A few of my readers have requested that I comment on ongoing and recent exhibits in my new neck of the woods that concentrate on the history of slavery and the slave trade. I assume they are planning family vacations north of the Mason-Dixon Line so I am more than happy to comply. Their requests, however, seem to be couched in the assumption that historical institutions in New England and elsewhere are actively ignoring this dark and complex subject in American history. Nothing could be further from the truth so I hope this short post will alleviate their concerns and perhaps even serve as a catalyst for an exciting and educational trip north.
Interestingly, a number of northern universities have focused on their own early connections to the slave trade. Arguably, no school has done more than Brown University, which also provides educational materials for k-12 teachers to help out with this difficult subject. Yale, Williams College, and Cornell have also acknowledged this connection in various forms.
I recently visited the Concord Museum’s new exhibit on the Civil War. While I was walking through I struck up a conversation with one of the interpreters and she was very forthcoming about the difficulty that many face when dealing with the subject of slavery. It is true that our popular memory of slavery is focused predominantly on the South to the exclusion of the long and painful history of the institution in the North. You can find plenty of resistance surrounding the region’s participation and even more tension over its proper interpretation. [To get a sense of this I would suggest watching Traces of the Trade: A Story From the Deep North, which follows one woman’s journey as she explores her family’s connection to the slave trade.] While it is difficult to gauge the level of awareness north of the Mason-Dixon line what is clear is that if you are interested in the subject the resources are available.
Take advantage of the comments section to recommend books on the subject that you have found to be helpful as well as places to visit in the region that are actively engaged in the interpretation of this subject.