Freedom Narratives documents over two thousand people’s stories and lives who were involved in the Atlantic slave trade from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. It was built in partnership with Enslaved: People of the Historic Slave Trade at the Matrix Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University and the Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on Africa and its Diasporas.

Freedom Narratives focuses on the testimonies of people born in West Africa and forced into slavery and Atlantic migration. Most people found in this repository were initially born free, hence the use of “freedom narratives” rather than “slave narratives,” as the latter implies a group of people born into slavery. In order to tell thousands of enslaved people’s stories, the site employs a variety of source material such as baptismal and marriage records from the Slave Societies Digital Archive, Registers of Liberated Africans from the Sierra Leone Public Archives, and fugitive slave advertisements. The current site is divided into the following sections: Home, About, Browse, Advanced Search, References, and Digital Learning.

While there are no resources on the site specifically curated for classroom activities or lesson plans, students could explore the site itself to learn about slavery in West Africa. One of the site’s greatest strengths is the opportunity to study the journey of one particular person through a range of different primary sources. Students can browse narratives by choosing different categories such as gender, age, occupation, religion, region of origin, destination, etc. Once the user decides on a particular individual to study, that individual’s page appears with corresponding timelines, metadata, and primary sources. A student can click through the timeline to see the events of an individual’s life and examine the primary sources that serve as evidence for each event. For example, a fugitive newspaper advertisement on an individual’s page usually connects to the timeline event “resistance,” while a name highlighted in a liberated register roll might link to the event categorized as “liberation.”

As of November of 2020, Freedom Narratives is still in development with plans to add the sections “digital identities” and “digital learning” in the future. Hence most of the current project is an archived but usable prototype website that contains some empty pages, especially the ones intended to provide videos, oral testimonies, and PowerPoint Presentations for teachers. So, for now, the site is heavily text-based but the included bibliographies on slavery, West Africa, theory, and methods can be helpful for teachers making lesson plans.

Altogether, this free online website is an important resource for students and teachers who desire to understand biographical accounts and experiences of people from West Africa who fought to regain their freedom.

Reviewed by Laura Brannan, George Mason University
How to Cite This Source
Laura Brannan, Freedom Narratives in World History Commons,