Engaging Ideas, Part 2

Bean’s piece on exploratory writing reminded me of my work as a writing tutor as an undergraduate in college, when I first started thinking of writing as a process that begins with the imagination, continues in scattered forms as notes and memos,develops into rough drafts, and culminates in a finished piece of writing that is suitable to hand in to a professor. As an professional academic with a published book, I’ve come to realize that the writing never quite ends–I still rewrite sections of my book while I lay in bed or drive my car. As one professor in college put it, “there’s no such thing as a perfect book.” This fleeting comment left a lasting impression on me, freeing me from the naive notion that I could produce something impervious to critique. It was freeing because it freed me to make mistakes–in fact, to accept that logical inconsistencies, artless prose, poor word choices, etc. are part of the writing process. Since that time, I have come to regard the revision process as key to my writing. All of my writing is a work-in-progress. Ideally, I would stagger my writing assignments to encourage this type of thinking in my students. I do encourage rough drafts, giving students a rough draft due date and a final due date, but I do not make them mandatory. Maybe I should. Here is what I am thinking for my digital project:

Assignment #1: Explore the following website on the transatlantic slave trade:


Questions: What time frames does the database allow us to explore? What are some of the search options? What is some of the basic information that the database offers?

Assignment #2: Search the database for slaves who embarked in Africa and got shipped to North America between the 1520s and 1750. What does the database tell us about transitions–in other words, when does the shipment of slaves spike? Compare the number of slaves who went to North America to those that went to the Spanish Caribbean. What do the numbers tell us about the economic and social changes that took place in North America during this time period?

Assignment #3: Search the database for slaves shipped to the Spanish Caribbean and North America after 1789. Put those numbers in the context of the major changes that unfolded in Europe and the Americas at the time. How do these numbers help us understand these changes?

Assignment #4: Search the database for slaves shipped to the Americas between 1790 and 1888. What regions experienced the largest influx of slave imports? What do these statistics reveal about the development of the slave trade during this time period? What political variables led to the changes in the slave trade after 1790?

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