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Counting the Slave Trade

>>> Item number 1388, dated 96/03/17 13:33:10 -- ALL

Date:         Sun, 17 Mar 1996 13:33:10 GMT-5
Subject:      Nation of Islam on slave trade--Query

Date sent:      Sun, 17 Mar 1996
From:           Ken Harrow, Michiagn State University

Can anyone provide me with reference to reviews of the Nation of Islam publication on the African slave trade? I am particularly interested in scholarly evaluations of the claims that Jews were major players in the trade. Thanks.

>>> Item number 1389, dated 96/03/17 22:34:00 -- ALL

Date:         Sun, 17 Mar 1996 22:34:00 GMT-5
Subject:      Nation of Islam on slave trade--Reply

Date sent:      Sun, 17 Mar 1996
From:           Cliff Welch, Grand Valley State Univ.

I am also interested in this reference and topic. Some students commented in class recently that the Nation of Islam estimates for African victims of the Atlantic slave trade run as high as 600 million. I'm curious about the method used to arrive at that figure.

>>> Item number 1390, dated 96/03/18 13:03:16 -- ALL

Date:         Mon, 18 Mar 1996 13:03:16 GMT-5
Subject:      Nation of Islam on slave trade--Reply

Date sent:      Mon, 18 Mar 1996
From:           Pier M. Larson, Penn State University

For a basic summary of the methods used to estimate the numbers of Africans enslaved in the Atlantic system, consult the online History Museum of Slavery in the Atlantic and go to the "Numbers" room.

The URL is:


>>> Item number 1393, dated 96/03/18 18:53:51 -- ALL

Date:         Mon, 18 Mar 1996 18:53:51 GMT-5
Subject:      Nation of Islam on slave trade--Replies [3]

            Editor's Note:
            The full reference for the review
            article mentioned below is:
            Winthrop D. Jordan, "Slavery and
            the Jews," *The Atlantic Monthly*,
            276, 3(Sep 1995): 109-114. Thanks
            to Professors Deal and Wylie for
            calling it to our attention.


Date sent:      Mon, 18 Mar 1996
From:           Doug Deal, SUNY-Oswego

The American historian of slavery, Winthrop Jordan, reviewed the book in *The Atlantic Monthly* last year (a fall issue? sorry I don't have a more precise reference handy). It was not a favorable review; Jordan criticized the authors for arbitrary and indiscriminate use of evidence, among other things.


Date sent:      Mon, 18 Mar 1996
From:           Kenneth Wylie, Michigan State Univ.

Winthrop Jordan wrote an extensive and devastating evalution of the claims of the Nation of Islam in *The Atlantic Monthly*, about a year ago.


Date sent:      Mon, 18 Mar 1996
From:           Nemata Blyden, Univ. of Texas-Dallas

The title of the Nation of Islam book is *The Secret Relation Between Blacks and Jews*. The *Dallas Morning News* on April 24 1994 had an interesting article on a conflict at Wellesley college between Tony Martin and his Jewish students. Apparently Dr Martin assigns this book in one of his classes. I have the article if anyone is interested.

            Editor's Note:
            Professor Martin has written of the
            incidents in a short book, *The
            Jewish Onslaught: Dispatches From
            the Wellesley Battlefront*, which
            is also discussed by Professor
            Jordan in his rteview article.

>>> Item number 1394, dated 96/03/19 07:47:52 -- ALL

Date:         Tue, 19 Mar 1996 07:47:52 GMT-5
Subject:      Nation of Islam on slave trade--Reply

Date sent:      Sat, 16 Mar 1996
From:           Ralph Austen, University of Chicago

I have written a piece on the *Secret Relationship*, "The Uncomfortable Relationship: African Enslavement in the Common History of Blacks and Jews" (review article), *Tikkun*, 9,2 (March/April 1994), pp. 65- 68.

There is a more apologetic (from a Jewish perspective) but more learned article by David Brion Davis in *NY Review of Books* XLI, 21, Dec 22, 1994.

>>> Item number 1396, dated 96/03/19 08:06:03 -- ALL

Date:         Tue, 19 Mar 1996 08:06:03 GMT-5
Subject:      Nation of Islam on slave trade--Reply

From:           Joe Miller, University of Virginia
Date sent:      Mon, 18 Mar 1996

Sometimes one would think that there is a guiding cyber hand out there ... an inquiry turned up in my e-mail queue, right after the question on this topic, concerning Mary Lefkowitz and ger new book, *Not Out of Africa*. That may be the answer. Also see David Brion Davis' review of *The Secret Relationship*, details in my bibliography, *Abolition and Slavery*.

The only numbers behind that 600 million figure are numerologiocal. See also recent newspaper editorials about Farrakhan's numerological inclinations, and you'll get a sense for the extreme distortions involved. (Sorry not tyo have more precise references here.)

And for the culture in general, try Carl Sagan's new book.

>>> Item number 1402, dated 96/03/21 18:15:10 -- ALL

Date:         Thu, 21 Mar 1996 18:15:10 GMT-5
Subject:      Nation of Islam and slave trade--Reply

Date sent:      Tue, 19 Mar 1996
From:           Kenneth Wylie, Michigan State University

A further thought on numbers in the slave trade. I may be wrong, but the first "challenge" I know of to Curtin's ground-breaking research (1969> *The African Slave Trade: A Census* was in Walter Rodney's (1982) *How Europe Underdeveloped Africa*.

Rodney, though he named no names, implied a conspiracy among western historians to cover up the full extent of the slave trade, and went so far as to suggest that the "ten million" figure (obviously he was referring to Curtin) was a "low" figure, and, to quote Rodney, "it is already being used by European scholars who are apologists for the capitalist system and its long record of brutality in Europe and abroad. In order to whitewash the European slave trade, they find it convenient to start by minimizing the numbers concerned." (pg. 96).

As my co-author Dennis Hickey and I have wondered (pg. 303 *An Enchanting Darkness*) since when is a figure of ten million a "whitewash"? And, further, who are the dastardly Europeans who orchestrate a cover up of this holocaust?

Perhaps it began with Wilberforce, Clarkson, Sharp, and co? Since Rodney provided no footnotes and named no names one cannot evaluate his charges. I wonder, though, what Rodney--who liked the high figure of around 50 million --would have thought of the Farrakhan estimate?

PS--Miller's ref. to Sagan's new book on psuedo-science is on target.

>>> Item number 1408, dated 96/03/21 21:46:41 -- ALL

Date:         Thu, 21 Mar 1996 21:46:41 GMT-5
Subject:      Nation of Islam on slave trade--Reply

Date sent:      Wed, 20 Mar 1996
From:           Ken Harrow, Michigan State University

Philip Curtin, in *The Atlantic Slave Trade,* discusses the estimates, and begins a more "scientific" approach. He comes up with 10 million, and I've heard historians speak of an upward reivision to 15 million. If one considers the percentage of deaths in the middle passage to be initially 25% and later 10-15 %, the total grows to about 20 million. No one knows how many people died en route to the coast. Let's say it was as much as 100%. That would make the total 40 million. Curtin discusses how Dubois had taken 100 million as a rough estimate, not based on real research, and that that figure became "common knowledge." I guess 6 times that is another form of common knowledge.

>>> Item number 1409, dated 96/03/22 19:04:20 -- ALL

Date:         Fri, 22 Mar 1996 19:04:20 GMT-5
Subject:      Nation of Islam and slave trade--Reply

Date sent:      Thu, 21 Mar 1996
From:           Jeff Pardue, University of Waterloo

Though I know nothing of the Nation of Islam's sources, I know that another challenge to Philip Curtin's estimate on the transatlantic slave trade (which he calculated at roughly 10 million) was (and continues, I believe) to be spearheaded by J.E. Inikori.

In 1976 Inikori questioned Curtin's methods in the *Journal of African History* (vol. 17, no. 2) though I don't believe that he offered an alternative number at the time. The debate in subsequent numbers of the *JAH* developed into a somewhat bitter exchange as Curtin attempted to defend his methods, and Roger Anstey also weighed in with a more moderate response.

Inikori subsequently edited a book called *Forced Migration: the Impact of the Export Slave Trade on African Societies* (1982) in which he stated that the number of slaves exported across the Atlantic was closer to 15 million (p. 20). Ever since Inikori's first challenge, both sides have accused the other of a "political bias."

>>> Item number 1415, dated 96/03/24 14:17:27 -- ALL

Date:         Sun, 24 Mar 1996 14:17:27 GMT-5
Subject:      Nation of Islam and slave trade--Reply

Date sent:      Fri, 22 Mar 1996
From:           Bill Bravman, University of Maryland

Curtin's numbers were disputed by Inikori, who dissected and criticized his methodology, and came up with a number about (if memory serves) 50% higher. It turned into a very nasty spitting match, because Inikori basically accused Curtin of systematically making assumptions that would lead to an undercount, thus making the trade seem less horrible.

Some years ago, Lovejoy did a recount that came out between the two figures, though closer to Curtin's. Inikori put in a further word on the matter in his chapter in Vol 5 of the *Unesco General History of Africa*.

None of these figures, however, comes anywhere close to the 600 million number. I wonder what figures are used by Africans, (prominent among them Ali Mazrui) who are trying to get reparations paid by Western countries for the trade.


I know this is a side-issue, but I can't resist. I haven't seen Sagan's book, but the (very favorable, very bad) review of it I read, if accurate, was troubling. It implied that Sagan regards Science as a simple Quest for the Truth Out There Waiting to be Discovered, and is blithely dismissive of a great deal of very good history and sociology work that grounds science, the questions scientists ask, the ways they make decisions and read data, and the way scientists understand the world, as very much social and cultural endeavors.

You can get a quick and dirty beach-book critique of Science as Truth Quest from Crichton's *Jurrasic Park*. If Sagan does indeed lump, say, Donna Haraway together with numerology, (and the reviewer suggests Sagan effectively does), it should give pause to social and cultural historians. Has anyone read the book itself?

>>> Item number 1422, dated 96/03/25 13:54:38 -- ALL

Date:         Mon, 25 Mar 1996 13:54:38 GMT-5
Subject:      Counting the Slave Trade

                Editor's Note:
                Recent discussions on this
                topic began under the thread
                "Nation of Islam and Slave
                Trade."  It seems the issues
                have evolved to consider a
                broader and more academic
                discussion.  We encourage any
                further discussion about the
                numerical study of the slave
Date sent:      Mon, 25 Mar 1996
From:           William Storey, Harvard University

I like how Bill Bravman linked Carl Sagan's new book to the debate about the volume of the Atlantic slave trade. Sagan treats historians and sociologists of science rather unfairly, lumping them together with people whom he calls "antiscience," much in the same way that Gerald Holton does in his recent book, *Science and Antiscience.*

Many scientists like Sagan feel threatened by the "social constructivist" approach to science and technology, and get their backs up when confronted with research suggesting that science and technology is produced and made believable through socially accredited systems of belief and practice. Sagan and Holton both try to bolster their positions by polarizing the debate and misrepresenting historians and sociologists as straw men.

This is unfortunate, not only because many of these same sociologists and historians (like Haraway, or Bruno Latour, or Steven Shapin) really like and respect scientists and engineers and appreciate that we may actually know some "facts" about nature, but also because many scientists have learned a great deal from social constructivist research.

This past year I have been teaching a course about writing history. I assign my students to read the first chapter of Curtin's census of the slave trade, which is a wonderful essay on how a fact becomes a fact. He takes the estimate of 15 million, common in the 1960s, and traces it back to an obscure American pamphleteer who wrote during the 1850s with no basis in research. Curtin shows that as more established historians accepted this figure, the more "solid" it became.

Curtin's counting of the slave trade may seem to be fairly positivist, but he shows very well the relationship between a fact and the social supports it might have. It is not an essay in "science vs. antiscience" -- Carl Sagan would do well to take a look at the slave trade "numbers debate."

>>> Item number 1427, dated 96/03/26 15:23:48 -- ALL

Date:         Tue, 26 Mar 1996 15:23:48 GMT-5
Subject:      Counting the Slave Trade--Reply

crossposted from Africa-L (not an H-Net list)


Research Note on the Atlantic Slave Trade Database Project

This note comes courtesy of:

Stephen D. Behrendt, Drake University

David Eltis, Queen's University


In 1993 the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research at Harvard University received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to create a consolidated database on the Atlantic slave trade. The aim of the project is to computerize voyage data on most of the slave voyages that sailed from Africa to the Americas from the sixteenth century to the 1860's.

The core data will consist of over 200 fields of information, including fields for the names of vessels, captains and shipowners, regions and dates of trade in Europe, Africa and the Americas, and the number, age and gender of slaves confined on the Middle Passage. When the project is completed in three to five years, data on the Atlantic slave trade will be available through computer networking services such as Internet.

The first stage of the project established fields of information and integrated numerous computerized data-sets of Atlantic slave voyages that historians have compiled over the past twenty-five years. These sets include: Herbert S. Klein on the slave trades to Havana (1790-1820), Rio de Janeiro (1795-1811) and Virginia (1727-1769), and the Angola slave trade (1723-1771); Svend E. Green-Pedersen on the Danish slave trade (1698-1789); David Eltis on the Atlantic slave trade (1811-1867); and Johannes Postma on the Dutch slave trade (1675-1802).

The second stage of the project will computerize published and unpublished sets of slave voyage data compiled by Jean Mettas (French slave trade), Jay Coughtry (Rhode Island slave trade), James Rawley and Joseph Inikori (British slave trades), and then will integrate several new British slave trade data-sets created by Stephen D. Behrendt, David Eltis and David Richardson. Well over half of all transatlantic slave voyages--including the majority of British, French and Dutch slave voyages--soon will be recorded in machine-readable format.

The major tasks in the project are the matching of fields of information created from widely different sources often for different purposes, and the elimination of duplicate voyages. When completed, the core set of more than 20,000 transatlantic slave voyages will constitute the largest data source for the long-distance movement of peoples before the twentieth century.

Refined demographic data on the volume of the trade (and thus of pre-colonial African populations) and the spatial distribution of African peoples throughout the Atlantic world will allow scholars to assess more accurately questions of African state formation, agricultural and ecological change, African cultural survivals, and the development of the Atlantic economies. Sub-sets of information on vessel tonnage, slave age/gender ratios, and crew/slave mortality will permit a more thorough analysis of shipping productivity, patterns of family structures, and disease transmission in the Atlantic world.

The database has been organized so that additional information on slave voyages can be added easily to the set and so that related information, such as African climatic patterns, slave phenotypes, slave rebellions, or slave prices, can be linked to the main data-set through a common variable such as the vessel name or the voyage identification number.

Building related files will broaden the scope of analysis from the slave voyage to the impact of the transatlantic slave trade in the creation of the modern world. Indeed, it eventually may be possible to relate individual Africans or groups of Africans to the vessel from which they disembarked in the Americas, as has been done with other migrant groups. The project organizers welcome additional data on transatlantic slave voyages to include in the consolidated data-set.

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