Teaching Students About the International Slave Trade


The international slave trade is a critical aspect of world history that needs to be discussed and examined in depth in educational settings. As educators, it’s essential to approach this sensitive topic with sensitivity, objectivity, and comprehensiveness. This article will provide guidance on teaching students about the international slave trade in an engaging and informative manner.

Begin with context

Setting the stage for the discussion about the international slave trade is crucial. Start by providing an overview of relevant historical events that preceded this tragic phenomenon – such as European colonization, the African tribal kingdoms, and the need for labor in the New World.

Discuss the key players

Walk your students through the key European countries and African regions involved in the trade. This includes nations like Portugal, Britain, and Spain, who played significant roles in transporting enslaved people from Africa to the Americas. Also, emphasize the participation of African tribal leaders who facilitated these transactions.

Highlight influential figures

It’s essential to introduce students to prominent figures that were either closely involved with or fought against the slave trade. Some examples include Olaudah Equiano, Harriet Tubman, and William Wilberforce, whose stories can humanize the topic and make it feel more relatable.

Explain its economic impact

The international slave trade had far-reaching economic consequences for both sending and receiving countries. Describe how it fueled industries such as cotton plantations in the American South and sugar plantations in the Caribbean, leading to significant wealth creation for some. Conversely, discuss how it ravaged African communities by tearing families apart and causing long-lasting socio-economic damage.

Investigate abolition efforts

Teaching about abolition movements gives students a chance to learn about advocacy that led to positive change. Examining various nations’ strategies for abolition – including successful campaigns in Britain, gradual emancipation approaches used by some U.S. states, and military engagements like the Haitian Revolution – offers students a broader understanding of the dynamics that lead to social transformation.

Use primary sources

Incorporate primary sources such as letters, bills of sale, and diary entries related to the slave trade. It offers students a firsthand account of the emotions and experiences of those who lived through this era.

Address modern-day slavery

To bring relevancy to today’s world, discuss modern forms of slavery and human trafficking. This approach makes it easier for students to connect historical events with present-day consequences, reinforcing the importance of continuous examination and understanding.


Teaching students about the international slave trade can be a challenging but rewarding task. By approaching the topic holistically and embracing different perspectives, educators can foster curiosity, empathy, and critical thinking in their students. Providing a comprehensive view of this complex subject can help our future generations become informed and engaged global citizens.

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