Valuable Lives: Black Unfreedom and the Collapse of Slavery in Jamaica

Valuable Lives is a major CSLBS project aimed at creating the first and most comprehensive publicly available database on black lives under British slavery.

Our main source is the Register of Returns of enslaved people published triennially from 1817-1832. In the study of British slavery, no other data set is more textured, systematic, and detailed in documenting black lives. The project seeks to harness modern database technology, computational approaches, and innovative historiographical methods to digitize the records produce new findings on enslaved lives that will have disciplinary, and especially public, relevance in both Britain and the Caribbean.

We seek to link individuals not only to estates and slave-owners and sources of wealth in metropolitan Britain but also to a much larger community of enslaved and freed black descendants in the Caribbean and the UK. Valuable Lives builds innovative user interface outcomes (maps, estate records, interactive imagery, or family trees) and infrastructures to make the resulting database useful for genealogists, researchers, interested members of the public, and, importantly, for teachers, for whom the project has the potential of becoming a creative tool in teaching Caribbean and Black British histories in classrooms around the world.

In the longer term, we aim to develop partnerships and relationships with a global network of citizen-historians, communities, academic researchers, family historians, artists, and digital practitioners to share, platform, and collectively interpret this unique repository.

By developing a permanent, publicly accessible database of historical black lives created in dialogue with their descendants in Britain and Jamaica, the long-term project is founded in the moral responsibility of examining the past to confront the roots of racial inequality. 

Project dates: Since 2022
Project team: Matthew J. Smith, Matthew Stallard, Jess Hannah, Zanté Johnson Hylton, Holly French, Keith McClelland.