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The Transatlantic Slave Trade
Following the Slave Trade Route Lesson Plan
The enslavement and forcible transportation of men, women, and children from Africa spanned more than three centuries. The slave trade and its subsequent impact greatly changed the world. In this lesson, students will identify and map the phases of the slave trade, the locations of colonies and communities settled by African slaves, and the impact the individuals have had on the area.
Grade Levels:Middle school, grades 6-8
For use with:The Transatlantic Slave Trade and The Domestic Slave Trade
Concentration Area:History: U.S. Government
National Curriculum Standards met by this lesson
The standards for this lesson conform to those set by the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel).
Students will understand

  • How the values and institutions of European economic life took root in the colonies, and how slavery reshaped European and African life in the Americas.
  • Patterns of indentured servitude and influences on slavery (e.g., why indentured servitude was prevalent in the mid-Atlantic, Chesapeake, and southern colonies; the Virginia and Massachusetts' laws that institutionalized slavery).
  • The social, cultural, and political events that shaped African slavery in colonial America (e.g., how slavery in African societies differed from chattel racial slavery in English colonies; influence of African heritage on efforts to develop a new African-American culture; incidents of resistance to slavery; the introduction of crops by African slaves).
  • How the Industrial Revolution, increasing immigration, the rapid expansion of slavery, and the westward movement changed American lives and led to regional tensions.
  • How immigration affected American society in the Antebellum Period (e.g., the connection between industrialization and immigration, how immigration intensified ethnic and cultural conflict and complicated the forging of a national identity).
  • 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 slaves 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).
  • The sources and character of cultural, religious, and social reform movements in the Antebellum Period.
  • Perspectives that influenced slavery in the Antebellum Period (e.g., changing ideas about race, the reception of proslavery and antislavery ideologies in the North and South, arguments used to defend slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries).
Time required
Three 50-minute class periods plus additional homework
Materials needed
Anticipatory Set

  • Assign half of the class the narrative The Transatlantic Slave Trade and the other half of the class The Domestic Slave Trade, then have students read each of the narratives outside of class. Tell students to complete the Reading Reflections Sheet after completing the assigned reading.
  • Before starting the lesson, debrief the narratives using information from the reading reflections sheets. Assign students to workgroups for completion of the map project. Student workgroups should be mixed, representing students that have read the different narratives.
    1. Have students use Think-Write-Pair-Share to list the influences from other cultures and ethnic groups that they see in their community. Ask students to identify if it is a cultural influence or an economical influence on the community.
    2. Explain to students that they will be exploring the history of the slave trade, including the phases, routes, and the location of settlements, as well as the resulting impact that African Americans have had on the settlement areas.

    1. Assign students to workgroups for completion of the map project. Student workgroups should be mixed, representing students who have read the different narratives.
    2. Give each group of students a Map Assignment Task Sheet, and explain the focus of the task and the expected product the group is to develop.
    3. Instruct student groups to complete the map assignment.
    4. Once they have completed the map activity, have students select an area of colonization and research the economic and cultural impact that African Americans have had on the area.
    5. Tell student groups they should add icons representing the economic and cultural impact on the area. Then, have each group present their maps to the whole class and explain the icons they have selected for the area they researched.
    6. Finally, instruct each student group, using the Cartoon or Visual Assignment Sheet, to create a three-panel cartoon or visual that details the region before, during, and after settlement of African Americans.

    Assign students to write a newspaper editorial that outlines the economic and cultural impact that African Americans have had on areas of settlement. Score students' editorials using the Attachment E: Editorial Rubric.

    Related Works

    • The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture maintains a digital exhibition, The African Presence in America: 1492-1992, which includes a special map illustrating the migration of Africans and people of African descent from 1450-1990. Joseph E. Harris produced this map from combined details from the Peters Projection World Map and African Diaspora Map. You can access it at:
    • The New York Public Library's other research libraries, including the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, maintain online exhibitions. The Map Division's Slaughter Collection features early colonial maps, navigational charts, and globes that would have been used by the sea captains involved in the Atlantic slave trade in the exhibit In thy map securely saile.
    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.
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