In slavery matters, numbers are still relevant


Numbers are not everything, but in the case of the Atlantic slave trade they reveal the importance of the institution of slavery and the size of populations of African descent in the Atlantic world.

I am surprised to see how recently published academic books still ignore the findings of the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database.

The database is not perfect and we are aware that especially regarding Brazil, it is only recently that the numbers started being updated. Some voyages documented in past studies but for which the original documents were destroyed are not displayed in the database. But despite these flaws, this the only comprehensive and update tool that provides detailed statistics about the numbers of enslaved men, women, and children, who were exported from Africa and who arrived in the Americas during the era of the Atlantic slave trade.

If you are a scholar, a student, or if you have any interest in knowing about the history of the Atlantic slave trade, do not miss the opportunity to explore this database and especially to examine its estimates. The estimates’ tables show that more than 5 million enslaved Africans were sent to Brazil, even though less than 5 million arrived alive on Brazilian shores. This is more than ten times the number of enslaved Africans who were deported or who were disembarked in the United States. Some present-day countries in the Caribbean and South America imported much less enslaved Africans and do not even appear in the table below.

In present-day figures, these numbers are also revealing. Today, according to the latest US Census, the population of the United States who identify as black is 14.2 % of the total population (316.1 million), in other words: 45 million individuals. In Brazil, individuals who identify themselves as black (and brown as in Brazil the Census categories are not based on ancestry but on color)  compose 50.7 % of the total population (201 million), which means 101,9 million people.

For all these reasons, I insist: any history of the Atlantic slave trade and of the African diaspora that insist on ignoring these figures is failing in providing the big picture.


About Ana Lucia Araujo

I am a cultural historian of Latin America and the Atlantic World. I am Full Professor in the Department of History at Howard University. My work explores the history and the memory of the Atlantic slave trade and slavery and their social and cultural legacies. I am particularly interested in the public memory, heritage, and visual culture of slavery. To know more about my research and publications, visit my personal website or my webpage at Howard University.

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