Documenting Africans in Trans-Atlantic Slavery (DATAS)


“Documenting Africans in Trans-Atlantic Slavery (DATAS)” ( develops an innovative method to explore African ethnonyms from the era of trans-Atlantic slavery, circa 1500-1867. Ethnonyms index African identities, places and historical events to reconstruct African culture that is linked to a history of slavery, colonialism and racism. The project centres on the need to understand the origins and trajectories of people of African descent who populated the trans-Atlantic world in the modern era. The development of a method for analysing demographic change and confronting social inequalities arising from racism constitutes a social innovation. The team’s methodology implements a research tool developed in Canada for handling ethnonyms that can be applied in a trans-Atlantic context from France and the United Kingdom to Brazil, the Caribbean and Africa. This innovation confronts methodological problems that researchers encounter in reconstructing the emergence of the African diaspora. A methodology for data justice is salient because ethnonym decision-making used in our digital platform, requires a reconceptualization of the classification systems concerning West Africans. This methodology depends on an open source relational database that addresses important decisions that researchers face in the field about how to develop best practices and a controlled vocabulary for four reasons. First, scholarly expertise on West Africans is scattered globally. Second, the slave trade was transnational, rarely limited to one country or population, and the transfer of Africans across borders reflects this global relationship between colonial and colonized. Third, DATAS makes available a vast amount of information of immense value to marginalized communities deprived of information on their own history. Fourth, the trans-Atlantic and trans-national nature of this project complements the aims of a platform predicated on global collaboration. The project treats ethnonyms as decision making tools as a method whose concepts require rethinking entrenched assumptions about demography, data justice and research transparency.


Project number


Main applicant

Prof. P.E. Lovejoy

Affiliated with

York University


01/11/2019 to 31/10/2022