Browse By Migrations Geography Timeline Source Materials Education Materials Search
The Transatlantic Slave Trade
Mapping the Black Atlantic Lesson Plan
The Transatlantic Slave Trade introduces locations that may not be familiar to students. Therefore, this activity works best as an introductory lesson to the essay or in conjunction with the essay to introduce or reinforce geographical knowledge and help visual learners to create an organizer to better understand the essay. Students will use paper, transparencies or computer programs in two ways. First, they will map African states during different time periods in the essay, along with the ethnic/religious groups in those states. Second, students will map natural resources in the European, American and African states, overlying the component routes of the Triangle and Brazilian trade between the three locations. The lesson plan is designed for middle school students, grades six-eight.
Grade Levels:Middle school, grades 6-8
For use with:The Transatlantic Slave Trade
Concentration Area:Geography
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

  • Know the geographic characteristics of Western and Central Africa and understand the impact of geography on settlement patterns, cultural traits, and trade (e.g., in political kingdoms such as Mali, Songhai, and Benin; in urban centers such as Timbuktu and Jenne).
  • Compare political, social, economic, and religious systems of Africans, Europeans, and Native Americans who converged in the western hemisphere after 1492 (e.g., concepts of political authority, civic values, and the organization and practice of government; population levels, urbanization, family structure, and modes of communication; systems of labor, trade, concepts of property, and exploitation of natural resources; dominant ideas and values, including religious beliefs and practices, gender roles, and attitudes toward nature).
  • Understand the economic, social and cultural influence of location and physical geography on different Native American societies
Time required
One to two 50-minute class periods, depending on the amount of outside reading or media center research assigned.
Materials needed
  • The Transatlantic Slave Trade
  • Transparency of an outline map of the Atlantic Ocean and the continents that are adjacent to it (Africa, Europe, North America and South America, including major Caribbean islands)
Anticipatory Set

  1. Have students examine the maps that accompany the narrative.

    1. Ask students how accurate the early maps are, and why they seem more accurate near the coasts than inland. Then, ask students to brainstorm types of information found on different types of maps and record their answers on the chalkboard or a flip chart.

  1. Provide students with blank outline maps of the Atlantic Ocean and the continents adjacent to it. Divide the class into teams and explain that each team is responsible for reading The Transatlantic Slave Trade, although each team will focus on a particular segment. The teams and their assignments are as follows:

    1. Political Maps of Historic Africa: Read "The Development of the Trade" and "Capture and Enslavement." Consult the maps provided on this web site or historical atlases of Africa for the period 1470-1840 to find the historical locations in the text, including the following: Senegambia, Bure, Bambuk, Kingdom of Ghana, Empire of Mali, Songhay, Kingdom of Benin, Kingdom of Kongo, Akwamu, Akyem (state), Dahomey, Futa Jallon, Futa Turo, Hausa States, Oyo State, Bight of Benin, Whydah, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Ijebu, Luanda, Benguela, Asante (state). Place locations these on your blank map.
    2. Ethnic/Religious Maps of Historic Africa: Read "The Development of the Trade," "Capture and Enslavement," and "Ethnicities in the United States." Consult historical atlases of Africa for the period 1470-1840 or online African cultural-historical sites to place the ethnic and religious groups in the essay, including the following: Manding/Mandingo, Bambara, Akan, Akyem Denkyira, Fante, Asante, Bariba, Nupe, Yoruba, Gbe, Bantu, Igbo, Ibibio. Place these locations on your blank map.
    3. Current Geography: Read "The Development of the Trade," "Capture and Enslavement," and "Africans in America." Consult a current world atlas to mark locations on your blank map that are referenced in the essay including the following: Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, Great Britain, Lisbon, Portugal, Madeira Islands, Cape Verde Islands, São Thomé, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea Highlands, Senegal River, Bight of Benin, Bight of Biafra, Nigeria, Angola, Congo River, Togo, Benin, Brazil, Surinam, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, Surinam, Caribbean Sea, United States, Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia.
    4. Natural Resources: Read "The Development of Trade" and "Trade and Traders," and "Africans in America" and map the geographic areas which provided the following trade items on your blank map: gold, money substitutes (cowry shells, strips of India cloth, iron bars copper bracelets or manillas, silver coins, gold coins) manufactured goods (textiles, jewelry, alcohol, military goods and firearms), slaves, sugar, rum, cotton, tobacco, indigo, rice, coffee, cocoa.
    5. Ports and Trades: Read "Traders and Trade," "The Middle Passage," and "Africans in America." Mark on your blank map the following ports: Bristol, Liverpool, London, Amsterdam, Lisbon, Nantes, Gorée, Luanda, Whydah, Bonny, Koromantin, Winneba, Old Calabar, Benguela, Cabinda, Lagos. Then, mark on your map the following trade routes or segments of trade routes: The Triangular Trade, The Middle Passage, and the Brazil-Angola route.
    6. Ethnicities in the United States: Read "Ethnicities in the United States," and then map the following African-United States geographic pairs and label them with the dominant ethnicities.
  2. Remind groups that their maps should include a key, if appropriate, compass rose, and title, as well as the names of the group members.
  3. When the transparencies are complete and you have reviewed them for accuracy and completeness, show each one to the class asking every group what the most useful and the most difficult parts about mapping the essay's locations were.
  4. Overlay one or more maps at a time (in particular the Natural Resources, Trade and Ethnicities maps) and ask students what relationships they see when the maps are combined that they did not see before.

1. Ask students to write a paragraph explaining how the map they helped to produce illustrated the influence of Africa and Africans on life around the rim of the Atlantic Ocean, the Black Atlantic.

2. You may evaluate students' work on a five-point scale (which may be multiplied for weighting) or five letter grade-rubric as follows:

Grading Elements Points/Grade
No response 0/F
Response is not linked to question or map; shows little insight; offers few ideas of a very general nature; and has many technical problems 1/D
Response is not clearly linked to question or map; shows some insight; provides only general answers; and writing has some technical problems 2/C
Response references question and map; shows some insight; provides some specific answers and some general ones; and demonstrates most technical elements of good writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation) 3/B
Response references question and map; shows originality and insight; provides specifics; and demonstrates technical elements of good writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation) 4/A

Interdisciplinary Links

  • Social Studies (Geography, Political Science): Because the earth is a sphere and three-dimensional, all two-dimensional maps sacrifice some accuracy. The Peters Projection Equal-Area Map referenced in this lesson is an effort to portray earth's land masses in accurate relative size, although the actual shape of the landforms are somewhat distorted. Ask students to locate examples of different map projections of the earth (plane chart, Mercator projection, Polar projection, Robinson projection, Conic projection, Polyconic projection, Sinusoidal projection, Cylindrical projection, Azimuthal Equidistant projection, Goode's Homolosine Equal Area projection, Lambert Azimuthal Equal Area projection, etc.), and to identify the aspects of each that are accurate and those which are distorted.
  • Mathematics (Geometry): Collaborate with the geometry teacher to illustrate graphically what happens to points that are evenly distributed on a sphere (which may be an orange peel, old tennis ball or a computer generated sphere) when they are flattened out into two-dimensions.
Home About Glossary The New York Public Library
Privacy Policy | Rules & Regulations | Using the Internet | Website Terms & Conditions

© The New York Public Library, 2005.