Understanding the REMAP Database

The Runaways Enslaved and Manumitted on the Arabian Peninsula (REMAP) Database: An Introduction

Alaine S. Hutson (Huston-Tillotson University), 2013

The current state of slavery studies in the Middle East is in development. Scholars are beginning to question the old paradigms and conventional wisdom about slavery in this region, which come from the writings of 19th century European travelers and the portrait of slavery painted by Ottoman officials.[1].

Most publications focus on elite slaves and slaves at the heart of the Ottoman Empire. Since the 19th century, the typical scholarship on Middle Eastern slavery has been that it was a benign sort of institution that treated its captives not as victims of a grotesque trade but as important administrators and junior members of families who were eventually absorbed into free families; that slavery was not a racialized institution among Muslim Arabs but instead was a cosmopolitan one that reflected religious and cultural divisions; that slaves were not used for large-scale or significant agricultural or “productive” economic purposes; and finally that these differences between the two regions meant that scholars of the Middle East cannot compare, learn from, or contribute to conversations about slavery in the Atlantic World.[2] The REMAP Database is an effort to provide scholars who study slavery in the Middle East with a tool to focus on non-elite slaves, the domestics, pearl divers, shepherds and washer women who presence was ubiquitous but anonymous and up to today understudied by scholars.

The REMAP database is in its preliminary stages. At present it has a very limited timeframe, 1926-1938, and is sourced primarily from data on runaways and their families found in two archival sets – Foreign Office Records from the National Archives and India Office Records from the British Library. It has been published online in this state to gauge scholarly interest in this tool and to attract funding for its further development. The REMAP Database borrows heavily in concept, structure, and wording from the Voyages Database and website. REMAP Database aims to uphold the high standards of scholarship utilized in building the Voyages Database. Any errors are the responsibility of the REMAP Project Editor/Team.

Here I wish to give users an explanation of its structure and to point out its strengths and limitations. The data set contains hundreds of names of runaways, their relatives and owners. If runaways were born to slave (or manumitted) parents or captured along with a parent(s), the parent(s) was/were also entered into the dataset. If the runaways had conjugal families, their spouses and children were entered into the dataset regardless of the status of these relative(s). Because of omissions in the narratives and the naming patterns used in Arabic, wives and mother’s names are often missing from the dataset. The details of the 1,192 runaways and their relatives presented here greatly facilitate the study of cultural, demographic, and economic life of slaves on the Arabian Peninsula in the early twentieth century. The records that generated the data set have already provided new assessments which challenge the notion of benign, non-racialized slavery and notions of slavery in the Middle East as domestic, easy, and non-productive. When the REMAP Database fully funded and covers all of the twentieth and a good deal of the nineteenth centuries, it will contribute to our understanding of slave families, ethnicity, occupations, living conditions, etc.

For Arab societies on the peninsula, the data set contains new information on patterns of ownership and prices paid, and relatively extensive records of owners’ names and gender. It will now be easier to pursue connections between the slavery and other sectors of Arabian economies. There are implications for new assessments of the social as well as the economic role of the slavery in the region. In short, the major aim of the first iteration of the REMAP Database is to facilitate and stimulate new research on the lives of the majority of slaves (non-elite ones) in the Middle East. With the organic nature of the cyber world, spurring free exchange on a range of related topics could then be collated into each successive version of the site with far reaching implications.

REMAP will be updated from time to time, incorporating new records compiled by the REMAP Team and those contributed and peer-reviewed through the Contribute Form on the site.

REMAP was built and maintained from 2013-2014 by a grant from UNCF/Mellon.

[1] For examples of European (pro-slavery and anti-slavery) writers who claimed that slavery the lands of Islam and even of an uplifting nature see C. Snouck Hurgronje, Mekka in the Latter Part of the 19th Century (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1970 [1888-9]), 19 and Charles Doughty, Travels in Arabia Deserta Vol I, (New York: Random House, 1936), 605 . Ottoman “amplification” of benign kul/harem slavery for European consumption see Ehud Toledano, “Late Ottoman Concepts of Slavery (1830s-1880s),” Poetics Today 14 (Autumn, 1993): 477-506. .

[2]For a summary of the objections of Middle East Studies scholars to comparisons between slavery in the Middle East and Transatlantic slavery see Bernard Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 99-102.