Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Coursera - History of the Slave South, Assignment 1

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database is a useful tool for accessing information about who enslaved people were, where they originated from and where they were sold.  We can combine these three parameters and begin to draw conclusions about how the slave trade shaped the American South.

The first table of data isolates the regions in North America where enslaved Africans were received.  At the start of the slave trade, there was a small total number of slaves and the difference between the colony with the fewest slave sales and the most is not very great. In the hundred years of the 18th century, however, the number of slaves increased dramatically, particularly in Virginia and South Carolina, which had plantations and cash crops. Slave importation for most other colonies did not increase as drastically, although a couple of colonies began importation during this time.  When compared to the total quantity of people sold into slavery during the slave trade (12 million), the North American colonies were an afterthought with a total import number of just over 366,000 people.

The second table of data isolates the regions of origin of the enslaved Africans who were transported to the North American colonies. Please note: this export figure of 242,000 is 1/3 less than the import figure discussed above. While locations of origin were spread along the coast, at the beginning of the slave trade the regions of the Bight of Biafra and West Central Africa were the first large scale exporters to the colonies. As the demand for slaves increased in the 18th century the areas of Sierra Leone, Windward Coast and Gold Coast jumped far ahead of the others in both percentage increase and overall number of slaves sent abroad. Interestingly, West Central Africa continued to export large numbers of people throughout this time and even into the 19th century when supply from the other regions either tapered off or was dramatically reduced.

The third table of data combines the information we have already reviewed and shows which specific areas enslaved people were taken from and where they were bought in the colonies. While most colonies (northerly and southerly) had slaves originating from all regions, primarily the plantation economy colonies had slaves who originated in West Central Africa or the Bight of Biafra. 

These charts are a useful resource for looking at the data of the slave trade.  The specificity of the information begins to rehumanize the very idea of a "slave trade"; knowing that people were taken, sold and transported between specific ports brings them closer to us. Unfortunately, the tables do not tell the whole story.  The reasons why the southern colonies received large numbers of people from these regions is not revealed by the tables; could it have been price, supply,  cultural attitude (temperament) or a combination of all these?  We are given points of disembarkation, but as so many enslaved people were captured & sold by rivals, enemies or human traffickers, where did they actually live before their journey began? Working with raw data and tables like these, while interesting, is just the start of the story of the slave trade and its shaping of the American South.

1 comment:

Pickyknitter said...

self → The writer's analysis of the tables is that the slave exportation trends and importation trends moved roughly in sync throughout the history of the slave trade to North America. The writer does not overly cite specific dates, figures or locations that were provided on the tables but rather looks at the trends that appear and discusses these to compare and contrast changes over time. The writer's analysis of the tables is very good and the interpretations make logical sense in a very readable writing style. Ideas are presented in sequence and conclusions, interpretation and questions are found next to the appropriate information. The paragraph addressing table 3 is weak.
peer 1 → One of the things that distinguished this writer's point of view was his/her willingness to argue what was stated in the tables and yet speculate on the why behind some of the numbers. I was in total agreement with the numbers specified to support the argument and the conclusions drawn based on these numbers, thus persuading me that the interpretation of the tables was valid. I noted that the writer also noted the discrepancy in numbers for import and export, a discrepancy that I also struggled to explain. I would be hard-pressed to make this analysis more persuasive as it is well-organized with evidence to support each claim. My only suggestion may be to use more numbers to support the conclusions. Overall, very well done.
peer 2 → 1. At the start of the slave trade, embarkations were few but increased as 18th century progressed. No figures were given but it explaned how the majority in Virginia and Caroline was due to the plantations and crops in those regions.It was interesting to read that out of a total of 12 million slaves ,the total import of 366000 to North America was really insignificant. 2 The second table details the origins in Africa from where the slaves came.Author points out that the total export figure of 242,000 is 1/3 less than the import figure discussed in table one.The Bight of Biafra and West Central Africa were the main exporters. 3. The 3rd table essentially combines the figures from table 1 and 2. Conclusion : Author says tables were useful to establish numbers but does not tell the whole story of the slave trade. The rasons etc and the personal story.
peer 3 → It seems like your argument is that this data humanizes the slave trade. The data gives us the actual numbers of people, where they left from, and arrived to. You pointed out that we don’t know for sure where they actually lived because they might have come from another area, which I had never really thought of. You used the evidence very well showing the totals, which supported your argument. However, I was a bit confused with some of your evidence. You had a sentence that discussed a discrepancy between the first and second table. Because I didn’t notice that discrepancy, I would have appreciated a bit more explanation of that and I felt like the sentence wasn’t clear. The analysis was very persuasive at the end as you really flushed out your argument. I didn’t feel like I really knew what your argument was until the end. So to make it stronger I would have used stronger historical evidence throughout the essay to help show that argument more. With all of these reasons, this is why I rate this essay satisfactory.