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Images of Slavery Lesson Plan
Overview
The narrative, The Domestic Slave Trade, in particular the segments "Modes of Transportation" and "Victims of the Trade," paints vivid word pictures of the traumas of the domestic slave trade. This lesson should be used with or as a follow-up to reading the narrative. The lesson is designed so that students locate, look at, and compare visual depictions of slavery with written accounts. They will compare artists' conceptions (prints, book illustrations, paintings, and newspaper depictions) with early photographic images of slavery.
Grade Levels:Middle school, grades 6-8
For use with:The Domestic Slave Trade
Concentration Area:History
National Curriculum Standards met by this lesson
The following standards have been taken from the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel) standards.
Students will understand

  • Ways slavery shaped social and economic life in the South after 1800 (e.g. how the cotton gin and the opening of new lands in the South and West led to increased demands for slaves; differences in the lives of plantation owners, poor free black and white families, and the enslaved; methods of passive and active resistance to slavery; escaped slaves and the Underground Railroad).
  • Different economic, cultural, and social characteristics of slavery after 1800 (e.g. the influence of the Haitian Revolution and the ending of the Atlantic slave trade, how the enslaved forged their own culture in the face of oppression, the role of the plantation system in shaping slaveholders and the enslaved, the experiences of escaped slaves).
Time required
One 50-minute class period dedicated towards research and formulating an opinion about the way slavery is depicted. This assumes that the narrative is read outside of class and the student essay is composed as homework.
Materials needed
Anticipatory Set

  1. Select an image of slavery from the textbook students use and ask everyone to turn to the same page and find the image. Explain to students that they are going to be examining the image closely but will have only one minute to look at it. During the time they are looking at it, they should look at people, objects, and activities going on in the image. To help students focus on details, suggest that they cover three-quarters of the image with their hands or a piece of paper, and to move the "screen" around so that they can look at each segment of the image in detail, and still have time to view it as a whole. Students should remain silent so that they form their own observations of the image.
  2. At the end of the time, ask students to close their books. Then, record on a chalkboard, a flipchart, or a transparency what they have seen in the way of people, objects, and activities. Record all observations, whether they are correct, incorrect, or in dispute.
  3. Allow students to open the book back to the image and see how accurately they recreated the image. Ask students, "Who created the image and when?" (Textbook captions and illustration credits may provide exact answers; otherwise, students may estimate based on internal evidence.)
  4. Ask students what facts they can learn about slavery from the visual image. Ask them to consider how a visual image adds to their knowledge of slavery in ways that they might not get from a written document. How does a written document sometimes add to their knowledge of slavery in ways they may not get from a visual image?
  5. Ask students if the way the artist drew the image or the photographer framed the shot may create bias or inaccuracies in the image.
Procedures

  1. Assign students to read, as homework, the narrative The Domestic Slave Trade, in particular the segments "Modes of Transportation" and "Victims of the Trade," focusing on the accounts written by eyewitnesses to slavery.
  2. Explain to students that they will be using the print and electronic resources of their media center to locate visual images of slavery to attempt to prove the truthfulness of the written accounts in the narrative. Visual images may include, for example, nineteenth century photographs, newspaper prints, lithographs, etchings, paintings, and book illustrations. Students should record the name of the book and page number or web address of each image they locate.
  3. Make sure all students find a mixture of photographic and non-photographic images. Explain to students that early photographic images required long exposures and became blurred by the slightest movement, so photographers chose buildings that would not move instead of workers, children, and animals; posed people against props so they wouldn't move; and encouraged gloomy expressions, since it is easier to fix muscles for a frown than a smile.
  4. Ask students to write an essay answering the following questions:

    1. Did you find visual images that supported the written eyewitness accounts?
    2. If yes, what details in the images supported the written accounts. If no, do you feel the visual images were accurate, or did they reveal a bias or self-censorship (avoiding unpleasant content)?
    3. Did non-photographic images sometimes provide more depiction of emotion and action? Could you always be certain that the artist was making the image as an eyewitness rather than imagining the scene depicted? Explain.
    4. Did you find the photographic images more reliable than the non-photographic images? Explain.
    5. What visual image did you find most compelling and why?
Assessment

Ask students to write a formal essay evaluating the value of visual images of slavery from the 19th century in understanding the historic experience of slaves in the United States. In their essays, students should include an assessment of how complete the information of the images is, how composition may introduce bias, whether all the images were eyewitness depictions, and how limitations in the technology of early photography limited the types of images made.

Evaluate the essay on a 20-point scale (which may be multiplied by five to convert to 100-point scale or for conversion to letter grades) using the following rubric:

Grading Element and Total Possible Points (10) Excellent (9-8) Good (7-6) Fair (5-1) Not Satisfactory (0)
Written Assignment:

Historical Comprehension

10 points
Demonstrates excellent:

  • Historical analysis of information
  • Command of facts
  • Synthesis of information
  • Interpretation
  • Demonstrates good:

  • Historical analysis of information
  • Command of facts
  • Synthesis of information
  • Interpretation
  • Shows fair:

  • Historical analysis of information
  • Command of facts
  • Synthesis of information
  • Interpretation
  • Shows little:

  • Historical analysis of information
  • Command of facts
  • Synthesis of information
  • Interpretation
  • No Work
    Written Assignment:

    Technical Writing Skills 10 points
    Shows excellent:

  • Compositional structure
  • Sentence structure and variety
  • Vocabulary use
  • Grammar, spelling, punctuation
  • Shows good:

  • Compositional structure
  • Sentence structure and variety
  • Vocabulary use
  • Grammar, spelling, punctuation
  • Shows adequate:

  • Compositional structure
  • Sentence structure and variety
  • Vocabulary use
  • Grammar, spelling, punctuation
  • Shows inadequate:

  • Compositional structure
  • Sentence structure and variety
  • Vocabulary use
  • Grammar, spelling, punctuation
  • No Work

    Related Works
    Interdisciplinary Links

    • Language Arts: Collaborate with American literature teachers to introduce students to a greater portion of the written works of former slaves. Frederick Douglass' autobiography is the most famous of these works, but other writers to explore include Josiah Hanson, Anthony Burns, Samuel Ringgold Ward, William Wells Brown, and Henry "Box" Brown.
    • Art/Graphic Design: In collaboration with the Art Department, students may wish to design an exhibit examining the images of slavery. They may collect, arrange, and script the exhibition. In particular, if the community is one where slavery once existed, students may wish to contact the local history society for assistance in acquiring locally relevant images. Coordinate with the school administration or media center for a location to mount the exhibit.
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