Project History

The Slave Societies Digital Archive (formerly Ecclesiastical and Secular Sources for Slave Societies), directed by Jane Landers at Vanderbilt University, was launched in 2003 with an initial Collaborative Research Grant (RZ-50095) of $150,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to Landers and her co-directors, Mariza de Carvalho Soares of the Universidade Federal Fluminense (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) and Paul E. Lovejoy of York University (Toronto, Canada). Slave Societies teams digitally captured ecclesiastical records of more than 750,000 individuals during almost three years of intensive work in Cuba and Brazil. These records focus on Africans and Afro-descended individuals, but the Catholic Church also sometimes recorded Europeans, indigenous, and Chinese individuals in the same volumes.

Beginning in 2007, grants from the British Library Endangered Archives Programme allowed Slave Societies to preserve additional records at new project locations in Brazil, Colombia, and Cuba. A grant from the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine in 2013 enabled our team to digitize the oldest known documents about African, African-descended, and indigenous people in what is today the United States, which date from the sixteenth century.

In 2014, The Historic St. Augustine Research Institute funded further digitization work in Matanzas and Ceiba Mocha, Cuba. Awards from the American Council for Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation supported the establishment of a permanent office for the Slave Societies Digital Archive, doctoral and postdoctoral fellowships dedicated to the project, and necessary technological upgrades.

The primary directive of the Slave Societies Digital Archive continues to be to preserve and freely disseminate invaluable documents for the history of Africans and their descendants in the Atlantic World in collaboration with partners around the globe. We welcome scholarly contributions and assistance in this effort.