Slave Biographies is grounded in the research of Principal Investigators Gwendolyn Midlo Hall and Walter Hawthorne and the datasets they have collected. A pioneer in the digital humanities domain, Hall spent a large part of her career constructing the Louisiana Slave Database 1719-1820 (LSD). The LSD was begun in 1984, and results from calculations were first published in the applicant’s book, Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century (Baton Rouge, 1992, pb1995), which received nine book prizes. An expanded database was created under an NEH Collaborative Research grant awarded in 1991. Databases and supporting documentation, calculations, and images were first published on a CD.[1]

This CD publication includes census databases and spreadsheets by Jeffrey and Virginia Gould and Paul LaChance, all attendees at the Gulf South Database Group Conference in January 1993 at the Historic New Orleans Collection under the original NEH Collaborative Research contract. It was attended by 25 scholars from the United States and Canada, including also Jane I. Landers and Patrick Manning. The Louisiana Slave Database was created primarily as a tool for historical research. But it took on a life of its own and attracted a great deal of attention from the media and the wider public, both in the United States and abroad. This can be explained by its innovative methodology as well as the hunger for concrete knowledge about slaves.

On Sunday, July 30, 2000, the New York Times published a front-page story about the LSD (David Firestone, “Louisiana Slaves Lose their Anonymity,” In November 2001, a website with a user-friendly search engine was mounted by ibiblio at the University of North Carolina (, but it omits a few important fields and does not include manumission records in the search engine. The databases and supporting files can be downloaded from this web site free of charge.

Hall’s database has received positive reviews in the United States and as far away as Senegal and increased usage with various audiences.[2] It has been incorporated into the search engine, as well. Calculations were used in the applicant’s most recent book, Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas: Restoring the Links (Chapel Hill, 2005, pb2007) as well as in other publications. Andres Perez y Mena wrote a lesson plan for high school students for the LSD as a fellowship project for Colombia Teachers’ College. Hall demonstrated how to use her database to Advanced Placement high school history students, which was broadcast throughout high schools in Central New Jersey.

Nine years after being put online, user statistics provided by ibiblio document that the Louisiana Slave Database is still being widely used. The site received an average of 1,677 hits per day during the 11 months up to June 30, 2010. The most recent monthly statistics reported a total of 21,355 page views, including 13,000 views of the search page and 93 users who went to the webpage where datasets or dataset explanatory codesheets can be downloaded. Ibiblio does not have the resources to add records to the database or create the broader network in this proposal.

In July 2010, the LSD database was named by Family Tree Magazine as one of the 101 Best Websites of 2010 for genealogical research.[3]  Hall regularly receives thanks from people who were able to trace their ancestry using her database. One exciting recent example is Lieutenant Commander Michael Nolden Henderson, a retired U.S. Naval Officer and graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana, who, on June 29, 2010, became the first African American in Georgia to be inducted into National Society Sons of the American Revolution, thanks to information he uncovered in the LSD. The story of Henderson’s research about his fourth generation great-grandparents is the subject of an upcoming segment on the PBS The History Detectives series. The recognition of this database attests to its value for amateur historians, but the Slave Biographies project, with its easy-to-use tools, will make it more accessible and useful to humanist scholars who heretofore have had to rely on SPSS to analyze the data.

In 2005, Hawthorne assembled his Maranhão Inventories Slave Database (MISD), containing information about almost 8,500 slaves in the Brazilian state of Maranhão (located in the Amazonia region) from 1767-1832. The more recently created MISD is an ideal companion piece to the LSD. Hawthorne recorded data for it when he was in Brazil with funding from a Fulbright Hays Faculty Research Fellowship, and he received an NEH Faculty Fellowship in 2008-09 to analyze the data and write a book manuscript, The resulting book, From Africa to Brazil: Culture, Identity and an Atlantic Slave Trade, 1600 to 1830, will be published by Cambridge University Press in September 2010. Data from LSD and MISD also served as the main evidentiary source for companion articles by Hall and Hawthorne in the February 2010 issue of American Historical Review. Hawthorne plans a second major research trip to Brazil’s other Amazonian state—Pará—to augment data that comprise the MISD.

[1] Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, ed., Databases for the Study of Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy 1699–1860: Computerized Information from Original Manuscript Sources (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000).

[2] See untitled review by Daniel C. Littlefield of “Databases for the Study of Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy, 1699-1860: Information from Original Manuscript Sources” by Gwendolyn Midlo Hall and “The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade: A Database on CD-ROM” by David Eltis ; Stephen, D. Behrendt; David Richardson ; Herbert S. Klein,  The Journal of American History, Vol. 89, No. 1 (June, 2002), pp. 197-199.



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