“The StoryMap assignment was a nice way to begin conversations about the institution of slavery while respecting and learning from the narratives left by slaves themselves.”
—Sarah Kolenbrander ’18

StoryMap about Ukawsaw Gronniosaw. Used with permission by Emma Wise ’18.

Venture Smith was born Broteer Furro in 1729 in West Africa, the son of a tribal prince. At age five, he worked as a shepherd. At six, he was captured by a neighboring nation, marched to the sea, and sold at the slave market.

He was purchased by a steward of the Charming Susanna, the ship that took him to Barbados, then Rhode Island. Sold and resold multiple times, he married Meg, only to be later sold away from his wife and infant daughter. He ultimately purchased freedom for himself and his family and published an account of his life, A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa: But Resident Above Sixty Years in the United States of America.

In the course Transatlantic Slave Trade, Sarah Kolenbrander ’18 (Belmont, Mass.) put a face on history by studying Venture Smith, drawing on support that would be the envy of students at many other colleges. The course, cross-listed in American Studies and History, is taught by history professor and department chair Linda Sturtz, with support from Rebecca Wingo, a Mellon Grant-supported postdoc in the Digital Liberal Arts (an initiative of Macalester’s Serie Center for Scholarship and Teaching); librarian Alexis Logsdon; and Fritz Vandover, Information Technology Services.

“The most interesting things I learned while taking the course were the ways slave culture manifests itself within modern culture,” says biology major Emma Wise ’18 (Chicago), “both in countries with economic dependence on modern slavery, and in cultures in which the history of slavery has direct roots, as is the case in many Caribbean countries.”

The depth of scholarship support enabled students in the course to make use of the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database (with information on more than 35,000 slaving voyages), book-length narratives written by people who had been enslaved (popular among abolitionists during the anti-slavery movement), the David Rumsey historical map collection, and StoryMap JS, software that enables the telling of stories using photographs, maps, works of art, and other images geo-tagged on (in this case) Google Earth. 

“The assignment was an experiment, but because Macalester students are highly motivated, I thought they would be open to new challenges,” says Sturtz. “Because Macalester has such strong institutional support for innovative teaching, we could take on this challenge.”

“I would highly recommend this course!” says Kolenbrander, a history and educational studies major. “It was a great way to have a more tangible experience with history. Slavery can be a hard subject to talk about and I think the StoryMap assignment was a nice way to begin conversations about the institution of slavery while respecting and learning from the narratives left by slaves themselves.”

In addition to creating and presenting their StoryMaps, students wrote about the slave narrative they studied and finished up the course with a final essay.

“In addition to technological challenges, this assignment asked students to delve into a historiographical problem: how do we balance perspectives of the past that emerge from different varieties of information?” says Sturtz. “Historians draw on various kinds of evidence and I wanted students to examine the advantages and disadvantages of these forms of sometimes competing sources. Students realized that they had to undertake detective work to interpret their sources and fill in gaps in information.”

“I gained deeper insight into not only the life of Mohammed Ali Ben Said (the individual whose experiences I explored), but also the social practices of the mid-19th-century world,” says history major Ernest Jefferson ’18 (Chicago). “This course encouraged me to critically examine how the institution of slavery created the modern Atlantic realm and continues to impact the social climate of the nations that were involved in the trade.”

February 8 2016

Back to top