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About the Middle Passage Project

Welcome to the Middle Passage Project of the College of William and Mary! The Middle Passage Project, founded 1995, serves to explore the history and memory surrounding the transatlantic slave trade, its resounding effects on Africans in the Americas, and its representation in literature and the humanities.

The accidental arrival of the first Africans at Jamestown in 1619 stands for a larger turning point in African American and American history. No matter how Jamestown emerged as an outpost of the international slave trade, the advent of the African in the early 17th century evokes images of the vast forced migration of African people across the Atlantic to the Americas as well as the entanglement of blacks, whites, and the Native American Indian peoples of the Chesapeake.

Not only does the Middle Passage Project treat the manifestation of the trade in literature, art, and history, it also makes possible the study of a fleeting period in American history when racism had not hardened into ideology and everyday practice. This original perspective inevitably enhances our understanding of the transition a few transplanted Africans like Anthony Johnson made in exercising citizenship rights and becoming the owners of sizeable tracts of land.

The Middle Passage Project is multifaceted, with components ranging from research and lectures to curriculum development and workshops for teachers as well as museum educators. The project also features artistic performances. Major accomplishments include Monuments of the Black Atlantic: History, Memory and Politics, an international conference, held at the College of William and Mary in May 2000, the anthology Monuments of the Black Atlantic: Slavery and Memory (Lit Verlag, 2003) and Crossing a Deep River: A Ritual Drama in Three Movements, which has enjoyed staged readings at Harvard, The College of William and Mary, and the 2005 National Black Theatre Festival.

As a resource, the Middle Passage Project is ideally suited to the development of public programs at museums, schools, libraries, community theatres, historical societies, and other public institutions. At the Yorktown farmstead of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, for example, the Middle Passage Project held a series of free lectures on the following topics: “Teaching the Middle Passage,” “Patterns of Migration from Africa and Europe into 17th Century Virginia,” “The Archaeology of Slavery,” and “The Material Culture of African Diaspora.” Other programs have served Virginia's eastern shore at the Accomac County Public Library and the historic Kerr House. Our programming also reaches a wide public audience outside the Virginia Commonwealth, including such diverse organizations and institutions as the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, the Ohio Historical Society and the National Paul Laurence Dunbar Project.

This site contains information on and examples of some of the work associated with The Middle Passage Project; it will be updated regularly.