In the paper “Want of Water, Want of Data: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database and Oceanic Computing” (2018) Jeffrey Moro investigates the representation of the slave ship Zong as it appears in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (slavevoyages.org), or TASTD. Moro argues that data has long structured our understanding of the Middle Passage, from slave ship log books through to the TASTD, and that while informatic forms, such as the database or spreadsheet, allow for structured access to information, they impoverish affective and experiential understandings of fundamentally unknowable events. Moro proposes to instead regard the ocean as a communications medium offering a distinctly different set of aesthetic and ethical values “duration over immediacy, indeterminacy over exactitude, leaky memory over dry storage”.
A related thinking, also benefitting from regarding the ocean as a medium in the media theorist John Durham Peters’ sense is found in Eric Snodgrass’ analysis in his dissertation Executions: power and expression in networked and computational media of the Mediterranean Sea as a filter or infrastructure allowing cargo to pass and bodies of refugees to be detected.
These two studies exemplify how the ocean historically as well as today serves a cultural function to enforce a clear segregation between affluent Westerners and migrants from Africa.