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History of Slavery

The Omohundro Institute is proud to have organized a series of conferences, beginning in 1998, dedicated to the examination of slavery in the early modern Atlantic world.

“Transatlantic Slaving and the African Diaspora: Using the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute Dataset of Slaving Voyages”(Williamsburg, Virginia, 1998) looked to reassess the impact of the transatlantic slave trade on four continents in light of new information contained in the Slave Trade Database dataset. Issues examined included the volume and distribution of the trade, age and sex structure of the slave traffic, ethnic links between Africa and the Americas, the shipboard experience, including mortality patterns of slaves and crews of slave ships, ship sizes, length of voyages, African resistance both on the coast and on ship, and the consequences of the trade for Africa and the Americas. The conference also featured a computer workshop that demonstrated the multiple uses and research potentials of the database.

“‘The bloody Writing is for ever torn’: Domestic and International Consequences of the First Governmental Efforts to Abolish the Atlantic Slave Trade” (Accra and Elmina, Ghana, 2007) examined the global and domestic ramifications of the decisions made in 1807 by Great Britain and the United States to end, respectively, the trade in and the importation of slaves. Ghana’s “slave coast” was chosen as the site of the conference because of the strong conviction amongst many Institute members that although the effects of the coincidental decisions taken by England and the United States reverberated throughout the Atlantic world, the most profound consequences occurred in Africa. Presenters examined a wide variety of topics including the changing circumstances that underpinned the call for the abolition of slavery, and the resolutions of some of the trade’s original instigators and greatest beneficiaries to outlaw participation in it. The OI Travel Scholarship fund was inaugurated with this conference in order to encourage participation of sub-Saharan African faculty and graduate students at the meeting. Fully 61 scholarships were awarded, bringing scholars from Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Nigeria, Republic of Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, to the conference.

An additional African reading and research seminar, “Africa, Europe, and the Americas, 1500–1700,” took place in Accra, Ghana in July 2009. The workshop brought twenty scholars from sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world together to expand and deepen the connections begun at the 2007 conference.

“Africans in the Americas: Making Lives in a New World, 1675–1825” (Cave Hill, Barbados, 2013) considered the stunningly rich and diverse backgrounds, languages, cultural traditions, religious rituals, family structures, and political practices and ideologies brought to the “New World” by the slave trade before 1820. Fully two-thirds of the population that crossed the Atlantic before that time was African—the vast majority of those people were enslaved. In the Americas, disparate legal systems and forms of imperial governance, an unfamiliar amalgam of agricultural systems and crops, and virulent demographic and disease environments challenged their existence in equally various ways. As they sought to survive within slavery and to devise ways of escaping it, Africans in the Americas created new communities, cultural traditions, social networks, and political arenas that remade the worlds in which they lived—and in the process, they made and remade themselves. The conference highlighted an interdisciplinary approach to these topics in order to celebrate the rich diversity of this unique, deeply human, historical experience.

The fourth conference in this series, “Region and Nation in American Histories of Race and Slavery,” was held in collaboration with the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, October 6–8, 2016.


In addition to the great intellectual and curatorial efforts demanded by these undertakings, efforts which require the generous donation of thought and time by dozens of scholars, an enormous amount of additional support has gone into the production of this series. The OI would like to thank the following organizations and individuals for their time and patronage in the organization of these conferences.

  • Professor Bernard Bailyn
  • Mr. Richard Gilder and The Gilder Foundation
  • Mr. Sid Lapidus
  • Mr. Paul Sperry and Ms. Beatrice H. Mitchell
  • Mr. Hays Watkins
  • The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
  • The Reed Foundation
  • The Rouse-Bottom Foundation
  • The Joyce Appleby Endowed Chair of America in the World Fund, University of California, Los Angeles Department of History
  • The Errol Barrow Center for the Creative Imagination, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados
  • The British Council
  • The Center for French and Francophone Studies at Duke University
  • William & Mary
  • The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
  • The W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University
  • The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University
  • The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
  • The Historical Society of Ghana
  • International Institute for the Advanced Study of Cultures, Institutions, and Economic Enterprise in Ghana
  • The Nigerian Hinterland Project, York University, Canada
  • The Southern Historical Collection and The Center for the Study of the American South of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • The United States Embassy—Accra, Ghana
  • The University of Cape Coast, Ghana
  • The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados
  • The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities
  • The Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull
  • The Carter G. Woodson Institute for Afro-American and African Studies at the University of Virginia
  • Anonymous