Skip to Content

Slave Narratives Through a Digital Lens

English Professor Jami Carlacio leads her students on a research project for African American Heritage Month.
English Professor Jami Carlacio leads her students on a research project for African American Heritage Month.
March 16, 2015

To deepen their research into slave narratives—and create a poster presentation for African American Heritage month—Professor Jami Carlacio took her English 350 class on a trip uptown to the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

There, the students learned how to explore online manuscript collections, archival materials, photographs and other resources.

The Schomburg Center—generally recognized as the world’s leading research library devoted to the history and culture of the African diaspora—houses the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery, with over 400 rare items of printed material.

It also provides a 24-hour service, Digital Schomburg, that shares podcasts of oral histories and other online resources.

The Slave Narrative project, Professor Carlacio explains, has many layers for students: building knowledge, adding research skills and developing digital literacy.

“It means sifting through materials and evaluating their validity,” she says. “The students are learning to locate resources in a methodical way, synthesize information and write in a multi-media environment using critical literacy skills.”

‘Piercing the surface’ via posters

Working in groups of four, the students identified sources they would use, then used text and images to examine the transatlantic slave trade, specific slave narratives, the Middle Passage, the abolitionist movement, varieties of slave labor in the West Indies and American South, and other topics.

In the process, the class gained valuable experience producing an academic poster, the cornerstone of a scholarly research presentation in both the STEM and social sciences.

"I feel like poster presentations are the most effective way to learn about a topic,” says student Victoria Vazquez.

Having to re-read and excerpt sources for a poster leads to a better understanding of a topic, she says, adding that “poster presentations allow students to pierce the surface of the topic and dive in head first, arriving for the presentation well versed and eager to educate our audience."

She adds that there is “more creativity in a poster than in an essay, which puts less stress on the student. Despite being shy, I felt confident talking about the facts on our poster, instead of having them appear on a screen, which would have made it tempting to recite verbatim.”

Annette Tolentino adds that "making a poster keeps me interested. It allows me to remember some of the information I've researched and with the poster as a guide, I refer to the sources I used, in the presentation."

The students shared their posters with the BMCC community as part of African American Heritage Month, talking with visitors in room S-341 on Wednesday, February 25.

‘We are all brethren.’

Crystal Baez and Becky Hernandez presented a poster titled, The Middle Passage, which Hernandez explained is a shipping route that took commercial goods from Europe to the west coast of Africa.

There, she said, “The goods were traded for enslaved Africans who were shipped to North and South America.”

“I’d heard of the Middle Passage but didn’t know anything about the harsh conditions on the ship, such as devices to hold a person’s mouth open and force them to eat,” Baez added.

Nathan Hughes, Terrence Tyson, Argenis Bonifacio and Christian Fana created the poster Key Dates in the Slave Trade. Their timeline starts in 1645, when the first slave ship originated in Africa, and moves forward through the abolitionist movement in the United States.

Dominique Barreno, representing group members Kevin Burns, Kristy Garcia, Josephine Cheng and Emil Alcantara presented the poster Quakers and Abolition.

“I was surprised to learn that Quakers were part of the abolitionist movement, that supporting equality was part of their belief system,” Barreno said, and classmate Josephine Cheng added that in the Quaker’s monthly meetings, they sit facing each other in a square or circle, “which helps them to be aware that everyone has equal status.”

Luz Perez, Geordami Nazario, and Jennifer Chavez prepared the poster Varieties of Slave Labor in West Indies and American South, and Chavez explained that “a slave’s skill level was determined by his or her value to the plantation owner.”
Bobby Lin, Briana Hickson and Kyle Harris produced the poster The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, telling the story of a prominent member of the Sons of Africa, a Nigerian group that campaigned for the abolition of slavery through their writing and lectures.

Luis Rodriquez, Annette Tolentino, Victoria Vazquez, and Ezekiel Durojaiye produced a poster highlighting Frederick Douglass’s life.

“We used a graph to organize the information so people can make more comparisons,” said Ezekiel.

The poster also presents copies of historic documents, such as a declaration in the late nineteenth-century anti-slavery newspaper Douglass published, The North Star: “Right is of no sex. Truth is of no color. We are all brethren.”

Building classroom community online

Another tool the class has been using is the online environment, Blackboard, which provides discussion forums, reading materials and a place to submit papers for group and instructor feedback.

“This is my first time responding through Blackboard in a comments sections,” says Jennifer Chavez. “It’s a great way to expand our feedback on each other’s work.”

“It’s a good way to give students who don’t speak up, a way to join in the discussion,” says Professor Carlacio. “They also write their papers and post them on Blackboard, for comment. Later this semester, they’re going to do a multi-model project using media and images.”

Carlacio’s scholarly research, among many other areas, includes women’s rights and abolitionism, digital media and pedagogy. She stresses that in order to be successful in their academic careers and enter the workforce, it’s important for students to graduate from college with digital literacy.

They seem to agree.

Luis Rodriguez, who plans a career in law enforcement says, “Cops need digital literacy too. They have to write reports online and constantly communicate with others online and get information that way.”

Bobby Lin adds, “I think it’s an effective way to interact. You see how people think.”

share this story »


  • English Professor Jami Carlacio's students visit the NY Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
  • There, they learn and apply digital research techniques to explore slave narratives
  • They present their research in posters as part of African American Heritage month

share this story »