Free to discover the past

23rd March 2007 at 00:00
Sunday is the bicentenary of the bill that abolished slavery. Sue Jones looks at resources that commemorate the anniversary

If the slave trade is not a significant part of your key stage 3 curriculum yet, this is the ideal time to get agitated, educated and organised. March 25 is the 200th anniversary of the passing of the Parliamentary Bill that abolished the slave trade in the British Empire. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority recommends that the subject should become compulsory.

To commemorate the event, many new materials, events and exhibitions have been unveiled. A good place to start is the websites of Daniel Lyndon, head of history at Henry Compton School in Fulham, south London. He has collected resources, lesson materials and articles about black people in Britain from Tudor times onwards. There are descriptions of the conditions on the Middle Passage, the transportation of Africans to the Americas as slaves, and storyboards of the life of Olaudah Equiano, ex-slave, author and campaigner. A research project investigates the significance of the tobacco trade, and there are materials for a trial based on evidence from the case of the slave ship Zong, when slaves were thrown overboard to drown as part of an insurance scam.

"There's a danger that if people just focus on slavery, they see black people as victims and don't look at the wider movement of abolition," says Daniel. "This was one of the first mass movements. It involved black and white people, and its methods fed into Chartism, factory reform and campaigns for women's rights."

He believes multicultural history should be mainstreamed into the curriculum, not treated as a unique set of topics. "Instead of having Black History Month in isolation, look at your schemes of work, look for examples that can come through at different times," he suggests. "That way it's not tokenistic, not separate."

For example, his department's work on poverty in Tudor times includes a lesson on why Queen Elizabeth tried to expel the "Blackmoores" as part of an examination of government policies to deal with unemployment and the soaring cost of poor relief. Many pupils are surprised to find there has been a continuous black presence in Britain for centuries before Caribbean migrants arrived on the Windrush in 1948.

Many museums have useful collections. The National Maritime Museum has an extensive website with materials, teacher support and links to other collections for all key stages. Pupils can assemble their own slave trade exhibition online, choosing from 50 of the museum's objects, with a writing frame to structure their choices and guide their research. Abolition can also be linked to citizenship and personal development. Hilary Claire, freelance writer, consultant and teacher, presents key stage 2 pupils with brief biographies of abolitionists and asks them to explain who they think should be commemorated with a statue, and why. Another exercise gets pupils to list people who are famous today, compare them with the abolitionists and decide who really deserves their fame.

Charities have also been creating materials for schools. Breaking the Silence, a Unesco project with lesson materials and teacher briefings about the slave trade, can be accessed through the Anti-Slavery International website (see right). Video packs are available and by summer, the charity hopes to have put its archive of documents and narratives online.

And working with the Church Mission Society, the Citizenship Foundation has published Ending Slavery: An Unfinished Business, a collection of teaching materials aimed at Years 9 and 10. As well as the Atlantic trade, the pack deals with slavery in earlier times and looks at modern slavery, such as the trafficking of women and children and child soldiers. It also shows how the campaign methods developed in the 18th century, such as product boycotts, are still being used today


Daniel Lyndon's websites, with teaching materials, articles and a blog on black and Asian history, are and

The Historical Associationproduces two journals for teachers: Primary History and Teaching History (secondary). A report on teaching controversial and emotive history is due out in March. See

Archive documents on black history can be found at

The National Maritime Museum website has information and teaching materials for all key stages. See

Anti-Slavery International has links to Unesco's Breaking the Silence education package. Visit

The free downloadable resource Ending Slavery: An Unfinished Business can be found at

The Government's website for Bicentenary celebrations is

The Force: the Wilberforce 2007Jmagazine by pupils at Hymers College in Hull is pound;2.50, from

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