Mellon Sawyer Seminar Series: Data of Enslavement (Lauren Klein, Alex Borucki, and Gregory O'Malley)

Thu April 25th 2024, 3:00 - 4:30pm
Wallenberg Hall, Room 433A

Enslavement has been the subject of many big data projects, and some of them have gained enormous prominence in American and transatlantic studies. In their quantitative emphasis, based for example on shipping records, many such studies have diverged from more humanistic approaches, for which the focus has sometimes been on individuals whose lives are reconstructed in micro-narratives. While the scholarly value of big data in studying enslavement is beyond dispute, new projects come at a troubling moment in US history: for many North Americans, the legacies of enslavement are very much to the fore amidst heightened racial tensions and deepening economic inequalities. If, in such an environment, the term @nomorenames is politically significant, what implications might there be for scholarship? What are the trans-American perspectives and histories on the "Data of Enslavement"? Is it possible that scholars with their data practices—even unconsciously and unwillingly—are adding new epistemological violence to the physical violence of the past?

Join us on April 25th at 3 pm, for the "Data of Enslavement", the 7th session of our year-long Mellon Sawyer Seminar Series. We will hear from Lauren Klein, Alex Borucki, and Greg O'Malley about how they bring in humanistic approaches to large historical datasets in this sensitive theme and how they use these historical data to understand injustices in our contemporary world. 

If you cannot attend in person, you can request Zoom information via this link

Before the seminar, there will be a reception with appetizers starting at 2:30 pm.

About the Speakers

Alex Borucki is professor of history at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of From Shipmates to Soldiers: Emerging Black Identities in the Río de la Plata (2015), co-editor of From the Galleon to the Highlands: Slave Trade Routes in the Spanish Americas (2020), and co-editor of The Rio de la Plata from Colony to NationsCommerce, Society, and Politics (2021). Apart from other Spanish-language books and articles, he has published on the slave trade and the African Diaspora in the American Historical Review, Hispanic American Historical Review, William and Mary Quarterly, Colonial Latin American Review, The Americas, History in Africa, Itinerario, Atlantic Studies, and Slavery and Abolition. He is currently writing a book, co-authored with José Luis Belmonte Postigo, provisionally entitled “The Slave Trade and Silver in the Refinancing of the Spanish Empire during the Age of Revolutions.” By focusing on coastal merchant elites living in the Americas, this book examines how the availability of silver exports in several regions defined the timing, direction, and size of the slave trade in the Spanish Americas during the Age of Revolutions, when the traffic of captives gained prominence within the overall commerce and the financing of the colonial regime from Cuba to Buenos Aires.


Lauren Klein is Winship Distinguished Research Professor and Associate Professor in the departments of Quantitative Theory & Methods and English at Emory University. At Emory, she also serves as director of the Digital Humanities Lab and PI of the Mellon-funded Atlanta Interdisciplinary AI Network. Previously, she taught in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech. Klein’s research brings together computational and critical methods in order to explore questions of gender, race, and justice, both in the past and in the present. She is the author of An Archive of Taste: Race and Eating in the Early United States (University of Minnesota Press, 2020) and, with Catherine D’Ignazio, the award-winning Data Feminism (MIT Press, 2020). With Matthew K. Gold, she edits Debates in the Digital Humanitiesa hybrid print-digital publication stream that explores debates in the field as they emerge. Her work has appeared in leading humanities journals including PMLA, American Literature, and American Quarterly; and at technical conferences including ACLEMNLP, and IEEE VIS. Her research has been supported by grants and fellowships from the ACLS, the NEH, and the Mellon Foundation. Her next major project, Data by Design: An Interactive History of Data Visualization, is forthcoming from the MIT Press in 2024.


Greg O’Malley is professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His first book, Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619-1807, received four awards: The America Historical Association’s Forkosch Prize for British history; the AHA’s Rawley Prize for Atlantic history; The Owsley Award from the Southern Historical Association; and the Goveia Prize from the Association of Caribbean Historians. The project examines a complex network for distributing enslaved Africans throughout North America and the Caribbean after their survival of the Atlantic crossing. O’Malley is also co-creator (with Alex Borucki) of the Intra-American Slave Trade Database, an online research tool that documents more than 35,000 slave trading voyages from one port in the Americas to another. His second book, The Escapes of David George: An Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom in the Revolutionary Era, is forthcoming with St. Martin’s Press. It offers a life history of a man born enslaved in colonial Virginia, whose attempts to escape bondage resulted in wide-ranging travels, captivities, and re-enslavements, illuminating both enslaved people’s resistance and the constraints on their lives. David George eventually achieved emancipation by fleeing the emerging United States and running to the British Army during the Revolutionary War.