I have two related projects — here’s the first one.

France's most profitable plantation colony in the 1700s

I want to propose a help-a-thon for a project I’m calling Virtual Saint-Domingue. Saint-Domingue was the French colony that became Haiti in 1804 after the only successful slave uprising in world history. In the second half of the 1700s French administrators compiled an extraordinary collection of census data for the colony. About a dozen censuses recorded data for each of approximately 30 colonial parishes, giving numbers of white colonists, free people of color, enslaved workers and breaking these categories down by age and gender.  There are also parish-level tallies for commodity and food crops, munitions, weapons and animals. I’ve already made substantial progress towards this project, first on proprietary software (ArcGIS) and now on open source QGIS. I can already create choropleth maps of the census data for Saint-Domingue in ArcGIS and I’m working on reaching the same level in QGIS.

My goal is  to put this data on the web in a dynamic format, so that users can chose the different formats themselves and get a display on the screen. This is an amazing source for understanding what was happening on the eve of the world’s only successful slave uprising. It could also be very useful for writing an environmental history of Haiti, something that is sorely lacking.  I want something that would be accessible to undergraduates as well as researchers. So I also want to make the data available in spreadsheet form so that other researchers can check it.

Finally I’d like to leave the door open to add other kinds of data to this project. For example, I’d like it to be open so that colleagues could add coordinates of plantation ruins in modern-day Haiti,  overlays of historical maps that show locations of plantations, irrigation works, plantation illustrations, other material. There is also an amazing textual source — a highly detailed parish-by-parish overview of the colony written in 1788 just before the Haitian Revolution. A colleague has a spreadsheet showing slave populations on hundreds of individual plantations. I’d like to be able to integrate that as well in the future, if he is interested. And there is also the slave trade data from slavevoyages.com