A Digital Archive of Contested Legacies
With the capture and deportation of some 12.5 million African people, the Atlantic slave trade was likely the costliest in human life of all long-distance global migrations. Academic and public engagement with the legacy of slavery and the Atlantic slave trade typically narrows its focus to the Americas. The fact that the trade had its roots in Portuguese exploration and was mostly directed to Iberia in the 15th and 16th centuries is generally overlooked.
Portugal’s entanglement with the slave trade is both complex and largely under-recognised – both within the country and internationally.
The project aims to promote a larger public engagement with the contested legacies of the early Atlantic slave trade in Portugal. Such an objective will be achieved by creating a digital archive specifically dealing with sites where the controversial memory of slavery has materialized in contemporary Portugal. This intervention is also intended to enrich and complicate the debate over the legacy of colonialism and slavery, which has become more and more intense across Europe in recent years.
Opened in 2016 on the site where the first groups of enslaved people are thought to have been shipped from West Africa to Portugal in 1444, not far from a statue from the period of Salazar’s dictatorship that celebrated Prince Henry, the main organiser of early Portuguese expeditions to West Africa, the Slave Market Museum in Lagos is the country’s only monument openly to engage with this aspect of Portugal’s history. The museum must be considered in relation to an unmarked mass grave just 550m away, which was excavated in 2009 during the construction of an underground car park and found to contain the remains of enslaved individuals. Barely publicized, the story has since been virtually silenced. Today, the grave is buried beneath a multi-story car park and a minigolf course.
Hosted on an interactive website, the digital archive of the early Atlantic slave trade in Portugal will make available a large set of contents related to the core case study of the Slave Market Museum and the associated mass grave. From there, its scope will broaden to a more general excavate the history and contested legacies of Portugal’s early Atlantic slave trade. Particular attention will be given to Lisbon, which became the European city with the largest Afro-descendant population during the period.
The digital archive will contribute to the current public debate on the legacy of slavery across Europe and will offer a unique educational resource. It will develop a range of carefully curated audio-visual resources, conceptualised and implemented by filmmaker and researcher Arjuna Keshvani-Ham (Architect Productions CIC). In particular, it will make available to the public information previously undocumented, histories previously unsung, and historical documentation hitherto untranslated. The digital archive also aims to serve as a space for grassroots engagement with individuals and organisations in Portuguese communities whose international recognition is limited.
Interviews with Historians, Activists and Tour Guides, among others, were recorded in Portugal during the month of June 2022.
A collaboration between the University of Oxford and EuroClio, developed in close conversation with the ongoing Contested Histories Initiative and based on original content produced by Architect Productions CIC, the project ‘The Early Atlantic Slave Trade in Portugal: A Digital Archive of Contested Legacies’ is supported by the Knowledge Exchange Seed Fund of the University of Oxford and is directed by Professor Giuseppe Marcocci.