Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

OA coming for TA database on the transatlantic slave trade

Rufus Pollock, The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database: Is It Going to be Made Open?  Open Knowledge Foundation Weblog, December 4, 2006.  Excerpt:

Over a four year period in the mid-1990s a team of scholars centred on the Du Bois institute at Harvard compiled a comprehensive database of transatlantic slave-trading voyages. Over 27,000 individual journeys were recorded for the period 1650-1867 covering more than 2/3 of all voyages that took place. The data includes extensive demographic (and mortality) information for the African slaves as well as similar information for the crew, details of the ship and durations of the voyages. This was an amazing feat of collaborative scholarly effort resulting in a dataset of immense value in furthering our understanding of an incredibly important (and terrible) historical episode.

So what happened to this data, was it made open, free for all, scholars and public alike, to use and reuse? Sadly not. Instead it was published on CD-ROM by Cambridge University Press priced at $250.00....

Fortunately, change seems to be in sight. A look at the database’s home page on the Du Bois Institute’s website reveals that The project directors are now working to make the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database part of an open-access web site. Their goal is to create a dual-tier interface to accommodate a range of aptitudes for the internet, and, in addition to the open access feature, it offers the novel prospect of being constantly up to date in perpetuity....

PS:  Thanks to the Du Bois Institute for sharing their hard work.

Update. Emory University has grants from the NEH and Du Bois Institute to create the OA edition of this database. See Emory's July 2006 press release. (Thanks to John Russell.)