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Teaching the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Its Legacies

Essential Questions

  • How have histories of Black communities in the Atlantic world been told over time? Who has told them?
  • How did cultural traditions in the Atlantic world evolve from the impact of the Middle Passage?
  • How are contemporary artists telling today’s essential stories of Black life in the Atlantic world?

Student Outcomes

  • Students will understand the reach and impact of the transatlantic slave trade on the formation of Black Diasporic communities in the Atlantic world.
  • Students will be able to analyze visual depictions of Black individuals and communities and consider the perspective and historical context of the artist.
  • Students will make comparisons between works of art and textual sources to draw conclusions about a given subject matter or event.
  • Students will explore and understand how the visual arts can function as a form of activism.

This resource presents a variety of artworks, from the 17th century to the present, that highlight the presence and experiences of Black communities across the Atlantic world (the relationships between people of the Americas, Africa, and Europe). Using these artworks can help students to consider the many and continuing legacies of the transatlantic slave trade. Use the image set below to engage your students in conversation about the many narratives of everyday life, enslavement, and resistance that have been told through art.

Classroom Activities

Explore the thematic activities found below for in-depth questions and exercises centered around selected works of art. For ideas about how to discuss art with your students and how to approach difficult subject matter, see Teaching Tips.

This resource is drawn from the content of the Afro-Atlantic Histories exhibition organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Museu de Arte de São Paulo in collaboration with the National Gallery of Art, Washington. It was developed in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Banner Image: Lois Mailou Jones, The Green Door, (detail), 1981, watercolor over graphite on wove paper, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, William A. Clark Fund), 2015.19.2951