Digital Mapping: The Transatlantic Slave Database

There are few mapping projects which have received the same attention and praise as that of the Transatlantic Slave Database (http://slavevoyages.org/assessment/estimates).  However, I hope to break down specifically what individual elements of this website make it the useful and well-designed tool that it is, with the hope that future projects will incorporate some or all of these components should they prove helpful for their own projects.

Aesthetics

Some maps, especially when multiple data sets are being represented simultaneously, can be a) ugly b) confusing or c) both a and b. This website conveys its information effectively through the use of arrows which change size and break into smaller arrows when zoomed in to show more precise information, and the data is not displayed immediately on screen but is available if you click on the port or route you are interested in studying to limit clutter. The use of color effectively creates a simple legend by which users intuitively figure out what shapes and shades denote what meaning. The only thing I could say I would like changed is to give users the ability to make the map full screen so they can explore more thoroughly and immerse themselves in the maps they generate. The text is out of the way, which I said was a plus to limit clutter, but without being able to enlarge the map that also can make the information small and hard to read on occassion, especially when dealing with large data sets from an entire region as opposed to a single port.

Interactivity

This is, I would argue, the best feature of this website. The mapping feature of the Transatlantic Slave Database does not simply provide a static map, a simple overlay of two maps, or a map that can be zoomed in on and moved around. Instead this extensive system allows the user to manipulate data inputs, controlling which countries, sites of import/export, and dates are shown. This not only aids researchers in tailoring the visualization to their specific research range, but to casual observers encourages experimentation to try different combinations and see how over time and place the slave trade changed in scale and nature (which is ultimately one of the goals of the project).

Context

The map alone is helpful, but the mapping features of this website are truly useful because they can be used in conjunction with the rest of the website’s features and complement the overall goal of the project perfectly. As a visualization tool the map is very effective, but it cannot convey all of the information which the site has at its disposal. Imagine if you will a researcher looking to narrow their broad research topic to a specific locale. Utilizing the map, they can track where specific countries import and export from, and then can go to the website’s other resources to find more specific information about names, individual ships, and statistics that is relevant to their research. The map is a great place to start, but also fantastic to include in presentations to help audiences visualize your research as well.