Anti-slave trade medallion
SCRAN (© British Museum, London)

Robert Burns (1759-96)
Image courtesy of Burns Monument Trust
This section looks at some issues surrounding the slave trade and slavery. These are for discussion work though, of course, further work can come from them.

10 years upwards:

  • When Zachary Macaulay went to Jamaica, aged 16, he joined the slave trade system. He wrote that, at first, he was shocked at the plight of the enslaved people - but then became 'callous and indifferent'. He worked as an assistant manager on a plantation and wrote home that '…no sooner than a person sets foot on (this island) than his former ways of thinking are entirely changed…' Eventually, Macaulay returned to Britain – where he campaigned against the slave trade. What would you have done if you had gone to Jamaica in those days?
  • Peer pressure – doing something you don't agree with to 'keep in' with those around you. Is there any time when you feel you have done this? Consider the names given to people who speak out. When is it good to speak out and when is it simply 'telling tales'?
  • Why do some people want to control others? Why do some people 'stand on' others to make themselves feel taller? Some say: the bullied one is the weak one (and therefore deserves to be bullied) - is this true?
  • Should we use different words when describing the Slave Trade? For instance, enslaved people rather than slaves? If so, why do you think this?

Older Students

  • The Transatlantic Slave Trade, with its demeaning words and images has created and perpetuated racism against black people and, in particular, those of African descent. Is this true?
  • Is the Transatlantic Slave Trade - with the many millions of Africans who died or were displaced - like the Jewish Holocaust?
  • Should we drop the term 'slave trade' (implying a normal trade) and use Maafa (from a Kiswahili word: disaster, tragedy)?
  • Consider Wedgwood's medallion of a kneeling African, with the inscription 'Am I not a man and a brother?' Some people think it is sympathetic – but others think it is patronising. What do you think?
  • There is also a Wedgwood medallion depicting a woman. Thousands of women and girls were enslaved. And many British women campaigned against slavery – though they could not vote. (It has been suggested that the women's Suffrage movement in Britain stemmed from the Abolition movement – women learnt how to use action groups). Do you think women – enslaved women and campaigners - are represented fairly in accounts of the Slave Trade?
  • Consider the African Diaspora, caused by the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and what effect the depopulation had on the West African countries. Consider the dynamic effect the Diaspora has had on European and American culture (for instance, language, art, music and politics). Would you say, from a modern perspective, there were any good outcomes from the Slave Trade?
  • In 1787, Robert Burns planned to go to Jamaica to become a 'negro driver' (see Resources/Books – Letter to Dr. John Moore – and The Slave's Lament). Instead he became a famous poet. But, what if his poems had not been published? What if he had gone to Jamaica as an unknown, impoverished, young man? Would he have joined the slave trade system or not?

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