Blog Post

Visual Narratives of British Abolitionist Networks

Visual Narratives of British Abolitionist Networks

Cross-posted from a March 2014 entry on my website.

Currently, I'm working on a long-term project, “Exotic Domesticities: Labor, Luxury, and Global Slavery in  British Trade.”

Intended as a working version and eventual online supplement to the two book projects, it will serve as an online database of my archival research on trade routes of luxury goods and slaves in the Transatlantic and Mediterranean. In addition to recording data in terms of people, places, books, objects, and money for trade circuits involving slave economies, it currently looks at how information circulated through abolitionist networks. In addition to working papers, it will include maps of networks of individuals and their national imperial counterparts, as well as the imagined networks of domestic fiction and political ideology.

Overall, I am looking at the circulation of ideas and objects in relationship to global slavery in the long 18th-century. Eventually, the project will trace how as the British exit Atlantic slave routes they tangentially enter into the Ottoman ones. Currently there are two sources I'm using to create the datasets. The first emerged from working with trade documents at the Clements library. I'm slowly taking my transcriptions from there and tagging them in XML, though choosing which tags is something I'm still sorting out. At this point, I think I can map some of the connections, though a deeper analysis requires more sources transcribed and tagged than I have a present. At least one return trip to Ann Arbor will be necessary, although I am also looking at other libraries and archives as potential sources.

The second source are the representation of people, places, and books in British abolitionist materials. I'm starting with subscription lists in books to see to what extent regional abolitionist groups of abolitionist connected to a centralized national movement. I have the start of this information in excel, which I want to move into something a bit more pliable. After a sizable amount of data is collected, I will use PHP to place the database online (on a different host than this site: Squaresoft is lovely for many things, but not for programming languages beyond html and css).

Equiano's English Subscriber Lists

My work Olaudah Equiano's Narrative intersects with this project. Currently I am putting the subscriber information from the nine editions, as well as the pirated US edition, into a dataset. The next phase of this project will look at connections between these individuals and regional abolitionists groups. I am particularly interested in moments of tension between anti-slavery groups within the Atlantic world, transatlantic connections between groups, as well as the history of specific members and groups, such as the Birmingham Ladies Society for the Relief of Negro Slaves (later the Female Society for Birmingham).

[See my site's post for the map]

Before these networks can be fleshed out, I am creating unique identifies for each subscriber listed, with rough notes on social (this will be tweaked further as we go along) and location. Shared subscriptions or the purchasing of multiple copies are also noted in the databases. Three online databases provide the primary models (as well as aspirations) for this project:

Slave Biographies: Atlantic Database Network (History Department, Michigan State University), which collects the often sparse biographical information on Atlantic World enslaved peoples, including details such as "names, ethnicities, skills occupations, and illnesses."

Legacies of British Slave-ownership (University College London), which is compiling an Encyclopaedia of British Slave-ownership of "every slave- owner in the British Caribbean, Mauritus or Cape at the moment of abolition in 1833 . . .  with particular emphasis on the 'absentee' owners based in Britain" using the records of government compensation paid to slave owners as its starting point. It aims to show the continuing link between slavery and British wealth from the nineteenth century to today.

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (Emory University), covering decades on scholarship on more than 35,000 slave voyages between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries.


This first 1789 list of "English" subscribers is fairly typical of what one would expect: there's an emphasis on people with titles as well as members of Parliament.** There are two subscribers from the US (have fun scrolling with the map). When you click on each dot, you'll note that I have made some choices in the beta version that may not stay for later versions: the class distinctions are fairly crude, and when no location was listed, the default location was London, and those with titles are often listed by their family seat, rather than their main residence. Some more famous figures in the abolitionist (such as Thomas Clarkson) are listed but their role in the movement will be noted later


With the exception of the Dublin and Edinburgh lists, later subscriber lists are less geographically diverse as well as less highly (or at least overtly ranked). What find intriguing at this stage so far, though, is the way women represent themselves in the lists.

As with many subscriber lists of the time, the overwhelming majority are men. In the English Subscribers' List, women identified as "Miss" appear in family structures. For example, Miss Baillie and Miss J. Baillie (the only two Misses on the English list) appear in a cluster of four Baillies, including Mrs. Baillie and Matthew Baillie, M.D. But in later lists, women designated as "Miss" are more likely to occur on their own without male subscriber sharing their surname.

Unmarried Female Subscribers vs. Total Female Subscribers

The proportion of women either marked as unmarried (i.e., Miss) or not having a marital marker (Catherine Morgan and Alice Ludlow on the Bristol list rises) increases over the course of the four lists located in England. Of those women marked as unmarried, two out of two on the English list are in a family grouping (the same one, in fact), but only three of the nine on the Hull list, zero of three on the Bristol list, and a mere five of the twenty-five on the Norwich list appear to be in family clusters, with what is likely a male or female parent

.Female Subscribers who seem to be independent of a family grouping

The visualizations here are Google Fusion Tables and Excel. When there is more, I will move the dataset into RStudio and UCINet for closer analysis, with an emphasis on Social Network Analysis.

Creative Commons License

The work in my dataset is held under Creative Commons License.  Although I eventually want to make this available to other scholars, in this beta phases, the contents are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. This means that must attribute it to me if you reference it, you may not use it for commercial purposes, and you may not remix, transform, or build upon this material. To view a copy of this license, visit Embedded lisences with more information is on the original post

** For two of the strongest analyses and most thorough overviews of the publication history of Equiano's Narrative, see:

Carretta, Vincent. Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man. London: Penguin, 2006.

Green, James. “The Publishing History of Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative.” Slavery & Abolition 16.3 (1995): 362–375. Taylor and Francis+NEJM. Web. 9 Mar. 2014.

For an excellent project that maps the content of The Narrative, see Elizabeth Maddock Dillon's "A Sea of Texts: The Atlantic World, Spatial Mapping, and Equiano's Narrative." Religion and Space in the Atlantic World, eds. John Corrigan, David Bodenhamer, and Trevor Harris (Indiana University Press, forthcoming). Currently available online:!essay


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