Voyage through slavery

23rd March 2007 at 00:00
Two hundred years ago, the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was signed.

This week, an exhibition on the transatlantic trade will open in Edinburgh.

Behind it lies an online archive on all aspects of racism and intolerance

In 1807, Britain abolished the transatlantic slave trade. It wasn't the first country to ban an industry that had seen tens of millions of Africans transported to the Americas to work and die on the plantations there, but with its dominance of the seas, Britain drove the final nail in the iniquitous trade's coffin.

Two hundred years later, on the day that King George III signed the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, March 25, an exhibition of engravings and documentation will be launched at the City Chambers in Edin-burgh as part of a Heritage Lottery-funded project that will culminate in a comprehensive teaching resource.

Behind the project is Heartstone, a Scottish-based charity set up in 1990 to challenge prejudice and intolerance using fiction, photo-documentary and history, all presented through exhibitions, events and education projects.

The charity uses a book, The Heartstone Odyssey, as its starting point to take children and young people on a voyage through a range of themes exploring intolerance and hatred. From the book, story modules have been created that give a framework and resource for teachers to work around.

Each is downloaded to be used for discussion, debate and project work with the aim of pupils producing their own exhibitions or editing their own journals or magazines. Each carries about 100 images.

When the project is complete, a new story module will exist with photographs, historical engravings, artefacts and narrative text, looking at the world from the late 1700s to around 1865. It will carry specific reference to the transatlantic slave trade in the context of contemporary world events. "It will enable children and young people to begin to understand not only some of the background to the slave trade at the time, but the driving forces during that period which led to so many people, directly or indirectly, benefiting from it," explains Sitakumari, director and founder of Heartstone.

"It will also address the experiences at home in Europe, particularly Britain, for people at all levels of society and show something of the culture within which the Atlantic slave trade grew."

Intrinsically linked to the new project is Dumfries and Galloway, which has been working closely with the charity over the past two years and is now taking the lead in developing the Heartstone resource into a comprehensive bank that will provide materials for pupils aged three to 18.

Heartstone has been awarded pound;20,000 from the Scottish Executive to work with Dumfries and Galloway clusters of schools to convert its resources into a continuous programme that can be used by pupils from early to senior years.

"Rural Dumfries and Galloway may seem an odd choice for developing a resource on racism and intolerance, but we still need to address issues that affect everyone, and which will prepare our children to be global citizens, able to cope with the outside world should they leave the authority," says Janice Rough, education officer in charge of enterprise education and citizenship.

It was her decision to use Determined to Succeed funding for the first combined project which led to the award from the executive. "We might not have a huge amount of ethnic diversity, but the authority has its problems with sectarianism and anti-Englishness."

Mrs Rough has managed to attract further funding from the British Nuclear Group, which is giving another pound;1,000 a year for three years. "The aim of our project is for the clusters to do much of the work, developing the story modules so that they become useful materials for teachers to use with the minimum of fuss or preparation."

Eight clusters are involved in the five-year scheme, each concentrating on a separate aspect of the resource.

Brian Asher, previously principal teacher of religious and moral education and personal and social education at Dumfries High, but now the depute head at Annan Academy, focused on cross-cutting through the curriculum. Starting with RME, he got S1 and S2 pupils to look at themes through projects that took in class discussion, poetry, poster-making and production of PowerPoint presentations.

He also organised cross-curricular activities such as producing a short play in drama, creating a montage in art, and investigating the science of flight in physics and design and technology.

Hazel Gardiner, teacher of the composite P5-7 class at Shawhead Primary, near Dumfries, has been leading the project in her cluster area. Linking up with Maxwelltown High and its feeder primaries, she has focused on transition. "We have used Heartstone as a springboard to introduce them to themes such as prejudice and intolerance that they will revisit throughout the transition years of P6-S1," she says. "The stories capture the children's imagination but also cover our curriculum demands and areas."

By familiarising pupils with the project at primary, and reassuring them that they will revisit it at secondary, the school hopes they will be more confident with the transfer to a new school. The cluster is working to the programme, where it takes a different section of the resource each year. In its first year, 2005-06, the theme was the Festival of Flight, the latest story module to be added to the resource. "I used literacy and English as the starting point. We looked at The Heartstone Odyssey, but we broadened it to other areas," says Mrs Gardiner.

While reading further into the story each week, the children also did other projects, such as kite-making in art, researching the Wright Brothers in ICT, taking part in class discussions on prejudice in personal development, debating the role of the media in language, navigating in a range of circumstances for geography, and designing a glider that would travel three metres or more in design and technology.

The project culminated in a day out at the New Lanark World Heritage Site for every school within the cluster and an opportunity to meet Herbert Carter, one of the original airmen with the 99th Pursuit Squadron. As part of their project, the students had learnt about this squadron of all-black airmen, set up in 1941. Before then it was believed black individuals lacked the intelligence, courage and patriotism to be able to fly for their country. The bravery and success of Colonel Carter and his peers proved this theory wrong."Meeting someone like Colonel Carter makes it real for the children," says Sitakumari.

This year, the Maxwelltown cluster pupils are focusing on the Holocaust, with a strong element of the resource looking at the testimony of survivors from Auschwitz and the March of the Living.

"We want to make it real to the pupils, so that it is relevant to them now," says Mrs Rough. "One boy saw a Swastika drawn on a bus stop and he didn't know what it meant. It was a shock to him to discover that there were people living near him who believed such things."

To take it forward there is a working party of Mrs Gardiner, Liz Fairley, a primary teacher from Lochside, Maureen Smith, the depute head at Maxwelltown, and her colleague, Nicky Reynolds, a home economics teacher.

Funded by Determined to Succeed and the British Nuclear Group, they have been given time out of school to meet and plan ways of embedding Heartstone in their schools.

The ideas are developing fast. Heart-stone's story module about the Faces of Kabul and the Stories from the Balkans fit well with modern studies, while its Coral Reef story links up with science. Chandra's Story covers geography, while Chandra's London matches citizenship and PSE.

The Douglas Ewart High cluster, which has been focusing on developing a co-ordinated resource from three to 18, is to take the lead with the slavery module. It will use the story line from the odyssey, with some of its characters being placed in the West Midlands in 1807.

Ultimately, the module will be organised into layers. The central ring will be the engravingsdocuments - directly connected to the slave trade, while the middle ring will comprise the photographic section covering the oceans, the linking theme. The final, outer ring will focus on life in parts of the world at the time as depicted through engravings, with a major section on Scotland in the 1800s, and other forced migrations.

"There are engravings connected to many parts of Scotland which will provide the initial stimulus for children and young people to research the issue from Scotland's perspective and from their own local area viewpoint, with the aim of producing a piece to present, such as a poem, dance, drama and so on in the central 'memorial' area when the main Heartstone Slave Trade exhibition arrives with them later in the year," says Sitakumari.

These story modules will be ready for distribution after Easter. The creation of a comprehensive, easy-to-use resource that covers the themes of racism and intolerance could prove a boon to Scottish schools struggling with citizenship and global education. It could also help ensure that knowledge of the slave trade or, more recently, the Holocaust is retained in young people today.

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