I am excited to share my latest digital project “Mobility in Slavery and Freedom: Mapping Paths of Escape, Enslavement, and Freedom in the U.S., 1830-1850”. This paper was a final project for my digital and computational history course at George Mason in the spring of 2020. The paper visualizes and analyzes the paths of nine individuals who escaped from slavery during the antebellum era in the U.S., specifically from 1830 to 1850.
For this project, I used R programming language to create, edit, and analyze a dataset of nine people’s travels while enslaved, escaping from slavery, and free. Some of these journeys are derived from famous narratives in Documenting the American South: North American Slave Narratives from people like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet A. Jacobs, while others detail the travels of more anonymous figures from slavery from runaway newspaper advertisements and Black abolition newspaper articles.
Using the leaflet package in R, I mapped and compared nine people’s different types of movements and journeys towards freedom, arguing that mobility was integral to slavery, freedom, and the liminal. I particularly draw on recent scholarship that claims mobility was integral to the lives of enslaved people in the antebellum period, whether in rural or urban areas (see Rashuana Johnson’s Slavery Metropolis and Susan O’Donovan’s “Thinking about the Political Lives of Slaves”). Visualizing famous and non-famous figures through the lens of movement also contests the concept of freedom, demonstrating that freedom was not always a linear path or guaranteed. This project also demonstrates a need for further research on the significance of enslaved people using transportation, disguises, and cross-dressing to manipulate and capitalize on white enslaver’s assumptions. Altogether, “Mobility in Slavery and Freedom” gives an alternative view of resistance and movement, blurring the lines between slavery and freedom.