Freedom Narratives focuses on the enforced migration of "Atlantic Africans," that is enslaved Africans in the Atlantic world during the era of the slave trade, through an examination of biographical accounts of individuals born in West Africa who were enslaved from the 16th to the 19th century. The focus is on testimony, the voices of individual Africans. The Project uses an online digital repository of autobiographical testimonies and biographical data of Atlantic Africans to analyze patterns in the slave trade of West Africa, specifically in terms of where individuals came from, why they were enslaved, and what happened to them. Freedom Narratives focuses on people born in Africa and hence in most cases had been born free rather than on those who were born into slavery in the Americas or elsewhere. The individuals in this repository include those who travelled within West Africa as well as those who experienced the “Middle Passage,” i.e., the Atlantic crossing, which is often seen as a defining moment in the slavery experience. Sometimes these accounts are referred to as “slave narratives” but in our estimation, such testimonies more accurately reflect "freedom narratives" because in most cases, individuals were born free and subsequently regained their freedom, and the site includes individuals who were never enslaved. Freedom Narratives enables an examination of biographical testimonies as the fundamental units of analysis, whether the primary texts arise from first person memory or survive via amanuensis. Whenever possible, original testimonies are supplemented with biographical details culled from legal, ecclesiastical, and other types of records.
Director – Paul E. Lovejoy
Paul E. Lovejoy is Distinguished Research Professor, Department of History, York University is a leading proponent of revisionist interpretations of the history of the African diaspora, he is the founding Director of the Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on Africa and its Diasporas, general editor of the Harriet Tubman Series on the African Diaspora with Africa World Press, and co-editor of African Economic History. His theoretical approach places Africa at the centre of intellectual discourse. His contributions to UNESCO include service on the International Scientific Committee of the UNESCO Slave Route Project: Resistance, Liberty Heritage (1996-2012), co-editor of the on-line series of essays by committee members, and a co-editor of the UNESCO General History of Africa, vol. 10, on Global Africa.
Associate Director – Érika Melek Delgado
Érika Melek Delgado is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on Africa and its Diasporas, York University. She holds a Ph.D. in History from the University of Worcester and an M.Phil. in Comparative History from the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. Her research focuses on Liberated African children and African childhood. She received the Martin Lynn Scholarship from the Royal Historical Society, a grant from the Economic History Society, and a grant from the Emerging Leaders in the Americas Program. She has been involved in the Sierra Leone Public Archives project of the British Library Endangered Archives Programme and is principal investigator of the Historical African Childhoods.
Project Manager – Bruno Véras
Bruno Véras is a Ph.D. candidate at York University and a public and digital historian, researching Global Africa, religion and Transnational History. He is former UNESCO consultant for African-Brazilian museum exhibits and slave narratives at FUNDAJ, Brazil, co-director of the Baquaqua Project (www.baquaqua.org), coordinator for the SHADD Project (www.shadd.org), and training coordinator for the CSiW (www.csiw-ectg.org). He is a filmmaker and cultural producer working on documentaries in Brazil, Egypt, Nigeria, Uganda and Canada. He has coordinated a British Library Endangered Archives Project on the Sierra Leone Public Archives.
Sean M. Kelley is Senior Lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Essex. He received his PhD from the University of Texas at Austin and specializes in the history of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. He is the author of Los Brazos de Dios: A Plantation Society in the Texas Borderlands, 1821-1865 (2010) and The Voyage of the Slave Ship Hare: A Journey into Captivity from Sierra Leone to South Carolina (2016). He is a founding member of the Freedom Narratives Project.
Suzanne Schwarz is Professor of History at the University of Worcester. Her research examines the development of the Sierra Leone colony and the ways in which abolitionists attempted to undermine the slave trade and reform African economy and society through policies of “Commerce, Civilization and Christianity.” She is Principal Investigator of the British Library Endangered Archives project in the Sierra Leone Public Archives, an Honorary Research Fellow at the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull, and was an external consultant for the development of the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool. She is Vice President of the Hakluyt Society.
Jane Landers, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of History, Vanderbilt University, and Director of Slave Societies Digital Archive (www.slavesocieties.org) is an historian of Colonial Latin America and the Atlantic World specializing in the history of Africans and their descendants. She has been the United States representative to the UNESCO Slave Route Project and past-president of the Conference on Latin American History, the Forum on European Expansion and Global Interaction and the Latin American and Caribbean Section of the Southern Historical Association.
Richard Anderson received his Ph.D. from Yale University and subsequently held an SSHRC Post-Doctoral Fellowship at York University. He is currently a Commonwealth Rutherford Fellow in the School of History, Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester. His current research is funded by a Commonwealth Rutherford Fellowship on "Running into Empire: Abolition and the Fugitive Slave Question in British Colonial Africa, c.1787-1896," which explores how British colonial officials responded to Africans who fled slavery and sought refuge in the British colonies of Sierra Leone, the Gambia, the Gold Coast, and Lagos in the nineteenth century.
Kyle Prochnow earned an M.A. in history at Boston College in 2015 and is a Ph.D. candidate in African diaspora history at York University. His doctoral dissertation examines the origins, forced migrations, and personal experiences of enslaved Africans conscripted to serve in Britain's West India Regiments.
Femi J. Kolapo
Femi J. Kolapo is Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Guelph, co-editor with Kwabena O. Akurang-Parry, African Agency and European Colonialism: Latitudes of Negotiations and Containment (2007), and co-editor with Chima J. Korieh, The Aftermath of Slavery: Transitions and Transformations in Southeastern Nigeria (2007).
Olatunji Ojo is Associate Professor, Department of History, Brock University, and author of over 40 peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters on gender, slavery, and economic history of precolonial and colonial southern Nigeria (Yoruba and Igbo history). He is also the co-editor of Slavery in Africa and the Caribbean (2012) with Nadine Hunt and Ransoming, Captivity, and Piracy in Africa and the Mediterranean (2016) with Jennifer Lofkrantz. He received is B.A and M.A in History from the University of Ibadan (Nigeria) and his Ph.D in African History from York University.
Dr. Nielson Rosa Bezerra is Professor in Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (UERJ); Director of Research of Museu Vivo do São Bento; Director of History Department in Faculdade de Belford Roxo - FABEL. He is a Former Banting Fellow at The Harriet Tubman Institute at York University (Y.U). He is a leader for young investigators on African Diaspora in Baixada Fluminense and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Also, he is author of eight books and several articles in Academic Journals.
Jean-Pierre Le Glaunec
Jean-Pierre Le Glaunec est professeur à l’Université de Sherbrooke, spécialiste de l’histoire des États-Unis, d’Haïti et des Amériques noires, il travaille actuellement sur le développement de la plateforme marronnage.info, sur l'historiographie des résistances à l'esclavage en France et sur un nouveau projet de recherche CRSH sur l'histoire méconnue des résistances à l'esclavage à la Nouvelle-Orléans (1811-1836). Ce projet porte en particulier sur les formes culturelles de résistance à l'esclavage, par la danse et la musique notamment. Il s'intéresse aussi à l'histoire d'une pâtisserie, la tête-de-nègre. Le marronnage dans le monde atlantique: sources et trajectoires de vie, Freedom Narratives.
Fernanda Sierra is a major in Culture and Expression with an Environmental Studies minor, has been a research assistant on projects in digital knowledge mobilization and cultural and artistic practices for social and environmental justice. She has served as president of the Culture and Expression Student Association.
Ian Hood is completing a bachelor's degree in Disaster and Emergency Management at York University and has worked at the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes in Kingston, Ontario. His research on Indigenous Human Rights was presented at the York University Undergraduate Research Fair and was awarded the Dean's Award for Research Excellence (DARE) for his work on Boko Haram, which was presented at the Canadian Risk and Hazard Network Conference in Vancouver in 2018.
Kelsey Patricia Baird is a major in sociology studying health inequality at California State University and holds a Killam Fulbright exchange at York University. She received the Sally Casanova Fellowship for 2018-2019.
Luisa Cruz, from Brasília, Brazil, is a student in Film Production at York University interested in documentary filmmaking, visual anthropology and digital humanities and is a research assistant at the Tubman Institute.
Thomas Garriss is a graduate student in history at the Université de Sherbrooke (Québec). He earned his undergraduate degree in jazz performance, and then decided he wanted to gain a broader perspective of the role of arts in the shaping of Western societies. With a strong focus on music and literature, he has worked primarily on the countercultural movements of the 1960s in the United States. Throughout his studies, he has had the opportunity to work as a research assistant, organize workshops and conferences, and contribute to innovative digital-history research projects.
The Freedom Narratives visual-identity is based on 'Redemption Song' by Jamaican artist, Laura Facey, a contemporary sculptor. The figure stands in Emancipation Park in Kingston, Jamaica since it was unveiled on the eve of Emancipation Day, July 31, 2003, The bronze sculpture consists of two nude figures, male and female, who stand in a pool of water, which is part of the monument’s fountain base, and who gaze up to the sky. Facey was inspired by Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" and the lyrics "none but ourselves can free our minds."
Facey outlined her intent in the programme brochure for the unveiling: "My piece is not about ropes, chains or torture; I have gone beyond that. I wanted to create a sculpture that communicates transcendence, reverence, strength and unity through our pro-creators—man and woman—all of which comes when the mind is free".1 The logo was designed by Leonardo Morais. His challenge was to transform Facey's message into a web-graphic format.
Redemption Song, 2003, bronze figures, cast iron dome, 10 & 11 ft. h. Monument at Emancipation Park, Kingston, Jamaica, W.I.Redemption Song, 2003, bronze figures, cast iron dome, 10 & 11 ft. h. Monument at Emancipation Park, Kingston, Jamaica, W.I.
Laura Facey – sculptor
As a sculptor, Laura Facey has worked in bronze, stone and unconventional materials such as Styrofoam, but she is best known for her work in woodcarving. She was one of the first artists in Jamaica to produce assemblage and installation art, often incorporating found objects with carved elements. She was featured in the National Gallery of Jamaica’s Six Options: Gallery Spaces Transformed in 1985, which was the first exhibition of installation art in Jamaica.2 The human body and the land, sea and natural bounty of Jamaica have provided Facey with a range of metaphors to address themes of personal and collective trauma and of spiritual transformation, transcendence and healing.
Facey’s work on the 2003 Emancipation monument marked the start of a sustained thematic interest in the legacy of plantation slavery, as an experience of collective trauma and a defining moment in Jamaican history. Her installation, Their Spirits Gone Before Them (2006), consists of a traditional Jamaican cottonwood dugout canoe resting on a “sea” of sugar cane and in which is mounted 1,357 resin figures (miniatures of the male and female figures of the Redemption Song monument). The work alludes to the Middle Passage as a key moment of trauma and transformation that birthed modern Caribbean society and culture. Their Spirits Gone Before Them was endorsed by UNESCO’s Slave Route Project and has been featured in several exhibitions, such as Facey’s 2014 solo exhibition at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool.3
1 National Housing Trust (July 31, 2003). Programme Brochure of Unveiling of Redemption Song.
2 Poupeye, Veerle (1985). "Six Options: Gallery Spaces Transformed". Arts Jamaica. 4: 1&2: 2–8.
3 "The Slave Route". UNESCO. Retrieved April 21, 2018; "Their Spirits". International Slavery Museum. 2014. Retrieved April 21, 2018.
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
Matrix Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences, Michigan State University
Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on Africa and Its Diasporas, York University
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation