Accounting for Slavery: Paper Technologies and the Plantation
Though most histories of information technology focus on businesses that relied on free labor, slaveholders in the American South and the West Indies also deployed data in pursuit of higher profits. They built sophisticated organizational structures, utilized standardized reporting, and depreciated enslaved capital. Slaveholders subjected enslaved people to experiments, allocating and reallocating labor from crop to crop, planning meals and lodging, and carefully recording daily productivity. The incentive strategies they crafted offered rewards but also threatened brutal punishment. Contrary to narratives that depict slavery as a barrier to innovation, elite planters turned their power over enslaved people into a productivity advantage.