Slavery Images: A Visual Record of the African Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Early African Diaspora

This educational resource is a two-part website created for teachers, researchers, students and the general public. It exists to assist anyone interested in visualizing the experiences of Africans and their descendants who were enslaved and transported to slave societies around the world. 

The first component is a repository for hundreds of historical images, paintings, lithographs, and photographs illustrating enslaved Africans and their descendants before c. 1900. 

The second component is a new repository of 3D point clouds and educational environments of world heritage sites relevant to this tragic thread of human history.  

This visual record has been decades in the making, and it continues to grow. To advance common aims, Slavery Images has partnered and aligned with the mission of UNESCO's Slave Route Project: Resistance, Liberty, Heritage

The pictogram in our logo is an Adinkra symbol meaning "independence, freedom, and emancipation."

The Handler-Tuite Image Database

In the 1980s, Jerome S. Handler, a professor of Anthropology and pioneer in the digital humanities, began amassing photo slides of historical images depicting enslaved Africans and their descendants. By the late 1990s, Handler organized their digitization, generated metadata and put them online with the help of Michael Tuite, a former director of the University of Virginia's Multimedia Resource Center - now known as the Digital Media Lab and/or Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities. For more than a decade, Slavery Images resided on servers at the Virginia Humanities (formerly Virginia Foundation for the Humanities); and the website operated in partnership with the University of Virginia Library.  In 2018, following Handler's retirement, the website migrated to the University of Colorado Boulder's Office of Research Computing and Center for Research Data and Digital Scholarship. For more information, please read the Project History and/or connect with our Contributors and Partners.  

The Hander-Tuite collection was first selected from a wide range of sources which illustrate the forced migration of millions of enslaved people who were forced to travel great distances, oftentimes across the Sahara Desert, Mediterranean Sea, and the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. Slavery Images makes every effort to ensure bibliographic accuracy and the correct identification of both primary and secondary sources from which the images have been obtained, as well as correct identification of the area, country, or region to which the image refers. The dates we assign to each image may refer to the date an image was published, or at other times to when an author visited an area; in other cases, we could only assign a general time period. Despite efforts at bibliographical and chronological accuracy, errors remain, and we welcome any comments, suggestions, or corrections. It is necessary to emphasize that little effort is made to interpret the images and establish the historical authenticity or accuracy of what they display. To accomplish this task would constitute a major and different research effort. Individual users of this collection must decide such issues for themselves. 

Slavery Heritage in 3D

The 3D educational environments under development in this project began with the philanthropic efforts of an international corporation, called Trimble Inc., which manufactures laser scanner, unmanned aerial vehicles, global navigation satellite systems, rovers, and 3D imaging software. Since 2014, this company began scanning heritage sites related to the history of the African diaspora, while helping to develop a K-12 curriculum surrounding the "History of Racism" with the Boulder Valley School District. Currently, Trimble Inc. has scanned in full-scale several plantations in Virginia, Mississippi and the U.S. Virgin Islands; as well as a replica three-masted ship frequently used in Hollywood productions. Over the next year, we will be experimenting to host these data to create innovative 3D environments supplemented with historical images and narratives, while explaining the methods for preserving world heritage sites on a sustainable platform.  

Development Plan

The future for this legacy website involves:

  1. Expanding the Handler-Tuite collection of historical images through crowd-sourcing for the public domain.
  2.  Developing new methods in which to display and make accessible 3D learning environments for K-12 and college audiences, including augmented/virtual reality spaces designed to operate with low-cost viewers, such as Google Cardboard.
  3. Training students and faculty to use the technologies and software required to document and process world heritage sites.
  4.  Scanning more sites related to UNESCO's "Slave Route Project," especially those sites in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean which UNESCO currently considered endangered due to climate change and/or warfare.
  5. Generating metadata, provide historical narratives, and content for augmented/virtual reality spaces; and for the long-term.
  6. Maintaining a sustainable platform to host and manage a growing collection of historical images and historically significant 3D data.