The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Brown Bag Lecture Series: Andrew Torget talks slavery, technology

The digital world is so powerful that we can do practically anything within its capabilities.

The years that preceded the Mexican-American War were filled with migration into uncertain Texan borderlands. As part of the Brown Bag Lecture Series, Andrew Torget spoke of the importance of digital tools in tracking slavery before the war.

At noon on Wednesday, listeners gathered in the Texana Room of the DeGolyer Library with bagged lunches and digital devices in hand.

“My goal was to see things that I wasn’t able to see before through technology,” Torget said.

Torget, assistant history professor at the University of North Texas, received his PhD in history at the University of Virginia. He is working in conjunction with SMU to complete his manuscript for publication, entitled “Cotton Empire: Slavery, the Texas Borderlands, and the Origins of the Mexican-American War.”

Ruth Ann Elmore, assistant to the director at the Clements Center, said Torget was handpicked for the SMU research fellowship program. According to Elmore, he certainly has something that separates his from the pack. He will spend a year with the Clements Center of Southwest Studies.

During the lecture, Torget presented a slideshow-style outline of his studies on the Mexican-American War. Though this is just one example of historical research, Torget explained that technology has endless possibilities.

His studies dissect the cotton empire in the early 19th century. People began to move from Virginia to the Deep South in places such as Mississippi and Alabama. Some even went further into Mexico. Why would someone set up cotton plantations in Mexico, Torget asked himself.

“Slavery is the thing that is controversial,” Torget said. “Cotton isn’t controversial, it is light and fluffy.”

Therefore, Torget investigated deeper. He read everything he could get his hands on about the empire including newspapers, books and encyclopedias. However, it wasn’t enough. He then began to dig up tax records of Texas. If you owned land and slaves, then you paid taxes. Torget spent an entire summer in a New York Library recording each number that he found.

Torget made a spreadsheet of all the tax records he could find. From 1837-1845 the slave population jumped 557 percent.

“There is so much embedded in these numbers that the human eye cannot see,” Torget said.

So he moved deeper. He used geographic information system (G.I.S.) that assigned the data to geography. Now, he could see 2D information in a 3D way. The U.S.-Mexico borderlands had transformed from a land of nothing to a slave empire in a nine-year span.

Katie Tumminello, SMU junior, said her interest in the subject is what drew her in, but it was Torget’s methods of research that fascinated her.

“You really can do so much with technology,” Tumminello said. “It is great to see it used for historical data.”

History has more to it than meets the eye. It is what we do with it that really matters.  

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