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Economy vs. Humanity
Exploring the Triangle Trade and The Middle Passage

Adrienne J. Kupper
OverviewProcedure for teachersStudent Resources and Materials
Grade Level
Time Alloment
Three 45-minute classes


The Triangle Trade, though morally reprehensible, was integral to the growth of the economies of the United States and Great Britain. The last leg of that trek, known as the Middle Passage, retains the infamy of having been a horrific journey for Africans who had been free in their countries but were being enslaved in the Americas. The Middle Passage is synonymous with intense human suffering, degradation, and mortality.

Through the video series, FREEDOM: A History of US and the companion Web site utilized in this lesson, students will explore the economic importance of the Triangle Trade and the experience of enslaved Africans who were forced to endure the Middle Passage. They will examine primary sources, such as written accounts of slave ship experiences, to understand the experiences of enslaved Africans, slaveholders, and abolitionists.

Learning Activities

Students will be able to:
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the economic factors surrounding slavery in the United States, such as the Triangle Trade.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the experience of Africans who were brought to this country as a part of the American slave trade.
  • Use primary sources, such as narrative accounts and pictures, to gather information about the Middle Passage and the slave trade in the United States.
  • Examine prevailing political, moral, and economic philosophy regarding the slave trade.


National Standards for History

Historical Thinking

5A The student is able to identify issues and problems in the past and analyze the interests, values, perspectives, and points of view of those involved in the situation.

5B The student is able to marshal evidence of antecedent circumstances and current factors contributing to contemporary problems and alternative courses of action.

US History

Era 2, Standard 1
The student understands how diverse immigrants affected the formation of European colonies. (The student will be able to trace the arrival of Africans in the European colonies in the 17th century and the raid increase of slave importation in the 18th century.)

Era 2, Standard 3C
The student understands African life under slavery. (The student will be able to: Analyze the forced relocation of Africans to the English colonies in North America and the Caribbean; Explain how varieties of slavery in African societies differed from the chattel racial slavery that developed in the English colonies; Assess the contribution of enslaved and free Africans to economic development in different regions of the American colonies.)

National Standards for Social Studies

5 Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of interactions among individuals, groups, and institutions.

6 Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of how
people create and change structures of power, authority, and governance.

New York State Social Studies Standards

1 Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of major ideas, eras, themes, developments, and turning points in the history of the United States and New York. (NYS SS 1)

5 Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of the necessity for establishing governments; the governmental system of the United States and other nations; the United States Constitution; the basic civic values of American constitutional democracy; and the roles, rights, and responsibilities of citizenship, including avenues of participation. (NYS SS 5)

Media Components


FREEDOM: A History of US #5 "A Fatal Contradiction"
This video segment provides the viewer with an abundance of information about the early history of slavery in the United States. It examines the political and economic aspects of slavery up to the election of President Lincoln.

Web sites:

FREEDOM: A History of US
This is the companion Web site to the FREEDOM: A History of US video series. The sixteen Webisodes reflect the topics in each segment of the video series with additional historical information, sound clips, pop-up biographies, images, timelines, glossary, and many primary source documents.


Per class:

  • Chalkboard, whiteboard, or poster paper
  • Appropriate writing utensil for your writing surface
  • Tape (necessary if you are using poster paper so that you can display the students' work)
Per student: