Two Plantations: Enslaved Families in Virginia and Jamaica is quite the digital and historical marvel. From a historical standpoint, it uses comparison to assess an incredibly popular and hotly debated topic: In what ways were the slave systems of the Caribbean different from that of mainland North America? Using Mesopotamia–a sugar plantation in Jamaica–and Mt. Airy–a tobacco plantation in Virgina–as examples, the site explores how slaves in these two regions were both subject to immense suffering but through very different means.
As a quick overview, slavery in mainland North America–particularly in Virginia–differed greatly from Caribbean slavery. For example, most of the islands in the Caribbean were comprised of large sugar plantations with absentee landowners. The process of harvesting sugar cane and then preparing it for travel required intense labor, leading to an incredibly high death rate. To keep production going, the plantation owners were therefore required to import slaves regularly. In contrast, Tobacco production in Virginia was much less labor intensive allowing for a natural increase in the slave population. However, because of this increase, there was often a surplus of Virginia slaves. As a result, slaveowners bartered and sold their unneeded slaves at a high rate, splintering and disbanding slave families with every exchange. Two Plantations documents how the slave families of Mesopotamia and Mt. Airy were broken up and forced to deal with high rates of death and exportation by reconstructing as many of their family trees as possible.
In terms of its digital properties and abilities, the site is really quite amazing. It opens up to homepage that directs the user through a quick overview of the site. However, the introductory pages will quickly collapse if the user clicks on the tool bar or scrolls to the bottom of the page. When the user scrolls, family trees immediately appear, situating the user at the core of the site. Yet, even here, the tool bar remains accessible, and the user can quickly navigate to other family trees, diagrams, and a quick analysis. If the user continues to scroll, without stopping, he or she will find a short bio of the sites creator and chief researcher–Richard Dunn–and list of books for more information about the two plantations.
Overall, the site is incredibly interactive and it appears to be “well made,” but is it too much? There is so much going on in the site and so much initial movement, that it could be difficult to use for a first time user. So much so, in fact, that it may inhibit someone from understanding what is being relayed in the family trees. It also seems a tad unorganized. The bio and selected reading sections could have their own pages, but instead they occupy a space on the main page. I am in no way insinuating that it is a bad site. Quite the opposite really. I only aim to use this site as an example of how, when working with digital history, content and design have to have a congruent relationship. One cannot be greater or more overwhelming than the other.
To access the site, follow the link below: