Towards an Indian Ocean and Maritime Asia Slave Trade Database: An Exploration of Concepts, Lessons and Models

Samantha Sint Nicolaas, Matthias van Rossum, Ulbe Bosma

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review


While over the last three decades the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database (TASTD) has mobilized an astounding scholarly energy, the history of the slave trade in Asia has so far remained underdeveloped. Although numerous scholarly articles have indicated the widespread presence of slavery and the slave trade throughout maritime Asia from the early modern period well into the 19th century, estimates for the slave trade in the Indian Ocean are still tentative, and tend to focus especially on the (western) Indian Ocean region. Since 2015 an international group of researchers has come together to work towards consolidating research on the slave trade in Asia and East Africa. This article discusses a core activity of this group, namely the development of the Indian Ocean and Maritime Asia Slave Trade Database (ESTA) which is hosted at the International Institute of Social History in close collaboration with the Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies, Linnaeus University and ENS Lyon. We explore and evaluate the applicability of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database to the Asian context. We subsequently identify the specificities of the Indian Ocean and Indonesian Archipelago sources and patterns of slave trading, and their implications for possible datamodel designs. The article further underlines the importance of the ESTA database for comparative research reaching across colonial powers, local and global systems of slavery, across wider-ranging and more strongly defined ‘regions’ within the Indian Ocean Maritime Asia world, and even beyond to the transatlantic slave trade. A vital aim in the construction of a comprehensive Indian Ocean and Indonesian Archipelago database is the recording and reconstruction of the slave trade, especially in light of the entanglements of global long-distance slave trading with local systems of slavery and forced labour. The article identifies several challenges in the exploration of the historical and historiographic contexts and proposes and evaluates two database models, concluding with the advances made and the challenges ahead.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEsclavages & Post-Esclavages
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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