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Teaching Guide: Exploring the Transatlantic Slave Trade

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, The Transatlantic Slave Trade, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. How does the map of the slave trade in Africa illustrate the idea of global slavery?

  2. Use the excerpt from a 1788 account to describe the journey of enslaved Africans before they departed on ships for the New World.

  3. Using the two photographs of Goree Island, imagine the experience of the slaves waiting to be sent to the New World on Goree Island. Explain the significance of the “Door of No Return.”

  4. Using the diagram of slaveholding capacity, the illustration of the “blood-stained Gloria", the illustration of chained African slaves, and the 1851 lithograph as evidence, describe the Middle Passage. What was the experience like for enslaved Africans? How was this experience designed to prevent challenges for the slave traders? What problems might it cause for the enslaved?

  5. According to the advertisement for a slave auction in Charleston, which qualities did slave owners value in slaves at auction? Why did they value these qualities?

  6. What specific story about slavery do the 1797 advertisement and the illustration of a woman and child on the auction block tell together?

  7. Compare and contrast the 1787 engraving and the 1807 illustration. How do they visualize the abolitionist cause differently?

  8. What do the map of illegal slave-trade routes and the two articles tell us about illegal slave trading after 1807?

Classroom activities

Use the items in this set to think about different perspectives on the transatlantic slave trade. Break students into small groups and assign each group a particular point of view (or character) represented by these sources. These might include the African slave trader, a member of the Atlantic ship crew, an enslaved African, an abolitionist, and an American slave owner. Each group should use items in this set to considering the following:

Describe this character’s role to the slave trade. How do they participate? How does this character feel about the institution of slavery? What are its advantages and/or disadvantages from his/her perspective? What are this character’s goals? Anxieties?

After each group meets to discuss a profile for its character, groups should share their findings and use them to flesh out relationships between characters. Ask students to consider how power was distributed across the players in the slave trade and how this power structure impacted the history of slavery in the New World.

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