The African Origins Project invites members of the public to assist in identifying the historical origins of Africans transported in the transatlantic slave trade. This website presents details of more than 67,000 Africans liberated from slaving vessels in the early 19th century. Those with knowledge of African languages, cultural naming practices, and ethnic groups can assist in identifying these Africans’ origins by drawing on their own expertise to identify the likely ethno-linguistic origin of an individual’s name.
History of the Project
The African Origins project arose directly from the work of G. Ugo Nwokeji and David Eltis, who in 2002 used audio recordings of names found in Courts of Mixed Commission records for Havana, Cuba, and Freetown, Sierra Leone, to identify likely ethno-linguistic origins. The names in these recordings were pronounced by speakers of the same language and accent that the Courts of Mixed Commission registrars would likely have had (e.g., if the name was written in a Havana register, Eltis and Nwokeji had the name pronounced by a Spanish speaker with a Havana accent). This helped connect the sound of the name to its spelling and thus enabled a more accurate assessment of the name’s possible ethnic origins than provided by its written counterpart alone. Eltis and Nwokeji played these recordings to informants in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Angola and to members of the African diaspora in parts of North America, who were able to identify through these pronunciations the likely ethnic group from which the name derived. Such one-on-one research with informants, though successful, proved highly time consuming and yielded little more than two identifications for each African in their dataset, and led to the pursuit of an online method of broadly soliciting volunteers to assist with this project.
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NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES
The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is an independent grant-making agency of the United States government dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities. Each year the NEH designates a portion of its grants as “We the People” projects — a special recognition by the NEH for model projects that advance the study, teaching, and understanding of American history and culture.
W.E.B. DU BOIS INSTITUTE FOR AFRICAN AND AFRICAN AMERICAN RESEARCH
Through fellowships to scholars, sponsorship of a range of cultural and educational events and projects, and affiliation with other outreach programs, the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research advances study and understanding of the African diasporic experience.
Many individuals supported the work of the project and the project team, too numerous to name here. In addition to heartfelt thanks to the various departments and individuals at Emory University and the National Endowment for the Humanities who provided assistance to this project, we especially acknowledge Marcy Alexander of Emory University’s History Department, for the considerable attention and care she gave to supporting the administrative needs of this project.