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The Slave Societies Digital Archive (formerly Ecclesiastical and Secular Sources for Slave Societies), directed by Jane Landers at Vanderbilt University, was launched in 2003 with an initial Collaborative Research Grant (RZ-50095) of $150,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to Landers and her co-directors, Mariza de Carvalho Soares of the Universidade Federal Fluminense (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), and Paul E. Lovejoy  of York University (Toronto, Canada). After almost three years of intensive work in Cuba and Brazil, ESSSS teams had digitally captured ecclesiastical records of more than 750,000 individuals. The focus was on Africans and Afro-descended individuals, but the Catholic Church also recorded Europeans, indigenous, and Chinese individuals in the same books.

Beginning in 2007, grants from the British Library Endangered Archives Program allowed the Slave Societies Digital Archive to preserve additional records in new sites in Brazil, Colombia, and Cuba. A grant from the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine in 2013 enabled our team to digitize the oldest known documents from what is today the United States. These records date from the 16th century and are the oldest known documents about African, African-descended, and indigenous people in what is today the United States.

In 2014, The Historic St. Augustine Research Institute funded further digitization work in Matanzas and Ceiba Mocha, Cuba. Awards from the American Council for Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation supported the establishment of a permanent office for the Slave Societies Digital Archive, doctoral and postdoctoral fellowships dedicated to the project, and necessary technological upgrades.

The primary directive of the Slave Societies Digital Archive is to preserve and freely disseminate invaluable documents for the history of Africans and their descendants in the Atlantic World, in collaboration with partners around the globe. We welcome scholarly contributions and assistance in this effort.