"The Broken Paths of Freedom: Free Africans in Nineteenth-Century Brazilian Slave Society" is a historical study of the geographies of enslavement, emancipation, and liberty traversed by Free Africans [Portuguese: africanos livres; also known as emancipados and "Liberated Africans"], a fascinating subgroup of the roughly three-quarter million enslaved Africans illicitly trafficked to the Brazilian empire between 1821 and 1856. Drawing from nominal registries of approximately eleven thousand Liberated Africans rescued from about seventy condemned slave vessels, the project puts space at the center of the life histories of a select class of men, women, and children clandestinely spirited from West-, West-Central, and Southeastern Africa after international treaty, colonial law, and national legislation had circumscribed and then banned outright the transatlantic slave trade to Brazil.
The project's blend of archival research and online visualizations of the life trajectories of the Free Africans' individual and collective movements through the spaces, experiences, and laws of Luso-Atlantic slavery, from illegal enslavement between the 1830s and the 1850s to the extension of "full freedom" to all Free Africans in Brazil by 1864-65, brings the insights and methods of the "spatial turn" to the analysis and understanding of the socio-demographic complexities of place in nineteenth-century slavery and emancipation. Together, these traditional and novel methods of historical analysis also situate Africans as central protagonists in the geographies of freedom in Brazil, the largest and most enduring slave society of the Americas. In its particular attention to the experiences of space for the Free Africans of Brazil, "The Broken Paths of Freedom" also draws scholarly and popular attention to the multiple places of liberty and anti-slavery—Free States, free soil, free wombs, safe houses, and maroon communities, among others—that existed in constant tension with chattel slavery in Atlantic slave societies.
A 2012 National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend and in-kind costshares from the Center for Textual and Spatial Analysis funded the start-up data standardization. The pilot visualization of that data examines the spatial history of the Africans rescued from the Cezar, a Brazilian-flag slave ship seized off the coast of Rio de Janeiro in April 1838. Pilot Search and Visualization Tool
To learn more about the history of the Free Africans, see: The Free Africans of Brazil: Historical Background