Skip to main content

The Dark Ships Move

Teaching The Middle Passage

This interdisciplinary playlist contains resources that will help students understand the historical significance of the transatlantic slave trade by focusing on the atrocities of the Middle Passage, one leg in the voyage that millions of enslaved Africans wouldn’t survive. In addition to exploring social studies concepts, this playlist provides resources that touch on math and English skill-sets. The title of this playlist is borrowed from the poem “Middle Passage” (1962) by poet Robert Hayden.

The Middle Passage | History Channel

Insight from a group of historians and vivid reenactments come together to paint a startling picture of the atrocities of the Middle Passage, providing a memorable overview of the topic.

When Humans Became Inhumane | Newsela*

When studying the transatlantic slave trade, the question often comes down to why Europeans saw fit for Africans to be enslaved.
How did they rationalize this atrocity and how did their beliefs set the stage for human cargo to become a crucial part of a massive trade industry? This Newsela article exposes the evolution of slavery in the Americas so that students can begin unpacking some of those heavy questions.

The Data

When looking at the transatlantic slave trade as a whole, it’s helpful to analyze the data. These 3 resources cover the sheer amount of people that were transported and their final destinations, using a variety of data representations. Interpreting graphs and understanding large numbers are skills that overlap with the math curriculum. This section could be approached with the help of a math teacher.

The Atlantic Slave Trade in 2 Minutes | Slate

This interactive gives a sense of the scale of the transatlantic slave trade across time, documenting the flow of transport and destinations. Each dot represents an individual ship with the size of the dot corresponding with the number of enslaved people aboard. Pause the map and click on a dot to learn which country owned each ship.

The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database | Emory University

This resource contains data sets related to the transatlantic slave trade, created through several decades of independent and collaborative research by scholars. The site also provides relevant lesson plans, allowing students to engage with the information presented and make sense of what the data means. Can be used as an alternative to the Slate assignment.

People, Not Numbers | The New York Public Library

When looking at the sheer number of lives destroyed by the slave trade, it’s easy to see human beings as just that- numbers. While statistics about this topic provide valuable historical information, they can become impersonal. This lesson is designed to help students gain a more compassionate understanding and may be most effective as an introductory lesson.

The Narratives

This portion of resources contains primary source documents and other accounts of the Middle Passage that can easily be paired with ELA lessons on point of view or comparing and contrasting

Stages of the Voyage | Zeeland Archives

Examine a digital reconstruction of the slave ship, The Unity. This interactive acts as a case study of one of The Unity’s voyages, charting the duration of the trip, as well as the enslaved people and crew members aboard.

The Middle Passage | The Abolition Project

This is a collection of primary source materials describing the conditions aboard slave trading ships.

Olaudah Equiano describes the Middle Passage, 1780s | Newsela*

Olaudah Equiano was 11 when kidnapped and forced onto a slave trading ship bound for Barbados and then Virginia. In 1789 his autobiography describing his experience of the Middle Passage and life as an enslaved person was published, providing the world with one of the only first-hand accounts of life in the slave holds. Share his story with your students.

The Journal of a Slaver | Teaching Tolerance

Get into the mind of a slave trader. Here you’ll find excerpts from slaver John Newton’s journal during the ‘Middle Passage’ voyage across the Atlantic in 1754. How do his recollections compare to those of Olaudah Equiano?

Slave Ship Mutinies |

Rebellions aboard slave ships were not a rare occurrence. This article describes the great lengths that European captors went to in an attempt to thwart these mutinies during the crossing of the Atlantic.


The Middle Passage Quiz | Kiddom

This multiple choice quiz covers much of the information presented in these assignments. Simply make a copy of the document to assign to your students.

Extension Activity: Ancient Artifacts Recovered From Slave Ship | 60 Minutes

Recently, divers and archeologists began excavating the site of a wrecked slave ship that sank to the ocean floor in 1794 with 200 enslaved Africans onboard, bound for Brazil. Learn more about their discoveries with this video.

Eboni Hogan

Content Specialist

Eboni has extensive experience in curriculum development, with a focus on culturally-responsive and arts-based approaches. Having spent years creating academic content and providing professional development to teachers, she now curates themed playlists meant to provide educators with valuable, time-saving resources.