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  • Shannon Bontrager

Teaching History and STEM of Trans-Atlantic Slave Voyages

Updated: Jan 13

Slave Voyages Database Analysis

Social History developed as a historiographical force in the 1960s and 1970s. It involves looking at humans as aggregated categories to identify trends and social interactions of the past. Social historians spend a lot of time counting and investigating databases.

The Transatlantic slave trade has relatively few individual stories to tell. But historians can get an understanding of the slave trade by looking at databases of aggregated slaves. Slavevoyages.org provides an opportunity to investigate social history of the slave trade. Go to www.slavevoyages.org)


Under the heading “Trans-Atlantic” click on and read the "Essays," particularly “A Brief Overview of the Transatlantic Slave Trade” by David Eltis and “Seasonality in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade” by Stephen Behrendt.


Then click on "Trans-Atlantic" again and go to “Database.” Notice the filters across the top in the light blue field. The criteria for your search should include: Under “Itinerary” you should click on “Place of Departure” and set the criteria for “Mainland North America.” (Note: this is for my U.S. history course and one can easily apply this to a world history course or a Brazilian history course by changing the filters of the itinerary). You should also click on “Ship, Nation, Owner” and select “Flag” and select “U.S.A.” From here the student can add any other criteria of her or his choice to investigate their thesis.


Each student should build a spreadsheet containing the data for 30 voyages. These voyages should be identified with a hypothesis in mind and should be contained within a unit of time (a given year, a given decade, the Civil War, year of the Constitution, etc). The primary hypothesis should be an agreement or disagreement with Stephen Behrendt’s argument for seasonality in the slave trade. Students should also add a secondary thesis onto their project that allows them to look at another aspect of the slave trade such as gender, mortality, geography, or some other criteria. The student will be evaluated on the clarity and originality of their project design, the organization of their project and spreadsheet, the visual representations of their datasets, and the overall integrity of the argument and the data. The student will not be evaluated on whether or not they agree or disagree with Stephen Behrendt’s seasonality thesis as sample size will make it impossible to do so with any degree of accuracy. The project will be evaluated based on its design and thesis, its organization of the data collection and visual representation of data, and the overall integrity of the argument.


The project will have an introduction, thesis, body, and conclusion. It will include the hard data and its description. It will also include a visual representation of the data that is symmetrical, user friendly, and full of information that can aid the writer’s and the reader’s interpretation of the data. Please bring a hard copy of your project to class on the due date listed below.

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