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Notes for teachers

(1) General information
This investigation is based on books and pamphlets dating from the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which are available for consultation at the Archives and Special Collections searchroom, Durham University Library, Palace Green, Durham.

William Wilberforce, A Letter on the Abolition of the Slave Trade addressed to the Inhabitants of York, London, 1807 (Winterbottom M80)
Abridgement of the Minutes of Evidence taken before a Committee considering the Slave Trade, London, 1789 (Bamburgh O V 13)
The Debate on a Motion for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, London, 1791 (Bamburgh O V 14)
Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa as written by himself, London, 1789. (Routh 61 E 11)


(2) Contents and use of resources
This investigation considers the nature of slave life. It takes a quote from Booker T Washington that his life began in 'miserable, desolate and discouraging surroundings' as a starting point and asks students to decide whether this is an accurate description of slave life. All the sources are taken from material published at the height of the anti-slave trade campaign in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and convey some of the horror of slave life. Although much of the material held by Archives and Special Collections was collected by prominent anti-slavers such as the Sharp family and so reflects a particular point of view, an attempt has been made to include accounts from other perspectives to present a more balanced collection of evidence.

As with most historical sources, these accounts were written by adults for adults and, consequently, the language may be considered advanced. To help overcome this problem, a full transcript and a simplified transcript have been provided for every source. There is also a link to a glossary on every page. Nevertheless, some pupils may still need extra assistance. Teachers should also be aware that students may need advice on how to refer to the slaves. The accounts use terms such as 'Negro' which are no longer used today.

Each source is accompanied by a page of ‘More Information’ which provides basic background and contextual information. A Links button also appears on every page which directs students to other useful websites. Since the story of slavery is reasonably complex, a timeline has also been provided.


(3) Curriculum Links
This resource has been constructed to support QCA Scheme of Work, Unit 15, Black peoples of America - from slavery to equality? at Keystage 3.

It also supports various aspects of the Knowledge, skills and understanding of the National Curriculum, namely historical interpretation, historical enquiry and organisation and communication. There are also clear links with ICT.


(4) Ideas and activities
In addition to following the suggestions in the main pages and in the worksheet, you could try the following:

(a) All the sources used in this investigation describe life in the West Indies. Ask students to investigate what slave life was like in America. Comparisons could then be drawn between the two.

(b) The sources could be used as a basis for creative writing. For example, the students could take on the role of a doctor called to give medical assistance to the people mentioned in Source 3. What would they report? Imagine it from a pro-abolitionist viewpoint. How might this differ if the doctor was a supporter of slavery?

(c) Suspend disbelief and imagine that tabloid newspapers existed in the early nineteenth century. Ask the students to use the findings of their investigation to write an exposé of slavery. Alternatively, split the class in two and ask one half to write a report that might be published in a broadsheet newspaper.

(d) Sadly, slavery still exists today. Students could be asked to investigate what life is like for slaves in the twenty-first century. Websites such as iAbolish and anti-slavery are good starting points.

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