Tráfico de Escravos no Brasil< Voltar para Dossiês
Description of project
UNESCO launched the Slave Route project in 1994 and set up an International Scientific Committee for the project. This Committee’s mandate is to examine the whole question of the slave trade, its impact on the prevailing economic, social and political situation in a number of countries and its role as a means of promoting intercultural dialogue. The Committee has stressed the importance of archives as the basis for the study of the slave trade. In this context, in 1999 UNESCO set up the Slave trade archives project, funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD). The aim of the project is to improve access to and safeguard original documents related to the transatlantic slave trade and slavery throughout the world.
The international slave trade is a part of human history that has had a deep impact on most nations over long periods of time; its memory should be preserved. The Slave trade archives project is not a study of slavery as such. Rather, it is an attempt to improve the conservation and accessibility of slave trade records. That trade removed human beings (by whatever means) from their place of origin and put them elsewhere, under the control of other people. The project deals with original documentary sources that bear witness to the trade, mainly in the form of written documents. Digitization of these sources, particularly those at risk from deterioration, will help to establish a collective memory of this part of history. This project aims to improve access to and use of documents related to the slave trade and its various forms, in order to highlight its impact and lasting consequences. An access strategy has been outlined with a view to establishing on-line access through the UNESCO website and other sites devoted to the slave trade, as well as publishing multimedia CD-ROMs on the slave trade, acts of resistance to slavery, etc. The website dedicated to slave trade archives has been created with this in mind. Its aims are to trace the main aspects of history related to the transatlantic slave trade by classifying documents according to where they are preserved and compiling a database of images relating to the various collections of transatlantic slave trade archives.
The first phase of the project was limited to the transatlantic slave trade organized from Africa from the end of the fifteenth century. It was therefore agreed that sources related to the slave trade in the Indian Ocean, the Sahara desert, Europe and Asia should be excluded for the time being, although these elements were also considered worthy of study. As part of the UNESCO Memory of the World programme and in close co-operation with the International Council on Archives (ICA), a feasibility study was carried out to identify, in order of priority, national archives and related institutions in several African, Latin American and Caribbean countries, with a view to upgrading their facilities and services in order to ensure adequate preservation of original records, to obtain copies in appropriate formats of documents held elsewhere and to provide training for technical staff. The aim is to provide the broadest possible access to archives and other documents pertaining to the slave trade and slavery in general.
That feasibility study identified the direct beneficiaries of the project as well as all those who will gain from it an increased awareness of the history of slavery. The protection of Africa's endangered oral traditions will also be addressed and specific co-operation projects will be recommended with relevant institutions such as the CELHTO (Centre d'études linguistiques et historiques par tradition orale) in Niamey (Niger), which maintains large collections of oral recordings and acts as a coordinator of international research on oral traditions and the slave trade.
Sphere of activity
Original sources related to the transatlantic slave trade are kept in three regions of the world: Africa (countries of origin); the New World (reception countries) and Europe, where much of the trade was organized.
The written history of the slave trade between Africa and the American continent is primarily based on written and iconographical sources preserved in many Western countries, mainly those that were involved in the trade (England, France, Portugal, the Netherlands, Denmark, Prussia), but also in countries of origin, principally in West Africa (Senegal, Benin, Gambia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sao Tome and Principe, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Gabon, Nigeria, Angola). In addition, records are still kept in reception countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (particularly Brazil, Cuba, Jamaica and Haiti), not forgetting the United States of America. The time periods covered by these sources range from the end of the fifteenth century in Portugal to the mid-nineteenth century in Brazil and the United States and even 1870 in Cuba.
The project therefore focuses on the countries whose archives are in danger of deterioration and often difficult for users to access. Moreover, these particular archives offer a different perspective from those in northern countries involved in the slave trade, where they have usually already been exploited and where, for the most part, there is no urgent need for help from an international project, i.e. Denmark, Spain, the United States, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Portugal.
The project therefore concerns a number of African countries classified as follows, in order of priority, as well as archival institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean.
- Cape Verde
- Sao Tomé
- Equatorial Guinea
- Burkina Faso
- Central African Republic
- Côte d’Ivoire
- Guinea Bissau
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Sierra Leone
Amérique latine et Caraïbe
- Trinidad and Tobago
(The Slave trade archives project is already operational in all the highlighted countries)