Queries about using the Understanding Slavery website

The FAQs can answer some questions about how to use this website.

Who is this site for?

The site is written primarily for teachers. Students, where appropriate, can use parts of the site independently. It is also available to anyone wishing to learn more about the histories of transatlantic slavery.

Is this site only for history teachers?

No, although History teachers are the main target audience, many of the Learning Resources can be used in other subjects including Citizenship, English, ICT, RE, and PSHE and also by anyone teaching outside the formal curriculum. There is also a section for Primary schools.

Can I use this site for teaching key stage 2?

Yes, although was primarily designed for teachers at key stage 3 the activities can be adapted for key stage 2.

Our building block resources have been designed to help teachers of primary school pupils to explore some of the key areas of knowledge and understanding that young children need to have in order to make sense of transatlantic slavery.

Much of the background information will be useful to non-specialist teachers at key stage 2 who cover West African History as a world study or the transatlantic slave trade within a local history study.

Can I use this site for teaching older students?

Yes, although it is primarily aimed at key stage 3 the activities can be adapted for older students. Much of the Background Information and historical sources can be used independently by older students following their own lines of enquiry.

Is the information available to download?

Yes, the content in the Learning Resources is available as downloads. These can be used as part of your own lessons.

Can I print the pictures?

Yes, you can also project pictures directly from the site. Downloading the images first and then resizing them will assist in achieving the best quality for your purposes.

Are the materials ‘one size fits all’, or is their differentiation?

The Learning Resources are flexible enough to be used with a wide range of students and you can adapt them to your needs.

How much do I need to know about the transatlantic slave trade before I start teaching?

The website has an Introductory PowerPoint Presentation that you can use to get started or as a refresher tool. The Background Information on each historical theme is also provided to support your research on the subject. If you want to pursue a particular subject in more depth there are other resources listed in References and External links.

What about the issues and sensitivities of teaching the subject?

The sensitivities section of the website can support you in this aspect of the teaching and also offers guidelines about use of terminology. In addition, you can download the USI produced ‘Unlocking Perceptions’ pack which was created to support teachers.

Download the full USI handbook – “Unlocking Perceptions” (pdf, 34MB)


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The Understanding Slavery Initiative would like to thank the following organisations for their contributions to the website:

  • Anti-Slavery International
  • Beneath the Bed
  • Christine Eickelmann
  • David Small Images
  • Exeter Art Gallery and Museum
  • Harvest Films
  • Heritage Lottery Fund
  • Julie Nelson-Rhodes
  • Kind of Blue Media
  • Kinetic Media Solutions
  • mariaandco
  • National Gallery of Canada
  • Norwich Castle Art Gallery and Museum
  • ON101
  • Qube
  • Science Museum, London
  • St. Thomas More School, Bristol

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Partner Museums

Museum of London Docklands

Exterior of the Museum of London Docklands

Museum of London Docklands

No1 Warehouse

West India Quay
E14 4AL

Telephone: 020 7001 9844

The Understanding Slavery Initiative has enabled the Museum of London Docklands to work with schools, teachers and freelance educators to deliver sessions and to develop resources which illuminate London’s role in transatlantic slavery. The legacy of this role has shaped the way London is today. The handling collection complements the gallery, allowing students to gain a greater understanding of the history through physical exploration of objects.

In the bicentenary year of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, the Museum of London Docklands opened London, Sugar & Slavery, the only permanent exhibition to examine London’s involvement in transatlantic slavery. In the setting of this historic sugar warehouse, visitors can challenge long-held beliefs about abolition. Personal accounts, film, music, interactives and over 140 objects bring home the complexities and humanity of the issues around the trade in sugar and people, and the legacies of the enduring relationship between London, Africa and the Caribbean.

National Museums Liverpool

Gallery in National Museums Liverpool

International Slavery Museum

Royal Albert Dock
L3 4AQ

Telephone: 0151 478 4499

The purpose and remit of the National Museums Liverpool Education Division is to provide formal, informal and community learning programmes based on and relating to the collections- for people of all ages, cultures, abilities and backgrounds.

The division creates learning programmes and strategies for learners of all ages that are relevant to special educational needs, educational attainment and achievement, social inclusion, racial understanding and tolerance.

The International Slavery Museum highlights the international importance of slavery, both in a historic and contemporary context. Working in partnership with USI partners and other museums provides opportunities for greater awareness and understanding of the legacy of slavery today. It is located in Liverpool’s Albert Dock, at the centre of a World Heritage site and only yards away from the dry docks where 18th century slave trading ships were repaired and fitted out.

Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives

Interior of Bristol Museum

Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives

Queen’s Road

Telephone: 0117 922 3571

The Understanding Slavery Initiative has been very important for Bristol Museums Galleries and Archives. Since joining the partnership, the museums learning team has been able to develop and deepen thinking about how the subject of transatlantic slavery is approached as well as staff confidence, knowledge and expertise. Bristol museums have benefited from shared experience and work with the other USI partner museums on the subject.

Bristol Museums Galleries and Archives hold collections that reflect the city’s past as a trading and abolitionist city. M Shed, the newest museum (opening Spring 2011), tells the story of the city and its people. Its Transatlantic Slavery Gallery explores Bristol’s role in that trade, as well as its legacies.

Hull Museums

Wilberforce House exterior

Hull Museum Education

Hull Museum Education Learning Centre
35 High Street
Kingston Upon Hull

Telephone: 01482 31873

The Renaissance Hub funded Education Service which opened in November 2004 has used partnership consultation, resources and research to inform the development of its programmes for the galleries at Wilberforce House. Prior to this, the gallery had a very limited range of options for schools, which included a handling session and resource pack. In March 2007 Wilberforce House Museum re-opened to the public after a 1.6 million pound redevelopment programme to mark the bicentenary of the Abolition of the British Transatlantic Slave Trade. This major transformation involved the creation of new galleries and a new learning centre.

American Museum in Britain

Exterior of Claverton Manor

American Museum in Britain

Claverton Manor

Telephone: 01225 460503
Email: education@americanmuseum.org

In the late 1950’s two American citizens, Dallas Pratt, a psychiatrist, and John Judkyn, an English antiques dealer, established a museum dedicated to the American decorative arts. The founders, who lived near Bath, chose this world-heritage city as the location for their museum. Now, 50 years later, the American Museum in Britain is the only museum of Americana outside the United States.

The collection is displayed in period rooms which illustrate the way Americans lived between the 17th and 19th centuries. With the introduction of the American Heritage Exhibition in 2007, the collection has been further utilised to tell some of the more important stories in the development of the country, including the displacement of Native Americans and the enduring legacy of transatlantic slavery. This unique collection aims to encourage international understanding, and challenges, as well as celebrates, American history and culture.

National Maritime Museum

Exterior of National Maritime Museum

National Maritime Museum

National Maritime Museum
Romney Road
SE10 9NF

Booking a session:
Telephone: 0208 858 4433
Email: booking@museum.ac.uk
Themes offered:
Africa Before Transatlantic Enslavement
Trade & Commerce

The Understanding Slavery Initiative (USI) has enabled the National Maritime Museum (NMM) to work with teachers, educators and young people to develop a wide range of learning resources and programmes linked to the museum’s ‘Atlantic Worlds’ Gallery. This gallery looks at the movement of people, goods and ideas across the Atlantic Ocean including the forced migration of enslaved Africans to the Americas.

USI has inspired and supported an audience-centred approach to working with collections that is influenced by diverse audience perspectives. This continues to impact on the work of the Learning and Interpretation team beyond its slavery-related programmes.


The Understanding Slavery Initiative (USI) commissioned the Learning and Skills Network (LSN) to undertake a study to explore and develop a recommended set of approaches for teaching and learning about the histories and legacies of transatlantic slavery for primary school learners: Foundation Stage, Key Stage 1 (KS1), and Key Stage 2 (KS2).

A scope of existing resources available for teaching and learning about transatlantic slavery to primary learners, stakeholder interviews, museum educator interviews and visits to schools to carry out focus groups and workshops with teachers, parents and children provided the following findings:

  • Resources developed by Primary Colours and the USI web pages (the latter designed for KS3) were referred to as useful materials for supporting teachers and working with children at primary level
  • Resources were being adapted from existing KS3 resources for use at primary level
  • Resources for teaching about African culture appear to be lacking in general with teachers opting to teach topics like Egypt as opposed to Benin as a result
  • Schools sometimes make their own resources following teacher research on the internet
  • Teachers prefer the development of web resources rather than produced packs to the ability of the former to respond to change and be reviewed
  • Schools rely on visits from external experts and look to museums for support particularly in terms of artefacts and their expert knowledge
  • Some teachers suggested that it would be useful to work closely with museums to develop age appropriate resources –teachers talked about editing museum resources as they were not practical for classroom use
  • Key subjects in the primary curriculum such as history, citizenship, literacy, personal health and social education (PHSE), geography and literacy were seen as providing possibilities for introducing teaching and learning on transatlantic slavery…

Final report (PDF, 1.6MB)

Appendix 1 | Appendix 2


USI – Glossary Of Terms

The Glossary lists key historical and contemporary terms related to the transatlantic slave trade. These words are used across the website and particularly in the Themes and Use of language.

All | # A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
There are currently 319 Terms in this directory
Literally ‘bringing to an end’; in this context the campaign to end the slave trade and slavery
Person who supported the movement to end the transatlantic slave trade and slavery
Absentee owner
A plantation or estate owner who did not live on and manage the property directly
Affirmative action
A policy to increase representation from people in groups believed to have suffered discrimination
State of having much wealth or property
A citizen from the United States of America who is of African descent
A person from the Caribbean of African descent
An alternative spelling of Africa, reflecting how it is spelt in many African languages; it is also used to indicate an Afro-centric viewpoint
A philosophical and theoretical perspective from an African point of view; it challenges Africa’s philosophical, economical and cultural marginalization by the West
To move with rapid or violent action; to excite
Akan people are members of an ethnic group from areas of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, in West Africa, who share a common culture and language
The two continents of north and south America and the surrounding islands
Used to describe a person, an action, or an idea that is against slavery
A person who learns a craft or trade by working for a specialist or master for an agreed period, usually at low wages
The period during which a person is bound (under contract) as an apprentice
A place where historical documents or public records are kept and preserved
An upper class within society which is usually based on birth and is richer and more powerful than all other members
A usually simple object showing human work and representing culture or a stage of development in culture
Asante people are members of an ethnic group from areas of Ghana, in West Africa, who share a common culture and language
In the history of slavery this term refers to the permission given by the Spanish government to other countries to sell people as slaves to the Spanish colonies, between the years 1543 and 1834. In British history, it usually refers to the contract between Spain and Great Britain created in 1713 that dealt with the supply of enslaved Africans for the Spanish territories in the Americas.
A quality or a thing that can be used to an advantage
A process of making or becoming similar to others; to integrate into the majority
The Kingdom of Benin was a widespread empire across Nigeria and present day Benin that flourished from the 14th to the 19th century before it was captured and plundered by the British in 1897
A place to sleep on a ship
A person who will not listen to anyone whose ideas or beliefs are different from his/her own; one who regards or treats members of a group (as a racial group) with hatred or intolerance
Often used in Britain to describe people of African and Caribbean (and sometimes Asian) origin
Black British
Used during the 1980s to stress the political unity between African, Caribbean, and South Asian people in Britain. Now mainly used to refer to British descendants of first generation Caribbean migrants, or more broadly to all people of African or Caribbean descent living in Britain
Blacking up
The racist gesture of applying Black makeup on the face of a person who is not Black to represent a Black person
A rapid increase in growth, popularity or prosperity
A campaign where people join together and refuse to deal with a person, organization or country, usually to express disapproval or force an acceptance of terms
A class of goods identified as the product of a single maker; i.e. Coca-Cola
Marked permanently with a hot iron as identifiable property; traditionally used on cattle and livestock as well as on some enslaved people to denote ownership
British Empire
A system of dependencies, mostly colonies, throughout the world that were under the sovereignty and administration of the British Crown and government over a period of about three hundred years
The state or quality of being cruel or inhumane
African traders appointed to deal with European traders
A folk song or style of singing of West Indian origin having a lively rhythm and words which are usually made up by the singer
The ability to hold or contain
Brazilian fight dance developed by enslaved Africans in Brazil
A good transported in a ship, aeroplane or vehicle
Indigenous people who inhabited the Caribbean islands and parts of the neighbouring mainland
the islands off the east coast of North, Central and South America that were called the West Indies by Columbus
Exaggeration of the actions, parts or features of someone or something usually for comic or satirical effect
initially a festival preceding the Catholic season of Lent (a period of fasting from Ash Wednesday to Easter weekend); now refers to general annual festivities, usually with a procession and extravagant costumes, and often symbolically remembering an event in the past
To do or undertake with great charm or appeal
a populist reform movement of the 1830s-40s, which set out a manifesto called ‘The People’s Charter’ aimed at increasing the rights of the working classes
Chattel slavery
a form of slavery, introduced by Europeans, in which the enslaved person is treated as a piece of property belonging to his or her owner and has no rights; this status is for life and their children automatically have the same status; chattel derives from the word for cattle
Child labour
The employment of children under an age determined by law or custom
Civil Rights
The protections or privileges of personal power given to people under the law
communities with advanced systems of social development
Separate or distinct part of an article or document
used to describe a group of animals and prisoners or enslaved people chained together in a line commonly used by slavers in the 18th century
To occupy the same place in space or time
relating to or characteristic of a colony or colonies
a process of one country taking over another in order to exploit it
a territory partially or completely controlled by another country (often called the mother country or motherland) and settled by those people
A derogatory term that was used to describe people of or belonging to a racial group having darker skin complexion than others. The term is a Eurocentric one which presupposes a position of ‘Whiteness’ and is no longer acceptable for use today.
to preserve in memory by a celebration or ceremony
A fee paid to an agent to perform a service
an article of trade, especially a raw material or product
Commons, The
short for the House of Commons, the elected chamber of the UK Parliament
A social system in which property and goods are owned in common
recompense, intended to make amends, often with a payment
Con (as opposed to a pro)
Against; an opposition argument, person or position
Agreement in form, manner or character
A meaning suggested by a word or expression in addition to its exact meaning
to overcome, defeat or subjugate opposition
Consciousness raising
The act of making people aware of facts or feelings
A person who buys and uses up goods
Living or occurring at the same time period
The parts of something written or spoken that are near a certain word or group and help explain its meaning
open to dispute or argument
An often long or heated discussion about something which there is a great difference of opinion
Corporal punishment
punishment by the infliction of physical pain, especially flogging
Counter (argument or narrative)
In another or opposite direction
a person of mixed European and African descent; a language with different European and African influences; Creole culture formed by Africans in the Americas combining beliefs of different ethnic groups and adding in European and Christian ideas: Creole culture has evolved over time and is still important throughout the African Diaspora
an identity based on religious or spiritual beliefs, language, and family values; cultures are inherent their applications can be neither inferior nor superior to each other and are continually evolving for individuals and communities
To lower character of
To represent by a picture or describe in words
To reduce in amount by using up
To force a person (who is not a citizen) to leave the country
Intended to lower the reputation of a person or thing; expressing a low opinion
the spreading out of any group of people, forcibly or voluntarily, away from their homeland across a large area or indeed the world (it was originally used to describe the Jewish dispersal); also refers to the expatriate population as a distinct group
To lessen
to treat unfairly favourably or unfavourably, especially on the basis of race or gender
Clearly marking a person or thing as different from others
Condition of being different
Domestic slave
an enslaved person who works in a household rather than in the fields
Commanding, controlling or having great influence over all others
Crushed by a superior power
Draught (a beer)
The use of force or threats
The patterns of change or growth
bacterial infection of the intestine resulting in severe diarrhoea
Eastern slave trade
a trade in enslaved people, mainly from Africa, to the Middle East, North Africa and India; also known as the Oriental slave trade
Edo people are members of an ethnic group from areas of Nigeria, in West Africa who share a common culture and language
Efik people are members of an ethnic group from areas of Nigeria, in West Africa who share a common culture and language
being set free, or granted rights equal to others who already enjoy them (including allowing non-Anglicans to sit in Parliament and have other civic rights); the freeing of enslaved people from slavery
A symbol, design or figure used as an identifying mark
To cause to become part of a system
To leave a country or region to live elsewhere
To bring about force
granting the right to vote
To cut or carve on a surface
Enlightenment, The
name given to European 18th century period/movement characterized by literal rationalism in scientific and philosophical thought
Enslaved African/Enslaved Person
a person devoid of freedom and personal rights, who is the held in servitude and considered the property of another whether by capture, purchase or birth
to make a slave of a person; being held in captivity, servitude
Fairness or justness in dealing between people
traditionally a large area of land, used for agriculture, centred on a large house, owned by one person or family
A product where by a design has been eaten into a hard surface
Following accepted rules of conduct
A member of a minority group who keeps the customs, language or social ideas of the group
Centered or focused on Europe or European peoples, especially in relation to historical or cultural influence
of, or according to, the Christian gospel; often conservative Protestant Christianity
Clear to the sight or mind
To enlarge a fact or a statement beyond what is true
To shut or keep out
A person living in a foreign country, especially one who has renounced his/her own country
Exploitative labour
Labour in which workers are used unfairly for the owner’s own advantage
Is a system where by communities join together to produce goods for sale that make the community richer and stronger as a whole, ensuring workers’ human rights and the environment are protected over time
Fante people are members of an ethnic group from areas of Ghana, in West Africa who share a common culture and language
now obsolete term for dysentery; inflammation and looseness of the bowels
Free man/woman
someone who is not an enslaved person
the state of being at liberty, unrestricted, not restrained
Gang labour
Workers who toiled in the fields collectively all doing the same task at the same time
the planned or ordered killing of a racial or cultural group
Global citizens
Citizens of Earth who share in a collective responsibility for taking care of each other and our common environment
Gold Coast
the name given to an area of the West African coast by early European traders who traded for gold
Guerrilla warfare
fighting by independently acting groups for a broadly political cause
an area at the West African coast, sometimes referred to as the Guinea Coast; a gold coin issued in 1663 taking its name from there; worth 21 old shillings (£1.05 in decimal currency)
Country on the northern coast of South America
An island country in the Caribbean, formerly St Dominigue
Hausa people are members of an ethnic group from areas of Nigeria and Niger, in West Africa, who share a common culture and language
system of grades or status ranked above the other
a major island in the Caribbean, containing the two sovereign states of the Dominican Republic and Haiti
from the Greek word meaning 'burnt offering' it is primarily used to refer to the Nazi German extermination of Jewish (and other) people in central Europe during World War II
Homeward Passage
the third stage in the transatlantic slave trade with ships carrying items grown or made in the Caribbean or the Americas, such as sugar or tobacco, to Europe to sell
uniform, all of the same kind
Human rights
standards or expectations held to be common to all
A person who works towards achieving human rights
Igbo (or Ibo) people are members of an ethnic group from areas of Nigeria, in West Africa, who share a common culture and language
a person who comes into a country to settle
The act of including or involving as a natural or necessary part even though it is not put clearly into words
a form of contracted servitude or apprenticeship for a fixed period of time, often seven years in return for free passage to a colony, with the promise of land or money at the end
Indentured servant /labourer
a person who has sold their labour for a set period of time
the state of self government
original inhabitants
Industrial Revolution
rapid development of initially, British industry using machines in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It caused mass migrations from the countryside into the cities
The quality of being unequal
the state of being brutal, cruel, barbarous, without feeling, indifferent to the suffering of others
Lacking in feeling
Institutional Racism
The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.
A means of guaranteeing protection
rebellion, uprising, open resistance to authority
hard white substance of elephant and other animals’ tusks
Ivory Coast
a country on the coast of West Africa, officially called Cote d'Ivoire; European traders gave the area the name after the large amounts of ivory found there
A musical tradition which blends African-American musical styles with Western techniques and theories and is American in origin
Jim Crow laws
legislation in many American states from 1880s-1960s which enforced segregation between Black and White people and outlawed mixed race marriages; the term ‘Jim Crow’ may also refer to a Black character played by a White actor in a minstrel show
Karl Marx
German-born philosopher, political economist and revolutionary activist, Marx is considered the founder of Communism
Ku Klux Klan
White racist organization founded by former confederate soldiers in Tennessee in 1866, initially to prevent freed enslaved people voting and exercising other civil rights; members wore white robes to hide their identity and used terror and intimidation against Black people
An event that marks a turning point
something handed down by a predecessor
To try to influence public officials and especially members of a legislative body
Log books
written record book of the navigation and other occurrences on board a ship, kept on a daily basis
An identifying symbol or motto
Lords, The
short for the House of Lords, the second chamber of the UK Parliament, originally made up of hereditary members or peers, some Anglican bishops, and senior judges (as the Lords is the court of final appeal in the UK). Today, the peer element is appointed, including some hereditary peers and other ‘life peers’
derived from a Kiswahili word meaning ‘disaster’, or ‘terrible occurrence’. It is used to refer to the enslavement of African people by Europeans. The definition also refers to the subsequent loss of indigenous African cultures, languages and religions
A term coming from slavery used for enslaved or emancipated Black women who looked after the children of their usually White master/employer in America
A list of cargo or passengers, especially on a ship or plane
brass bracelet-shaped objects mainly made in Europe and used as money on the West Coast of Africa to trade for enslaved people
legal process (and related documents) by which enslaved Africans could buy their freedom or be freed by their owner
enslaved Africans who escaped into the Jamaican wilderness to form their own separate communities, from the Spanish word cimarrón meaning wild or untamed
Martial law
military government, which suspends ordinary law
A person, object or animal which is supposed to bring good luck
Mason-Dixon line
named after two surveyors, it was originally the boundary between the English North American colonies of Maryland and Pennsylvania; it came to mark the division between the Southern slave states and the Northern free states in the early 19th century
Mass movement
A large scale movement of people coming together for a shared purpose
Something that keeps alive the memory of a person or event
trader of goods, buying for one price and selling them on for an increased price
Christian group, founded by John Wesley and his brother when they broke away from the Church of England and built the first Methodist chapel in Bristol in 1739
Middle Passage
the second stage in the transatlantic slave trade, on which ships carried enslaved Africans from Africa to either the Caribbean islands or the Americas (see also Triangular trade)
to move from one place and settle in another, especially abroad
person sent to educate others about a religious faith
To assemble and make ready for action
exclusive ownership or control in the trade in particular goods or service
A place of scenic, historic or scientific merit set aside for preservation; a structure that honours a person or event
Of or relating to the judgement of right or wrong in human behaviours
Mother country
Native country; or the colonising country
native country; or the colonizing country
A saying that suggests an object or society’s nature or use
slimy substance secreted from parts of the body
Comes from the Spanish or Portuguese term for ‘young mule’. A mule is a hybrid mix of a horse and a donkey. This term is derogatory in its use to depict people of mixed race or people of dual descent, most often of an enslaved Black female and a White man; mixed race women were often more privileged than the enslaved from Africa but still treated as second-class citizens; the term ‘mulatto’ was commonly used in the 18th century but is now considered derogatory and unacceptable today
a mixture of several cultural groups
term used to describe a woman of African descent throughout the 18th to 20th centuries; the word is considered derogatory and unacceptable today
term used to describe a man of African descent throughout the 18th to 20th centuries; the word is considered derogatory and unacceptable today
New World
term given by Europeans to North and South America and the Caribbean Islands, in contrast to the 'Old World' of Europe, Asia and Africa; when they landed in the Americas Europeans considered them to be new lands, downplaying the status of the indigenous inhabitants
people who do not live in a single place but move, often seasonally, over a wide range for pasture to graze animals
an English term for dissenting Christians other than the Anglicans or Roman Catholics including Baptists, Congregationalists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Unitarians and members of the United Reformed Church
domination by others in a harsh or unwanted way
Orthodox (orthodoxy)
Usual or conventional belief or practice
Outward Passage
the first stage in the transatlantic slave trade with ships carrying goods from Europe to trade in Africa for captured Africans
person on a plantation paid a wage to organize the work of the enslaved people; manager
A person who is elected or appointed to parliament
A written or music work in which the style of an author or work is imitated for comic effect
Not active but acted upon
People's Charter
The statement set out by followers of Chartism
To cause to last indefinitely
The act or quality where one continues to do something in spite of oppositions, warnings or pleas
love of mankind; philanthropists habitually display goodwill and make charitable gestures
a medical doctor who is not a surgeon
a simplified language developed as a result of colonialism. As the Caribbean islands were colonized their populations grew to include Europeans, Africans and Indians. The fact that they spoke different languages necessitated a common means of communication
a large area of farmland, or estate, planted with particular crops
the successful settlers who developed plantations in the Caribbean; the name combines their local rank and the status to which they aspired
A declaration of beliefs and goals (usually of a political party)
a preconceived opinion, usually springing from feeling rather than evidence and balanced judgement
Accepted, practised or happening often or over a wide areas
a privately owned war-ship, or its captain, licensed by one government to raid the shipping of an enemy country
Pro (as opposed to con)
In favour of, a favourable person, action, or position
describes a person, an action, or an idea that is in favour of slavery
Having or showing great knowledge
Making use of or interested in new ideas
A rapid increase or growth
Easily noticeable or distinguished
An offer that leads to helping something build or develop
State of being successful or having financial good fortune
To object strongly
An act or device designed to attract public attention
member of the Religious Society of Friends or Quakers, a radical nonconformist Christian religious group established by George Fox (1624 - 91) with a strong sense of morality and social justice
Race relations
The way in which people of different racial groups get along in society
a belief that one group of people is inferior, or superior to another because to their race
Extreme; departing sharply from the usual
organized armed resistance against established government or authority
To restore to a previous natural state
To increase the number by enlisting new members
electoral reform, or Reform as it became known, was a movement in the 1800s for increasing the democratization of Parliament and voting rights; social reform was concerned with changing conditions for the better, especially for the poor
A person who seeks shelter or protection from danger or distress in country other than their own
To strengthen by additional assistance, material or support
To give up refuse for resign by public declaration
making amends, compensation; claim to payments to the descendants of the enslaved and to Africa by those who benefited economically from slavery
to return, or be returned, home, to one’s native land
to put down and keep down by force any active general opposition or rebellion
to strive against, or refuse to comply (sometimes secretly) with a decision or an established way of doing things
Return Passage
the third stage in the transatlantic slave trade with ships carrying items grown or made in the Caribbean or the Americas, such as sugar or tobacco, to Europe to sell (see also Triangular trade)
uprising against a ruler; or government, sometimes including going over to a rival power
a major change or fundamental reconstruction, usually of a nation by replacing a ruler or system of government or in ways of thinking
Something to which one has claim
Public violence, disturbance or disorder
To make as an established form of ceremony
Romantic Movement
An artistic, literary and intellectual movement influenced by the French Revolution. Followers stressed ideas around individual heroism and explored nature in new ways that saw its horror and awe expressed in words and imagery.
Royal African Company
London-based trading company with a monopoly on the early trade with Africa
clambering and struggling with competitors for a share, e.g. ‘The Scramble for Africa’
a period during which enslaved people newly arrived from Africa were initiated into the labour regime; new enslaved people were given marginally lesser tasks in the seasoning period as their ability to survive disease was tested
separation of people, especially in the use of public facilities, employment, education, and housing; usually with a denial of political rights for the excluded group
a system in which the serf, or labourer, was not allowed to leave the land that he or she worked on
metal hoops and chains put round the necks, wrists and ankles of (usually male) enslaved people to restrain them
pre-decimalization in 1969, one pound sterling was made up of 20 shillings, each made up of 12 (old) pence; a shilling is the equivalent of 5p today
Someone who is made to serve another; devoid of freedom and personal rights; one who is the property of another whether by capture, purchase or birth.
Slave colony
a settlement on plantations, based on the labour of enslaved Africans
Slave labour
work carried out by the enslaved for the profit of others
people who earn a living from capturing, trading and transporting enslaved people; ships engaged in transporting the enslaved
the institution that kept people as property, and submissive to work under the domination of others.
acute contagious disease caused by a virus, with fever and pustules, and with a high death rate; now eradicated world-wide
small two mast, square-rigged sailing ship, similar to a brig
Powdered tobacco especially for inhaling through the nostrils
Socialist (socialism)
A person who believes in socialism, a system based on shared or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of good
Unity (as a group) that is based on shared interests and goals
A poem of 14 lines usually rhyming by a fixed scheme
St Kitts
A Caribbean Island
Quality or status gained through growth, development or achievement
Position or rank in relation to others
Status symbol
An object or sign used to display a person’s wealth or position in society
Stereotype / stereotyping
a fixed notion of a group of people, often based on prejudices
A manager of a larger home or estate
A careful plan or method
area south of the Sahara Desert in Africa
of inferior importance or rank, secondary, subservient
the right to vote in political elections
a woman who agitated for the female right to vote
pleading or appealing for something from a point of weakness
doctor who specializes in using tools to operate on the body; also a general term for a naval doctor (since most were surgeons)
a factory or workshop employing workers employed for long hours and under poor conditions
A place where Jewish people come together to worship
A newspaper carrying short and sensational news stories and many photographs
Task labour
A system where people are given goals to achieve and therefore benefit if they can complete the work quickly
A movement started in the 19th century to encourage people to stop drinking alcohol
People who farm land rented from a landlord
Thirteenth Amendment
The 1865 alteration to the United States Constitution which abolished slavery
To grow vigorously; to gain wealth and possessions
A form of taxation where a tenth of a person's income or the produce from their land, whether derived from crops or animals, was paid to the church to support the clergy
Sympathy for or acceptance of feelings, habits or beliefs that are different from one’s own
A short printed pamphlet, on religious or political subjects, to distribute to the public
Trading forts
Europeans built forts as trading bases along the West African coast; they temporarily housed enslaved Africans until they were loaded onto ships
The transport and trade in humans for economic gain using force or deception
Across the Atlantic Ocean
Transatlantic slave trade
A Eurocentric term used to describe the selling of Africans as chattel across the Atlantic Ocean between Europe and the Americas
Transatlantic slavery
The institution that kept people as property, and submissive to work under the domination of others; the system of slavery that incorporates the ‘trade’ of enslaved Africans, the culture of enslavement, resistance of the enslaved and abolition
Formally ratified agreement between political groups or states
Triangular Trade
The name often given to the transatlantic slave trade; describes the three sides to the route the slave ships took from Europe to West Africa, then to the Caribbean and the Americas and finally back to Europe; the routes are known as the Outward Passage, the ‘Middle Passage’, and the Return or Homeward Passage. The term is slightly inaccurate as there were many trade routes used during this period that did not start and end in Europe.
A disease caused by bacterium and usually marked by wasting fever and the formation of cheesy tubercles in the lungs
Failed to make or become similar to others; retaining distinctive differences
Underground Railroad
A means of escape for thousands of enslaved people from the southern United States to the north and Canada operating from the late 1700s to 1862; it was called the Underground Railroad in 1831, and free Blacks and White abolitionists (’conductors’) offered the enslaved travelling at night food, clothing and safe locations (’stations’)
Act or instance of rising up; rebellion
Founded on truth or fact
A commercial undertaking, dealing with goods or assets in the hope that it will bring profit to those involved
Victorian era
The period of time between 1837 – 1901 when Queen Victoria ruled the British Empire
A mark on a passport that is a sign of approval and permission for a traveller to enter and / or remain in a foreign country
The degree of clearness
Beliefs and practices with a strong emphasis on magic and the spirit world, associated particularly with the island of Haiti, in the Caribbean, and thought to have been brought by enslaved people from Africa
A long sea journey
A state of doing well, especially in regards to happiness, as well being or success
West Indies
Islands of the Caribbean (so called as Columbus thought he had reached India)
Whitney's cotton gin
Eli Whitney’s invention in 1793 of an engine that separated the seeds from the cotton plant, and greatly increased cotton cultivation and the demand for enslaved people (especially female) in the US
Women's Suffrage
The right of women to vote in Parliamentary elections; finally extended to all women in Britain in 1928 after a long and bitter campaign
Xenophobia denotes a phobic attitude toward strangers or of the unknown. The term is typically used to describe fear or dislike of foreigners or in general of people different from one's self. For example, racism is sometimes described as a form of xenophobia.
Yellow Fever
An infectious and often fatal disease, spread by mosquitoes in tropical zones
Wooden bar used to link two things, people or animals together, or to carry a burden
An ethnic group from Nigeria who share a common culture and language
The name of the slave ship which became infamous when, in 1781, had 131 enslaved people were thrown overboard to their death, so that the slave traders could claim the loss against the insurance

What is USI?

What is USI?The Understanding Slavery initiative (USI) is a national learning project supporting the teaching and learning of transatlantic slavery and its legacies using museum and heritage collections.
Six museums across the UK worked in partnership alongside external experts to share expertise, develop resources, training opportunities and school sessions. 
These museums were:
  • Museum of London Docklands
  • The International Slavery Museum, Liverpool and National Museums Liverpool
  • Bristol Museums Galleries and Archives
  • Hull Museums
  • American Museum in Britain
  • National Maritime Museum

One of the main tenets of the USI partnership is that the history of transatlantic slavery does not belong to any one cultural group, or nation. It is a global history whose legacy can be seen and felt in various areas of today’s societies on an international scale. The USI partners have developed resources and approaches with an understanding that by reviewing the history, and understanding its wider global impacts, teachers and learners gain a better understanding of how to read history and ways in which to make sense of the world in which they live today. This is an ongoing process.

Each USI partner continues to maintain shared ethos and approaches to their work through the development and delivery of learning sessions and further resources.

USI was funded by the Department of Culture Media and Sport and the Department of Education (formerly the Department of Children Schools and Families) through the Strategic Commissioning Programme between 2003-8.

If you have a question it may already be answered by our Frequently asked questions page.

We welcome your feedback on how to continually update and improve this learning resource please contact us at learning@rmg.co.uk

The previous version of the website is still available at archive.understandingslavery.com.

USI guiding principles

The USI Partnership undertook a process of evaluating the project’s objectives to determine the overarching values and the ethos behind the work that we do. The following Adinkra symbols were chosen by the partnership to symbolise our commitment to the teaching and learning of subject of transatlantic enslavement.

Adinkra are visual symbols, originally created by the Akan people of Ghana and the Gyaman people of Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa. The symbols represent concepts or general truths or astute observations. Whilst the symbols have a decorative function, they also represent objects that encapsulate evocative messages that convey traditional wisdom, aspects of life or the environment. There are many different symbols with distinct meanings, often linked with African proverbs. According to Anthony Appiah, “they were one of the … for supporting the transmission of a complex and nuanced body of practice and belief.”


FAWOHODIE Adinkra symbolSymbol of independence, freedom, emancipation.
From the expression: Fawodhodie ene obre na enam. Literal translation: “Independence comes with its responsibilities.”

MATE MASIE: “What I hear, I keep”

MATE MASIE Adinkra symbolSymbol of wisdom, knowledge and prudence.
The implied meaning of the phrase “mate masie” is “I understand”.
Understanding means wisdom and knowledge, but it also represents the prudence of taking into consideration what another person has said.

NEA ONNIM NO SUA A, OHU: “He who does not know can know from learning”

NEA ONNIM NO SUA A, OHU Adinkra symbolSymbol of knowledge, life-long education and continued quest for knowledge

NKONSONKONSON: “chain link” symbol of unity and human relations

NKONSONKONSON Adinkra symbolA reminder to contribute to the community, that in unity lies strength

NKYIMU: the crossed divisions made on adinkra cloth before stamping

NKYIMU Adinkra symbolSymbol of skillfulness, precision.
Before adinkra cloth is stamped with the symbols, the artisan blocks off the cloth with lines in a rectangular grid using a broad-tooth comb. This preparation is symbolic of the exacting technique which results in the highest quality product.

NKYINKYIM: “twisting”

NKYINKYIM Adinkra symbolSymbol of initiative, dynamism and versatility

NSAA: a type of hand-woven fabric

NSAA Adinkra symbolSymbol of excellence, genuineness, authenticity.
According to “The Adinkra Dictionary” by W. Bruce Willis, the nsaa symbols reflects a saying: “nea onnim nsaa oto n’ago”, which he translates as “He who does not know authentic Nsaa will buy the fakes.” The quality of Nsaa has come to represent quality of workmanship in general.

PEMPAMSIE: “sew in readiness”

PEMPAMSIE Adinkra symbolSymbol of readiness, steadfastness, hardiness.
According to the The Adinkra Dictionary, the design of this symbol resembles the links of a chain, and implies strength through unity as well as the importance of being prepared.

SANKOFA: “return and get it”

SANKOFA Adinkra symbolSymbol of importance of learning from the past

WO NSA DA MU A: “If your hands are in the dish”

WO NSA DA MU A Adinkra symbolSymbol of participatory government, democracy and pluralism
From the aphorism, “Wo nsa da mu a, wonni nnya wo” — “If your hands are in the dish, people do not eat everything and leave you nothing.”

HWE MU DUA: “measuring stick”

HWE MU DUA Adinkra symbolSymbol of examination and quality control.
This symbol stresses the need to strive for the best quality, whether in production of goods or in human endeavors.

ANANSE NTONTAN: “spider’s web”

ANANSE NTONTAN Adinkra symbolSymbol of wisdom, creativity and the complexities of life
Ananse, the spider, is a well-known character in African folktales.

BESE SAKA: “sack of cola nuts”

BESE SAKA Adinkra symbolSymbol of affluence, power, abundance, plenty, togetherness and unity.
The cola nut played an important role in the economic life of Ghana. A widely-used cash crop, it is closely associated with affluence and abundance. This symbol also represents the role of agriculture and trade in bringing peoples together.

BOA ME NA ME MMOA WO: “Help me and let me help you”

BOA ME NA ME MMOA WO Adinkra symbolSymbol of cooperation and interdependence

AKOMA NTOSO: “linked hearts”

AKOMA NTOSO Adinkra symbolSymbol of understanding and agreement

Taking into account the collaborative meaning behind each symbol, USI intends to display and encourage:

  • Initiation; dynamism and versatility
  • skilfulness and precision
  • readiness; steadiness, courage and boldness
  • unity in how we related to each other and our stakeholders; also encouraging
  • unity with communities
  • quality of workmanship as a symbol of excellence genuineness/authenticity

For further reading and more Adinkra symbols please visit: www.adinkra.org.