Schools bring the history of slavery to life

“Learning from the past, understanding the present, building the future together” is the name of the research project conducted by students in three UNESCO Associated Schools (ASPnet) in Cuba, the Gambia and Spain, for the commemoration of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, using online platforms for blogging and file-sharing.

The students conducted extensive research and exchange on the history and legacy of the slave trade, sharing documents, videos and writings on their common blogs from January to December of 2011 - the United Nations International Year for People of African Descent.  

The three schools (IES “Luis Seoane” in Pontevedra, Spain, the “Nusrat Senior Secondary School” in Gambia, and the IPVCE “Che Guevara” in Santa Clara, Cuba) continue to work together within the framework of the ASPnet Transatlantic Slave Trade Education Project. 

Two aspects of the slave trade received particular attention: how African slaves kept their culture alive in their new, foreign environment, and how gender roles evolved within those communities. The significant contributions of African culture to Latin American societies have recently received attention as has the gender perspective; research shows that women were the repositories of knowledge and culture within African slave communities. The students’ cross-disciplinary approach was also applied to the study of modern forms of slavery, especially human trafficking.  

Sites of Memory at each “point” of the triangle of the Transatlantic Slave Trade were a central topic of exchanges, as they present a tangible link between past and present. Connections were made between the Casa de Contratación in Seville, a registering point for ships sailing to and from the colonies; a fort on James Island in the Gambia used as a slave collecting point until 1820; and the Central Marcela Salado Lastra in Cuba, a major sugar refinery of the 18th and 19th centuries. 

Between 1492 and 1870, over a million captives were taken by the Spanish from Africa  and brought to Central and Latin America through the triangular trade. This enormous population displacement and its legacy were the backdrop of this research project, with perspectives from each point of the Transatlantic Triangle brought together. 

The students were motivated by a sense of “duty to defend historical memory…and to increase knowledge about the Transatlantic Slave Trade as a human tragedy and the racism that resulted from it”, as indicated in their project statement, consistent with the ASPnet and UNESCO values: the defence of human rights and the importance of international cooperation.  

Tackling such difficult but rich topics head-on at a young age is an essential aspect of education for the remembrance of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Through their work, these students have shown that mutual respect and the peaceful coexistence of people and cultures can take place not only between different countries but across three continents. 

Similar projects have been carried out around the world: the “Let’s Celebrate Africa” Festival and the “Connecting One’s Own History” project were conducted by secondary schools in Barbados; an international illustration competition was set up in France and a national writing competition organized in Norway. Entries submitted were in English, French, German, Norwegian and Spanish.

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