"The Broken Paths of Freedom: Free Africans in Nineteenth-Century Brazilian Slave Society" is a historical study of the geographies of enslavement, emancipation, and liberty traversed by Free Africans [Portuguese: africanos livres; also known as emancipados and Liberated Africans], a subgroup of the roughly three-quarter million enslaved Africans illicitly introduced into the Brazilian empire between 1821 and 1856. Drawing from nominal registries of approximately eleven thousand Liberated Africans rescued from roughly seventy condemned slave vessels, the project puts space at the center of the life histories of a select class of men, women, and children clandestinely spirited from West-, West-Central, and Southeastern Africa after international treaty, colonial law, and national legislation had circumscribed and then banned outright the transatlantic slave trade to Brazil. The project's blend of archival research and online visualizations of the life trajectories of the Free Africans' individual and collective movements through the spaces, experiences, and laws of Luso-Atlantic slavery, from illegal enslavement to the extension of "full freedom" to all Free Africans by 1864-65, brings the insights and methods of the "spatial turn" in history to the analysis and understanding of the socio-demographic complexities of place in nineteenth-century slavery and emancipation. Together, these traditional and novel methods of historical analysis also situate Africans as central protagonists in the geographies of freedom in Brazil, the largest and most enduring slave society of the Americas.
In its particular attention to the experiences of space for the Free Africans of Brazil, The Broken Paths of Freedom draws scholarly and popular attention to the multiple places of liberty and anti-slavery—Free States, free soil, free wombs, safe houses, and maroon communities—that existed in constant tension with chattel slavery in Atlantic slave societies.
Funded by a 2012 National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend, the pilot project for The Broken Paths of Freedom draws from one condemned slave vessel, the Cezar, seized in 1838. Pilot Visualization:
To learn more about the history of the Free Africans, see: The Free Africans of Brazil: Historical Background