1. Intent and transparency: We acknowledge the narratives we choose to represent are not complete nor unbiased. Likewise, our retelling of such narratives cannot be complete or unbiased. We use archival sources as a means to recover the voices of the dead, with full awareness that the authors of such texts perpetuated the violence. We hope that the context we provide will show the humanity of the victims who have more often than not been represented as points in a database. This document is a living text; we will continue to work with intentionality, revisiting the decisions we make in representation. Finally, we pledge to be transparent about the decisions.
2. Uncertainty and opacity: We acknowledge our obligation to leave room for silence, opacity, incoherence, and that which is untranslatable through language. We do not attempt to make coherent an experience that lacks coherence. In allowing for silence, we hope to offer resistance against an archive structured by the dehumanizing practices of enslavers. We acknowledge this silence as a space that is not empty but full of the present absence of millions of voices. We also do not attempt to generalize these experiences. Rather, we believe that it is important to disaggregate numeric representations of deaths in the Middle Passage. We also acknowledge that the technologies we use, such as mapping with ArcGIS and predictive modeling, were originally used for the purposes of surveillance and dispossession and carry a legacy of harm, a legacy we hope to undermine.
3. Reusability of data: We acknowledge, and we hope, that our data can be useful for other researchers of the transatlantic slave trade. We will, therefore, make our data—including transcriptions, dates, names, places, and geocoordinates—available to the public. Moreover, we will format our source files in ways that are both consistent with widely used data standards and compatible across software platforms and operating systems.
4. Honoring the dead: We acknowledge that the dead are ever present. As we handle archival materials, remnants of life and trauma, we ask ourselves “What do we owe the dead?” We know that because the dead cannot consent this question has no clear answer but deserves our earnest thoughts and consideration as we do this work. Respect for the enslaved Africans who suffered the Middle Passage guides our actions. We acknowledge the significance of the diverse spiritual practices from which they were severed, and through which they are still remembered throughout the Black diaspora.
5. Attending to the present: We acknowledge that the legacy of slavery has made an indelible impact on living people. Our work within this historical mode cannot ignore the lingering debilitating effects of slavery and the forced migration of captive Africans via the Middle Passage. These effects are physical, mental, financial, and spiritual. They include generational traumas inherited by Black people, perpetuated by systemic racism, both de jure and de facto. As we work, we must consider holistically the mental, physical, and spiritual lives of current and future Black populations.
6. The sea: We acknowledge that the sea is a non-human ecosystem, governed by thermodynamic, chemical, and biological processes. However, the sea has also witnessed the struggles of human history. The sea is a cultural as well as a natural landscape. We acknowledge that enslavers used the sea as a weapon and that the sea we view today is sedimented by human violence and coercion. Nevertheless, the sea has also been the means of resistance and liberation. We hope that our work will help make these histories visible in the present.
7. Perspective and privilege: We acknowledge that reactions to this project will vary according to individual heritage and life experience. Furthermore, we acknowledge that most members of the team, including its leadership, benefit from white privilege. We also acknowledge that the fact that most of us are English-speaking citizens of the United States shaped our work. From the privilege and limits of that perspective, we cannot claim to understand all the effects or consequences of this work. Finally, we acknowledge that we are doing this work at an elite institution, much of whose wealth springs from the undercompensated labor of the descendants of African captives forcibly transported via the Middle Passage. We hope that using our resources to resist the archival structures that occlude the violence and erasure of the transatlantic slave trade will be one very small step toward reparative justice.