Accountabilities, invisibilities and silences in a Danish Slave Trading Company on the Gold Coast in the early 18th century

Mads Jensen, Gloria Agyemang, Cheryl R Lehman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Downloads (Pure)


Using eighteenth-century archival material from a Danish trading fort in West Africa, we explore how accounting and accountability systems were complicit with the crafting and narration of racialized slave trading during mercantile colonialism. By examining the role of accounting not at the slave trade’s endpoint, e. g., plantations in the Americas, but at its points of extraction, we reveal the role of accounting in commodifying and dehumanizing human beings at a “point of no return”. We add to research that exposes the accounting practices that made humans visible as articles for trade while rendering invisible the innate, human qualities of enslaved Africans. The slave trade relied on methods of physical domination and threats of violence, and we discover these are also part of the accounting portrayed in the archive materials. Given the complex and intricate social relations of the time, we reveal how the mechanisms that attempted to establish accountability between conflicting constituencies (kingdoms, investors, merchants, etc.) were ultimately unstable and challenged but very much focussed on ensuring profit from the trade. Chartered slave trading companies produced sanitized classification schemes in which accounting played a central role in reporting the commerce of enslaved Africans as just another commodity traded under legitimated violence. Issues of racialization and violence continue in this century, thus there remains an important role for accounting researchers to engage with these issues of injustice.

Keywords: Accountability; slave trade; colonialism; racialized accounts; mercantile
Original languageEnglish
Article number102181
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalCritical Perspectives on Accounting
Early online date6 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

Cite this