Rice University moves historic records of the slave trade to Oracle Cloud
The university moves the world’s largest slave trade database to the cloud using Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, bringing more access and new insights.
“A lot of people rely on our project for research, teaching, for science, even politics. We don’t want these records to be obsolete, because once obsolete, people stop using them, and all the effort, time, and money that went into making that data available on a database would be lost. And that would be a tragedy. Oracle Cloud Infrastructure and MySQL Database Service help us to secure the data.”
Between the 16th and 19th centuries, transatlantic slave ships’ records were kept in handwritten log books. In the 1960s, a group of historians consolidated these records into a single repository. Before cloud computing, their research was cataloged on punch cards, moved to desktop computers, then CD-ROMs, then local servers. Today, the SlaveVoyages website yields more insights than could ever be gleaned from books or CDs, with such granular data as mortality rates aboard ships, how many children they transported, and information on resistance or insurrections.
The SlaveVoyages databases had been run on on-premises servers at Emory University—an implementation that couldn’t quickly increase computing capacity when demand for the site’s information surged. But the Emory team had laid the groundwork for migrating to the cloud by implementing Docker technology to containerize its components, thus introducing a cloud-native architecture to the data.
The site is now a cornerstone of digital humanities infrastructure: a usable interface into a large dataset on a centuries-long, world-historical atrocity, curated by committed scholars and contributed to by invested members of the public. It is regularly cited in media coverage of the slave trade and reparations debates.
Why Rice University chose Oracle
The Rice team chose Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) and Oracle MySQL Database Service because it’s an open source-friendly platform, with limited proprietary services required.
Rice University’s team worked with Oracle Cloud architects to optimize the SlaveVoyages database using MySQL Database Service, OCI Block Storage, OCI Virtual Machines, and OCI Object Storage.
Using OCI and MySQL Database allows researchers to apply new statistical modeling to these records. This is essential when dealing with an incomplete historical record that requires analytical estimates to provide a complete and accurate understanding of the past.
The massive SlaveVoyages database is one of the first digital humanities projects to be powered by Oracle Cloud.
In moving SlaveVoyages to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure and MySQL Database Cloud, Rice University has simplified academic collaboration and has ensured the scale needed to accommodate massive volumes of data and new areas of research. The SlaveVoyages.org site documents 36,000 voyages that brought about 10 million Africans into bondage in the Americas, 11,000 voyages transporting enslaved people within the Americas, and the names of 90,000 Africans as recorded when they were emancipated.
The university also has the flexibility to come up with a new process for publishing updates to the site and can quickly test and publish the changes that the scholars want in order to expand the project.