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Black History Resources

John Simkin

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Article on Black History resources in the Guardian:


Jerome Monahan

Tuesday October 3, 2006

The Guardian

The news that the British government is considering whether to apologise for its role in transatlantic slavery is casting the spotlight back over the countries and institutions that got rich off the back of the cruel trade in people. A conservative estimate puts at 12 million the number of African men, women and children who may have been forced into slavery. The trade in people and the reform movements that eventually brought it to an end have wide curriculum relevance. The more so given the subjects' topicality, with Black History Month in progress and the imminent 200th anniversary of the trade's abolition in the British empire.

Ancient roots

Some pupils may be surprised to learn that slavery was not the original idea of 16th-century European merchants. Slaves were the cornerstone of many ancient civilisations. Send your web explorers off to Ancient Egypt: http://www.terraflex.co.il/ad/egypt/timeli...ics/slavery.htm

Greece: http://www.historyforkids.org/learn/greeks/people/slaves.htm

Rome: http://www.historyforkids.org/learn/romans/people/slaves.htm

Triangular trade

European capital, African labour and American land built up a trade triangle to satisfy expanding European empires. It's a topic that is richly covered online, but worth mentioning is the animated explanation provided by the National Maritime Museum http://www.nmm.ac.uk/freedom/viewTheme.cfm/theme/triangular

The same site invites visitors to follow up their study of key themes with the construction of their own slave-trade exhibition using a selection of cached images and documents:


Invite students to head to the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool to explore what life might have been like on board for those forced to make the six- to eight-week journey by ship:


A wealth of personal stories illuminating every aspect of the trade and life on plantations in the West Indies and America are listed at http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAslavery.htm

Also of value are James Fenton's recent articles about the biography of American slave Mary Prince

http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/bi...1789122,00.html and freed slave and anti-slavery campaigner Olaudah Equiano http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/bi...1804387,00.html

The latter highlights the difficulties of taking seemingly reliable first-hand accounts of historic events at face value. Various BBC history sites also deserve "must visit" status including:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/africa/f..._section9.shtml which provides excellent insights into the origins of the trade, and also http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/empir...lavery_01.shtml - a comprehensive guide to the anti-slavery movement.

Demands that those countries and institutions that participated in the slave trade should be held to account have been growing. Already there have been calls for next year's anniversary to be marked by some sort of statement by the British government, though recent reports suggest that rather than an official apology being offered, an expression of regret with no legal implications is more likely to be made

http://www.guardian.co.uk/race/story/0,,1879560,00.html . Invite students to sum up their work on the slave trade by drafting a statement of regret.

Here, too, is a chance to debate whether or not rich countries such as the UK or America (and even some cities or individual institutions or companies) should apologise or even pay reparations for what happened. Older pupils can gather arguments for and against at a number of sites.

Both sides of the debate were explored in detail in 2001 at the World Conference Against Racism in South Africa, when several European countries said they were prepared to apologise:


Pupils could also visit the 1Xtra online forum site thrashing out whether Bristol should follow Liverpool's lead and issue an apology for its enrichment due to the slave trade:


Pupils can also investigate how, recently, a number of American companies and UK organisations have started facing substantial damages claims from US campaign groups for their previous participation in slavery:


There is, as yet, no central register of UK historic sites and institutions that may have benefited from the slave trade. The Heritage Lottery Fund is busy inviting bids for projects concerned with remembering slavery. It has set up a special 2007 site at http://www.hlf.org.uk/hlf/themes/index.html, which provides suggestions for local studies (and sources of information) including finding out if any local monuments, buildings, houses or even streets relate in any way to the slave trade. There is nothing to stop schools embarking on such studies and some may even qualify for an HLF Awards For All grant to carry out the work.

Slavery today

Encourage students to bring the slavery story up to date. There are plenty of insights into the nature of modern slavery at http://www.antislavery.org/homepage/antislavery/modern.htm . Get pupils to use the information here about the various forms of trafficking of children and women, or the continuing use of bonded labour in many countries, to bring their presentations right up to date.

Older pupils can research how modern slavery touches practically every nation at www.gvnet.com/humantrafficking and then condense this information to create a captioned current slavery world map. Another key resource is at http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/specials..._slavery_today/ where as well as print materials there is access to a series of downloadable programmes investigating human trafficking, and modern slavery in Niger, Pakistan and Haiti.

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