Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

What I Did Not Know About Slavery

August 23, 2009 · No Comments

As a person who went to urban public elementary, middle, and high schools that were primarily African-American, I used to consider myself well read on the subject of slavery. I was taught very little about world history and anything remotely confrontational. My pre-college history education could probably be described as being very limited in all areas except 2: Slavery and the Civil Rights movement. When a teacher would introduce the subject of slavery I admittedly let out a big sigh, as I really wanted to learn something new.

When I arrived in the slavery section of the Docklands Museum, I quickly began to realize that like most of my early history education I was not taught the full story. I only ever learned about the enslavement of Africans in America and only very briefly covered how the Africans came to be enslaved. The triangle trade route was just a picture in my history book that confused my middle school self; I would stare at the picture wondering why the route went from Britain to Africa and then to the West Indies rather than to America. Also, if asked in my early years of high school to point out the West Indies on a map I probably would not have been able to.

The Docklands Museum focused on the how and the why of slavery in the West Indies (and the Americas) that I was never really exposed to in high school. I learned that the Portuguese were actually the first to start the slave trade, not the English like I was taught. In high school I was taught that England started the slave trade and that they were the only ones completely to blame for its beginning.

I also learned a lot more about what slavery looked like in the West Indies, as opposed to in America. I learned that even after African-Caribbean slaves were given their “freedom”, indentured servitude was used in a way that greatly resembled slavery and that they really were not free at all. I was also able to read profiles of slaves, slave owners, and slave dealers in England and in the West Indies. These profiles enabled me to see the human side of slavery. This, rather than the dates and statistics, made the history of slavery more real for me and gave it a very personal dimension that I found very touching.

The longer I am in England the more I learn, and the more I realize that I have A LOT to learn. The Docklands Museum helped me to see a different side/perspective of a history that I thought I knew a lot about.

Categories: Rebecca
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