Connecting with the local history

Facilitate a classroom discussion of ‘community connections’ to the slave trade.

Preparation for discussion: Ask students to read the following book excerpt and statement in advance of the class session:

  • “The peoples of West Africa, as well as those of every maritime nation in Western Europe and every colony in the New World, played a part in the creation of the world’s first system of multinational production... a system powered by slave labor.” ‘Inhuman Bondage – The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World’ by Dr. David Brion Davis
  • The TST was an international economic trade system dependent on the rapid-movement of goods and human cargo. It is important to remember that although many towns had almost no enslaved population, there still existed deep connections to enslavement through the participation in slavery-dependent businesses. 

Essential questions: What might a town’s connection to slavery be? Is your town located on a main waterway? Was your town’s livelihood connected to the maritime trades?  Were there small enterprises that kept the ships in good repair? The crews in good health? Or the cargoes adequately insured? Do you live in an agricultural area? What products might your town have supplied to the slaving industry?

  • Allow ten minutes for learners to discuss the essential questions in small groups.
  • Ask each group to share a summary of their discussion with the class.
  • Create a list of possible connections to the slave trade.

Activities

Closing activity: Connect the general discussion of your local community to the slave trade.  You might prepare several case studies or lists of local connections for students. Ask the students how the local community might have been connected and where might they learn more about this; give them examples of your case studies.

Twinning ideas: Partner with another school to further explore connections and complicity in the slave trade. Start by sharing your list of possible connections and a case study from each community.

  • Essential questions: What similarities / differences do you see? Is this connection well known? How might this community heritage be remembered?  Is there a site of memory?  If so, can the students participate in preserving the site?
  • Activity with Technology
    Compare the lists and case studies in small groups. Answer the essential questions for the twinning activity. Use a web-based document system (e.g. Google Documents) to share your responses.  Consider also including digital images of any sites of memory or related sections from your town.
  • Classical Activity
    Compare the lists and case studies in small groups. Answer the essential questions for the twinning activity. Create a connections packet. You might include written lists, pictures, and drawings of any sites of memory or related sections of your town.   

Examples

A Barbadian ASPnet school learns to connect with one’s own history

“Connecting one’s own history”, the Grantley Adams Memorial School, Barbados

The Grantley Adams memorial school TST project benefitted students aged 11 to 17 years old. For years the school has celebrated the Annual African Awareness month, with often one day’s celebration towards the end of the month. On February 25th 2011, the school organised a special day with several lectures, cultural presentations, and performances.  

During the opening speech, the school principal told students about the history of the school building, which served as a plantation house during the colonial period. Another building in the school area, which used to function as the only hospital for slaves in Barbados, was also discussed. It is the school’s intention to renovate this building for the use of children and in this way honor the memory and legacy of slaves.  

The school’s history teacher focused on making the slaves’ life real and understandable for children by discussing aspects of their daily lives such as “What did slaves eat and how did they cook their meals?”, “How did children feel about being enslaved?”, “What were the children’s duties?” and so forth.  

Connecting in this manner with the slaves’ daily life, as well as local history with TST, gave children a very real feeling and personal experience of slavery and of the lives of their ancestors. The use of concrete entry points to the complex history of slavery allows children to connect in a new way with their community and will also encourage them to expand on this knowledge.

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