilian holdings, the emergence of England as a major power in the 18th century saw an increase in the numbers of imported slaves. Both Portugal and England became the most extensive slaver empires in the world by the end of the 19th century. While England outlawed the Transatlantic slave trade in 1808, it would take six decades more for it to end.


Berlin, Ira. Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America. Cambridge and London: Belknap Press, 2003.

Brown, Vincent. “Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760-1761: A Cartographic Narrative.” (Accessed February, 2019).

Curtin, Philip. The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969.

Emory Center for Digital Scholarship. “Slave Voyages.” (Accessed February, 2019).

Harms, Robert. The Diligent: A Voyage Through the Worlds of the Slave Trade. New York: Basic Books, 2002.

Klein, Herbert S. The Middle Passage: Comparative Studies in the Atlantic Slave Trade. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978.

Mustakeem, Sowande’ M. Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage. Urbana, Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2016.

Rediker, Marcus. The Slave Ship: A Human History. New York: Penguin Books, 2008.

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