Tonight, the 30th annual News & Documentary Emmy Awards were presented by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in a ceremony at New York’s Lincoln Center.

As an historical consultant on the PBS documentary Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North, I was nominated, along with my fellow researchers, for an Emmy for “Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft: Research.”

While we didn’t win, it was truly an honor just to be nominated, and I congratulate Salimah El-Amin and Blair Foster of HBO’s Taxi to the Dark Side for their accomplishment. Their film examines how the U.S. has treated detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay, focusing on compelling research into the apprehension of an innocent taxi driver by U.S. forces and the circumstances leading to his eventual death at Bagram Airfield.

We are quite pleased that our nomination has helped to raise the visibility of Traces of the Trade, and has highlighted the importance of its historical subject matter.

Our research revealed for the first time that James D’Wolf was the leading slave-trader in U.S. history, and that his family were collectively the leading slave-trading family in our history. The D’Wolf family carried out at least 96 slaving voyages, bringing some 11,455 enslaved Africans to the Americas.

By my calculations, there may be more than 500,000 people alive today who are descended from those brought across the Middle Passage on D’Wolf slave ships.

The film raised much broader issues than our family’s history, however. This family’s involvement in the slave trade in many ways represents, in miniature, the American slave-trading experience. Our research into the family’s history has shed new light on the ways in which American slave traders operated, and the deep connections between their economic activities and the rest of American society. The research summarized in the film heightens our understanding of the role of the north in slavery and the slave trade, and emphasizes the centrality of slavery in American history. These are themes which I am exploring in more detail, and which I will begin presenting at the African Studies Association conference in New Orleans this fall.

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Traces of the TradeI blogged last week that Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North had been nominated for an Emmy Award in “Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft: Research.”

The list of individuals nominated for the award is now available. In addition to those credited in the film as researchers and mentioned last time, the list includes:

Africanus Aveh (line producer)
Andrew Barr (intern)
Boris Iván Crespo (line producer)
Elizabeth Delude-Dix (co-producer)
Heather Kapplow (associate producer)
Alla Kovgan (writer)
James DeW. Perry (historical consultant)

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The national broadcast premiere of Traces of the Trade on PBS begins this evening at 10:00pm.

Local PBS stations will carry the broadcast on different days and times, so be sure to check your local listings (opens in a new window).

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I’ve delayed posting about this morning’s press coverage of Traces of the Trade, as we prepare for the start of national broadcast this evening on PBS.

However, several members of the Traces family have asked me for the latest update, so I hope everyone else will bear with me—or simply move along—as I review what the press is saying about the documentary this morning.

I’ll start with an article in this morning’s Boston Globe by Vanessa Jones, about the bicentennial of the abolition of the slave trade. Vanessa and I had spoken a couple of weeks ago, about the reasons for the nation’s lack of awareness about the bicentennial, and she has done an excellent job of reporting on those who have been involved in commemorating the occasion, as well as interviewing scholars who can address the reasons for this historical amnesia.

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With national broadcast beginning tomorrow, there are more reviews and articles about Traces of the Trade each day.

Television critic Joanne Ostrow, of the Denver Post, has a review being carried by newspapers across the country. Ostrow writes that this is “a stunning documentary … eye-opening and important,” which “ought to spark conversations on race” for at least as long as the nine years it took to make.

Newsblaze logoThis morning, Newsblaze, which last week found the film “a remarkable documentary … brave and sobering … a labor of love,” runs another review which rates the film as “Excellent (4 stars).” The review, by Kam Williams, finds the documentary “an eye-opening caravan undertaken by some refreshingly honest Caucasians willing to take an unblinking look at their slave legacy and the devastation left in its wake.” The review further states that Traces of the Trade is “an emotional journey … a unique look at slavery from the perspective of Northern white beneficiaries.”

Lauren Wissot, the award-winning director and film critic, offers her assessment of the film, which she terms “overwhelming … powerful … poignant.” “The ten DeWolf descendants,” she writes, “are a thoughtful, forthcoming, from the heart group—willing to doubt, to not have answers, to admit both fear and internalized racism.” Of Katrina’s deeply personal, idiosyncratic approach to the film, Wissot observes that “there’s something sweet and humble in this, in Browne’s constant commentary describing how unsure and awkward she feels.”

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Tomorrow, Bill Moyers’ Journal will preview next week’s television premiere of Traces of the Trade on PBS, in a program to the legacy of slavery and the current socioeconomic landscape of race in the United States.

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We’ve seen a spate of reviews, articles, and blog posts discussing Traces of the Trade in recent days, motivated largely by upcoming screenings at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival and the forthcoming national broadcast premiere on PBS.

From the New York TimesStephen Holden of The New York Times calls the film a “far-reaching documentary” whose “implications … are devastating.” He also observes that “the old saying that ‘behind every great fortune there is a crime’ echoes silently throughout the movie, which extends that notion to implicate an entire society.”

The Hartford Advocate describes the film as a “well-researched, candid and intelligent exploration” of the role of the slave trade in our nation’s history. The reviewer also calls the documentary “gut-wrenching and intense” and “powerfully moving,” and concludes that this “glimpse into the still-raw wounds of slavery” is “perhaps the best way to honor the professed democratic ideals of the founding fathers.”

Jessica Mosby, writing for the Women’s International Perspective, heaps praise on the film, calling it “powerful” and “incredibly well executed,” and its discussions “intense” and “very candid.” She goes on to argue that the documentary “starts an important and often uncomfortable dialogue about race,” and that “the film is truly a microcosm for the larger debate that Americans need to have about race and responsibility.”

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We’ve just learned the scheduled broadcast dates for Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North in the Boston area:

  • Thursday, June 26, 3:00am (WGBH-44)
  • Sunday, June 29, 9:00pm (WGBH-44)
  • Monday, June 30, 10:00pm (WGBH-2)

As I’ve mentioned previously, P.O.V. is debuting its 2008-2009 season with Traces of the Trade, with a suggested air date of June 24 at 10:00pm. Local stations are free to broadcast the film whenever they wish, however, and many markets are deviating significantly from that suggestion. It is also possible that these scheduled air dates in Boston might change prior to broadcast.

Update: For those who receive digital broadcasts in the Boston area, the film will also be shown on WGBX World (Channel 44.2) on Wednesday, June 25 at 7:30pm, and will be rebroadcast three times over the course of the next day.

Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North will have its broadcast premiere on Tuesday, June 24 at 10:00pm on PBS.

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Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North is slated to air later this year on the PBS series, P.O.V. (“Point of View”).

The announcement was made during our panel on public action this morning with Congressman John Conyers.

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