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Two-Minute Video Visualizes Over 315 Years Of The Atlantic Slave Trade

Νot since the '60s and '70s, with the black power movement, flowering of Afrocentric scholarship, and debut of Alex Haley’s Roots, novel and mini-series, has there been so much widespread interest in the history of slavery. We've seen award-winning books like Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Toldclimb bestseller lists; Roots remade, and The Freedman’s Bureau Project’s digitization of 1.5 million slavery-era documents gives citizen-scholars the tools to research the history on their own.

Along with those developments, Slate magazine has designed a multipart, multimedia course, “The History of American Slavery,” as part of the online educational initiative, “Slate Academy.” Hosted by Slate’s Jamelle Bouie and Rebecca Onion and featuring guest historians like Baptist, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Eric Foner, Annette Gordon-Reed, and more, this thorough survey consists of a nine-part podcast, with book excerpts, copious supplementary essays, and other resources drawing on primary documents and artifacts. One supplement, the animation below, shows the “The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes.”

Visualizing 315 years, the animation depicts slave ships as rising numbers of black dots zipping across the Atlantic to the Americas from the African coasts. The Youtube video provides merely a partial representation of this impressive graphics. The full animation at Slate lets users pause, click on individual dots, and get detailed information about the name of the ship, the number of enslaved people transported, and points of origin and entry in the New World.

In all, we see animated over “20,000 voyages cataloged in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database.” Although we typically, with typical U.S. solipsism, think of American slavery as a mostly North American phenomenon, the truth is the contrary:

Of the over 10 million enslaved Africans to eventually reach the Western Hemisphere, just 388,747—less than 4% of the total—came to North America. That was dwarfed by the 1.3 million brought to Spanish Central America, the four million brought to British, Danish, French, and Dutch holdings in the Caribbean, as well as the 4.8 million, brought to Brazil.

Early slave expeditions were conducted by the Spanish and Portuguese. “In the 1700s,” writes Bouie, “Spanish transport diminishes and is replaced (and exceeded) by British, French, Dutch, and American activity. This hundred years was also the high-water mark of the slave trade, as Europeans send more than 7.2 million people to forced labor, disease and death in the New World.” Shockingly, Portugal remained one of the leading nations among enslavers for most of the slave trade's history.

The animation and short explanatory essay by Bouie display the staggering historical scope of the immensely profitable and profoundly inhumane enterprise which shaped not only the US but also Central and South America and the Caribbean. There's no history of the Americas, and no growth of lots of the colonies into wealthy, world-historical nations, without slavery, nor can the wealth of Europe be in any way divorced from the profits of the slave trade and slave industry. Onion and Bouie explain in the video why they've decided to produce the course.

For a sense of how historians’ and the public’s understanding of slavery have changed over many decades read this excerpt from Baptist’s groundbreaking book. Slate’s series goes a long way toward narrating the real history of slavery, based on the words of writers and scholars who engage with it every day.

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