About

DECODING ORIGINS

The trans-Atlantic slave trade was a centuries-long trauma that saw approximately 12.5 million Africans forcibly taken from their homes and transported to work in the emerging plantation societies of the Americas. The trauma of enslavement and sustained repression of language, culture and beliefs blurred memories of origins and birthplaces. Previous attempts at analyzing large datasets of names recorded in manumission records to unearth individuals and personal histories have been challenged by practices of slave renaming.

Drs. Ladly and Keefer are working with their collaborators to develop a searchable visual database using the entries from the 19th century Registers of Liberated Africans to reveal individual identities and origins. Their research includes appropriate methods for collection, analysis and presentation of the sensitive personal information within these datasets. Kartikay Chadha (Project Manager & Researcher) assists the team with designing, developing and training an AI model to work in conjunction with ethno-linguistic and visual models, so that researchers and members of the public may extract meaningful information from the data. Working in the Visual Analytics Lab, the OCAD U design team is constructing computational architectures for the visual/linguistic database, developing a mathematical model for data analysis, and designing dynamic 2D and 3D visual models and user interfaces.
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Maria Yala
Research Assistant
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Georgina Yeboah
(Website Developer)
OCAD University
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Youssouf Traore
Research Assistant
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Eric Lehman
Research Assistant
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Michael McGill
Research Assistant
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Thamires de Andrade
Mitacs Globalink Intern (2019)
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Gabriela Mattia
Mitacs Globalink Intern (2019)
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Ma Qianyi
Mitacs Globalink Intern (2018)

Dr. Martha Ladly
E: mladly@ocadu.ca

Dr. Katrina Keefer
E: katrinakeefer@trentu.ca

Kartikay Chadha
E: kchadha@faculty.ocadu.ca


Address:

Visual Analytics Labratory
OCAD University
Rm 720,205 Richmond Street West
Toronto, Ontario M5V 1V3

Background Images

About section: “Enslaved Ethnic Groups, East Africa, Upper Nile Region, 1840s”, Slavery Images: A Visual Record of the African Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Early African Diaspora, accessed October 9, 2019, http://www.slaveryimages.org/s/slaveryimages/item/2700

News Section: “Africa, late 18th cent.”, Slavery Images: A Visual Record of the African Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Early African Diaspora, accessed October 9, 2019, http://www.slaveryimages.org/s/slaveryimages/item/666

Splash Page, Research, Portal and Credits Section: Photography by Kartikay Chadha, Project Manager & Resaercher, Visual Analytics Lab, OCAD University. Photos taken during SSHRC supported resaerch in the Sierra Leone Public Archives, Freetown, Sierra Leone - Feburary 2019.

Research

Decoding Origins: Creating a Visual Language of Marks


Our research addresses historical wrongs and the problems of lost identities created by the global slave trade, and asks how a visual approach to data collection may give rise to new discoveries and findings. Our research objectives are to design new paradigms, through the collection, analysis and visualisation of data from 19th century slave manumission records and accounts, with specific reference to the Registers of Liberated Africans, which have been collected and digitized within the archives of Freetown, Sierra Leone. We employ historical and archival research in an interdisciplinary methodological approach adapted from art, design and the digital humanities, with the application of accessible platforms and interfaces for lab and field work.

Incorporating user-sensitive design principles, we have developed a collaborative database using Structured Query Language (SQL) and a user-friendly interactive platform employing novel algorithms to collect, meta-tag and cross-reference data. With shared core principles including best practices for data collection, data descriptors, controlled vocabularies, meta-tagging and analyses, our data will ‘talk to’ other open-source, online digital repositories and databases of similar nature. We use Deep Neural Network (DNN) models to perform visual data analyses, semi-automating the transcription of the documents and cross-referencing information within the database(s). With these tools, we have reconstructed a number of enslaved African individual’s identities, based on positive identification of their body markings recorded in the Registers. We seek to understand how this visual data collection, curation, visualisation, and semi-automated analysis might help us to more quickly uncover new knowledge. Our visual database will enable researchers and others to review, compare and decode visualised marks connoting individual identities, which may assist scholars and members of the public in better understanding critical questions of African identities and origins.



Selected Presentations & Publications


Ladly, M., Keefer, K., Chadha, K.; Decoding Origins: Creating A Visual Language of Marks; Panel: Tracing African Trajectories: Liberated Africans and Diasporic Biographies; The Annual Conference of the Canadian Association of African Studies (CAAS), May 16-19, 2019, University of Quebec in Montreal, Québec, Canada.

Ladly, M., Keefer, K., Chadha, K.; The Language of Marks: A Web-portal for Trans-Atlantic slave trade data collection, visualization and transcription; Enslaved: Peoples of the Historic Slave Trade Conference, Michigan State University, East Lansing (Michigan, USA): March 8-9, 2019.

Ladly, M., Keefer, K., Chadha, K.; Decoding Origins: Creating A Visual Language of Marks, SSHRC funded Research project; Freedom Narratives Symposium, York University, Toronto (Ontario, Canada): December 07-08, 2018.

Portal

Decoding Origins





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News

Read more about
our Research!

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In February 2019, the Decoding Origins team had the pleasure of travelling to sunny Freetown, Sierra Leone to conduct research, train, and work closely with archivists in the Sierra Leone...Read more
The Decoding Origins team was lucky enough to be in Atlanta for the 61st Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association (ASA) on November 29th to December 1st, 2018. With...Read more
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Credits



Our Collaborators




Dr. Paul Lovejoy, York University


Dr. Dean Rehberger, Michigan State University


Dr. Mohammed Salau


Dr. Abubakar Babajo Sani





Our Partner Universities




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Our Funding Organizations




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