Project Reviews

Texas Slavery Project
Created and maintained by Andrew J. Torget with the sponsorship of the Virginia Center for Digital History

Created with the sponsorship of the Virginia Center for Digital History, the Texas Slavery Project was developed by Andrew J. Torget as a means to examine slavery as it spread into the area that became the Republic of Texas. The project provides a database of population statistics and an archive of primary source documents as well as interpretive tools to examine the material. The lack of secondary information and the way in which the data is presented indicates that the project is intended for use as a research aid and tool of analysis. Nevertheless, the site may still be of use to teachers of more advanced students as a means to illustrate the spread of slavery over a period time.

The site's design is one of the notable features of the project. It is well organized and easy to navigate, owing to the presence of a fixed, drop-down navigation bar running along the header of the page. One click upon "About the Project," "Explore the Maps," "The Database," or "Primary Sources" leads to a page that introduces each respective area of the site. From there, a table of links on the right side of the screen indicate additional pages relating to that particular section. These links can also be accessed by hovering over the name of a specific section in the navigation bar and clicking on the desired link in the drop-down menu. With such straightforward navigation, users should have no difficulty finding their way through the site.

To evaluate the role of slavery in Texas, the project uses digitized primary source documents and interactive maps and graphs drawn from a database of historical population levels. A comprehensive population database comprised of tax records from 1837-1845 forms the basis of the site's structure. All maps and graphs are illustrations of the spatial relationships of the population data contained in the database. The tax records used provide county statistics representing the total slave population, total master population, the average number of slaves held by any one slaveholder, and five subsets of slaveholders with a particular number of slaves. Where statistical information is lacking for a particular county, estimates have been supplied based upon "established statistical techniques." A PDF paper describing the methodology for such estimates is provided for download. Users are given the option of determining whether or not the estimated numbers are included in the maps and search results. A search engine is provided for the database, allowing the user to dictate the criteria he or she is searching for concerning the slave and slaveholding populations of Texas. These results are then available for download in text format for record-keeping or insertion into a spreadsheet. While the original tax records are not available for viewing on the site, information about the location of these records is provided. The database is a valuable timesaving resource for scholars interested in the statistics of the slave and slaveholding populations of Texas, providing near instantaneous information for analysis that would have taken an incalculable amount of time to work out without the use of such a digital tool.

The project provides additional ways to interact with the population data contained in the database. The map interface was created using the HistoryBrowser tool developed at the Virginia Center for Digital History. While essentially one map, its interactive capabilities provide for the creation of numerous maps within the interface. The overall purpose of the map is to chart the slave and slaveholding populations for each Texas county over the period of 1837-1845. Tools within the interface permit the user to interact with the map by adjusting layers such as U.S. borders and regional rivers, zooming in or out, as well as animating the map's timeline to view the changes in populations over time. Graphs indicating the rate of change in the population data can be displayed on top of the map as well as viewed in a larger window by clicking on the separate tab within the map labeled "Graph the TSP Database." Double-clicking counties on the map reveals a pop-up box of information pertaining to the number of slaves and slaveholders for the year indicated on the timeline below the map. These interactive elements are explained on the map's introductory page to ensure that the user is able to use the tool to its fullest extent.

A collection of primary source documents offers a further glimpse into the role of slavery in Texas. Containing the transcriptions of various letters, newspaper articles, and legislative documents, the collection is organized into categories for easy perusal: The Laws of Texas, the Diplomatic Correspondence of the Republic of Texas, the James F. Perry Papers, the Telegraph & Texas Register of Houston, and the Civilian & Galveston Gazette. These documents can be accessed by browsing via category or by search engine. Each document is prefaced with a summary of its contents and concludes with source information for the location of the original. While certainly not a comprehensive archive, these documents help to flesh out the presence of slavery in Texas.

Texas Slavery Project is exemplary of the ways in which the use of technology can provide an interaction with data that exists beyond the capability of analog versions of the documents. In just a few seconds of load time, the site's maps, graphs, and searchable database provide visualizations and access to information that would have taken hours to create without the use of these tools. Easy to use and providing comprehensive information regarding its specific subject matter, the Texas Slavery Project is a valuable digital tool of analysis and a wonderful example of what can be done when the digital medium is combined with a collection of data and historical inquiry.

Kaci Nash
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Reviewed: December 2009