16 May 2011

African Origins


African Origins contains information about the migration histories of Africans forcibly carried on slave ships into the Atlantic. Using detailed information on 9,453 Africans liberated by Courts of Mixed Commission, this resource presents geographic, ethnic, and linguistic data on peoples captured in Africa and pulled into the slave trade.

History of the Project

The African Origins project arose directly from the work of G. Ugo Nwokeji and David Eltis, who in 2002 used audio recordings of names found in Courts of Mixed Commission records for Havana, Cuba, and Freetown, Sierra Leone, to identify likely ethno-linguistic origins. The names in these recordings were pronounced by speakers of the same language and accent that the Courts of Mixed Commission registrars would likely have had (e.g., if the name was written in a Havana register, Eltis and Nwokeji had the name pronounced by a Spanish speaker with a Havana accent). This helped connect the sound of the name to its spelling and thus enabled a more accurate assessment of the name’s possible ethnic origins than provided by its written counterpart alone. Eltis and Nwokeji played these recordings to informants in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Angola and to members of the African diaspora in parts of North America, who were able to identify through these pronunciations the likely ethnic group from which the name derived. Such one-on-one research with informants, though successful, proved highly time consuming and yielded little more than two identifications for each African in their dataset, and led to the pursuit of an online method of broadly soliciting volunteers to assist with this project.

Read a press release about the web-site
Photos and videos are on the project's blog and its Facebook site




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