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The Domestic Slave Trade
Selective Memory Lesson Plan: Whitewashing the History of the South
The Domestic Slave Trade narrative states that "...the Trade has always posed problems for those seeking to portray slavery as a benign and paternal institution...." In the early part of the twentieth century, many Americans tried to minimize slavery. Does society today still do this? Students will research online a variety of different plantation museums across the South to ascertain how realistically, if at all, slavery is portrayed.
Grade Levels:Middle and high school, grades 8-12
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

  • How the Industrial Revolution, increasing immigration, the rapid expansion of slavery, and the westward movement changed American lives and led to regional territories.
  • How 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 slaves; 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 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).
  • How slavery influenced economic and social elements of southern society (e.g., how slavery hindered the emergence of capitalist institutions and values, the influence of slavery on the development of the middle class, the influence of slave revolts on the lives of slaves and freed slaves).
  • The social and cultural influence of former slaves in cities of the North (e.g., their leadership of African-American communities, how they advanced the rights and interests of African Americans).
  • Slavery prior to the Civil War (e.g., the importance of slavery as a principal cause of the Civil War, the growing influence of abolitionists, children's roles and family life under slavery).
Time required
Three class periods
Materials needed
Anticipatory Set

  1. Put on the board, "The Trade has always posed problems for those seeking to portray slavery as a benign and paternal institution...." Have students discuss this paragraph of the narrative and consider the following:

    1. Are there times that the media selectively portrays news?
    2. Are there times when students have been selective in telling a story, to make things appear better than they are? Give examples from real life.
    3. Should this "selectivity" occur when interpreting history?

  1. Introduction lesson

    1. After discussing the issues presented in the Anticipatory Set, show students the short excerpt from Lonely Planet video, New Orleans, which looks at Oak Alley and Laura Plantation, in which the traveler, Justine Shapiro, notes the different ways in which the plantations address their role in slavery. Use the insights found within the video to begin a discussion of the various ways that people remember, or don't remember, history.
    2. Then, have students look at the websites of these plantations and examine each website carefully. Lead the students to answer these questions:

      1. What sorts of facts are presented?
      2. Which statements are fact, and which are opinion?
      3. How accurately do you think these facts are presented?
      4. Are these websites practicing selective memory?
    3. Have students discuss the different types of selective memory. How are these sites different? Some plantations choose to gloss over or ignore the fact that such beautiful homes were built on the backs of slave labor. Other plantation websites choose not to practice selective memory at all but are very elaborate in their descriptions of slavery as it existed on their plantation.
    4. After students have discussed the websites, list on the board for later discussion the different categories the students have created. Tell students to keep them in mind while they do their research.
  2. Primary lesson

    1. In the computer lab, assign each student a website. If there are not enough websites, have students work on this project in pairs.
    2. Instruct each student to browse through each page in their assigned website, writing down all mentions of slaves, whether in the images or in the text. They should note the following:

      1. What was said?
      2. Where was it located?
      3. Was it easy to find?

      Some students will find no mention at all, while others will find full pages. Modification could include printing out the page(s) where the examples occur, and highlight the specific text or images.
    3. Bring students back to the class and discuss their findings by posing such questions as:

      1. Which websites have been true to their history?
      2. Which sites have practiced selective memory?
      3. Do you think it is appropriate to avoid discussing the issue of slavery on a tourist website?
      4. Which websites are you more likely to believe?
    4. Have students compile the information they've gathered and organize it into the categories they previously discussed.
  3. Follow-up Lesson

    1. Assign students to write a persuasive letter to a governing body of a website where slavery was treated topically, including recommendations as to what information such websites should include.
    2. Have students research and design a web page to be added to one of these plantation websites.
    3. Students can create a graph to represent the categories of websites.

  1. Additional Resources

    1. Links provided below are for teachers to show specific pages of relevant content, as some were hard to find:

      1. Stratford Plantation:
      2. Monticello:
      3. Latta Plantation:
      4. Poplar Grove Plantation:
      5. Carnton Plantation:
      6. Belle Meade Plantation:
      7. Magnolia Plantation:
      8. Middleton Place Plantation:
      9. Boone Hall Plantation:
      10. Drayton Hall:
      11. Nottoway Plantation:
      12. Oak Alley Plantation: (no direct mention made)
      13. Kent Plantation House:
      14. Destrahan Plantation:
      15. Laura Plantation:
      16. Shadows on the Teche Plantation: (click on "The Other occupants)
      17. LeContè Woodmanston Rice Plantation:
      18. Rosswood Plantation:
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