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The document I chose for interpretation was from category 1: Calculus of Slavery

Olaudah Equiano,
The Middle Passage (1788)

written in 1789

1. Typically the actions of Europeans engaging in the slave trade are viewed as cruel for the sake of
being cruel. In reading the document do you notice any other motivations for the cruelty of slave

2. Equiano notes that, I found some black people about me, who I believe were some of those who
brought me on board, and had been receiving their pay What may this reveal
about the nature of the slave trade and/or challenge how you thought it was carried out? Summary: This
passage is considered a primary source, written by a former slave Olaudah Equiano. There is some
debate on whether it was a firsthand account or merely a collection of accounts from other slaves
combined with his own experiences. Regardless it provides an accurate and horrifying depiction of what
Africans experienced as they were transported in slave ships across the Atlantic.
According to Olaudahs account, he was kidnapped by Africans and sold into s
lavery at the age of 10. His account of middle passage begins when he was brought to the coast. The
first impression he gives is awe and terror. He has never seen a slave ship. It is technology completely
alien to him. He also has never seen the European crew. He is astounded by the appearance of lighter
skin, long hair and the foreign language and clothes. He thinks he has arrived in a place of
evil world of bad spirits. His first experience upon boarding was to be handled and tossed up by the
After boarding he sees many Africans chained together all showing signs of despair. The fear and horror
of the situation overwhelmed him and he fainted. When he recovered some of the black people who
captured him tried to cheer him up. Once Olaudah went
below deck his situation only worsened. Below he encountered a salutation in my nostrils as I had
never experienced in my life. Below deck was where most of the slaves
were kept. They were chained in such close proximity as to not even be able to turn, let alone move
around. Most of the slaves were just as ignorant of their future as Olaudah and this only worsened the
situation. Ouladah and many of the other Africans thought they were going to be eaten by their
European captors. He was so sickened by the conditions that he was kept above decks. The conditions of
the slave ship were such that many of the slaves preferred death than to continue on in their present
conditions. Slaves sometimes would jump off the ship knowing it would lead to their death. They would
also not eat, either out of protest or inability due their conditions and that of their environment. The
crew would respond to both situations with beatings and whippings. Finally Olaudah describes his
arrival at Barbados and sale into slavery. Interpetation:
Words are the best form of communication that we have, yet I dont feel like I can ever
understand, nor would I want to, the experience of middle passage. I doubt any of us have ever
experienced an environment so nauseating or chaotic. Other than the horrifying conditions one of

the greatest aspects was the unknown. Ouladah, and most other slaves had never come into
contact with Europeans. They didnt have any idea or preparation for what to expect. Who were
these people? Why were they being
so cruel? What was to happen to them? In Ouladahs case he
reasoned that they were evil spirits and he was in an evil spirit world. That was the only way he could
reconcile the level of cruelty he was experiencing. Reading his account many of these cruelties were
psychological, but many of them were commercially influenced. Upon arriving on deck he was first
handled by the crew. This is much like how someone inspects a fruit at the supermarket. They had to
judge whether he had even a small chance to survive the trip. Later on he describes how cramped the
slaves were below the decks. This is simply to maximize quantity. The more slaves per trip the more
profitable it would be. After he showed no signs of eating and was seemingly unable to stay below deck
, he was mostly allowed to stay above deck. Even though the slavers did not value human life very highly
these were commodities and the entire point of the trip was to transport as many as possible. The
whole process was highly mathematic. The Europeans knew many slaves would not survive the
destination, which is one of the reasons they were transported in such large quantities. This ensured
that enough survived to be profitable. Africans were force fed, and beaten if they attempted to commit
suicide. This was all to ensure the trip was as profitable as it could be. One of the most important points
that I took away from this account was that Africans themselves played a crucial role in the promotion
of the slave trade. Olaudah is kidnapped and transported to the slave ship by Africans. Once onboard
the very same that kidnap him, attempt
to comfort and reassure him. On arrival in Barbados old slaves were used to pacify and calm
down the new arrivals. The institution of slavery would not have been possible or at least nearly as
prominent if it was not for the Africans kidnapping of other Africans. This is a point that often goes
under emphasized. It is theorized that 11 million Africans were transported from Africa across the
Atlantic. A majority of them ended in Brazil or the Carribbean but some ended up in the English colonies.
Most of the slaves that made it to the colonies arrived after 1700. This can be directly linked to
mercantilism and the formation of the English empire. Many of the raw materials required for the
manufacture of English products would come from the Chesapeake colonies. This created a large
demand for labor which was mostly comprised of slaves. This also would tie into the consumer
revolution where American colonies had an increased demand of English manufactured goods. This
would create a cycle of supply and demand that unfortunately required an increasing amount of slaves.


I chose this assignment to reflect on for a few different reasons. It was the second of our document
interpretations so allowed me to immediately incorporate feedback from my first assignment. This
assignment also included some meaningful dialogue with another student that I feel added to my
knowledge. Finally it was my highest graded assignment of all my document interpretations so it shows
in many ways a high overall level of quality.
During Document Interpretation assignments we are typically given a choice of multiple articles or
documents to choose from. I briefly scanned all of them and chose Olaudah Equiano. The Middle
Passage. I chose this one above the others because it was the most interesting to me at the time being a
firsthand account of a slave about the middle passage.
Over the course of the class my writing methods have not really changed although I have made some
modifications based on feedback from the professor. Below is a picture showing the setup I use to
work on most school projects.

As you can see I have two larger monitors, a word processor with 2 or three open papers on it, and
several browser windows. I would usually start writing the article in one word processor with another
open page pasted with the assignments and questions. In this case I have the one browser window
showing the requirements of the assignment. This is to make sure my work has all the needed
requirements, and that I answer all the relevant questions within the article. I do not typically take
notes; instead I start writing and revise as I write. While Im writing I often browse on the webpages for
supplemental information, especially contextual information that might shed new light on the
document, its audience, or its meaning. The more document assignments I did the more I enjoyed this
aspect of the research and the more I incorporated it. For my first document interpretation and I didnt
do any supplemental research. The Calculus of Slaver was my second assignment so I began to do
outside research with this paper. Every assignment after this I would increase my research as I would
learn it would shed more light on and help me come to a better conclusion. I probably would have
written this assignment a bit differently if I had done it at a later time. For example in doing this
reflection I found out that Olaudah Equiano was himself at one point a slave owner. While this does not
discredit his middle passage report it adds meaningful information to it. The outside research I did at the
time was enough to let me know that there was some controversy as to whether Olaudah Equiano ever
experienced the middle passage himself. My source admitted this controversy and later on I found a
Washington post article (Teresa Wiltz, Washington Post, Saturday, September 10, 2005) that also raises
questions about the authenticity of his first-hand account. I disclosed this information at the beginning
of my summary. I felt that this information was meaningful and best to be disclosed so that the reader
can reach their own conclusions. I personally felt that even if it was not a literal first-hand account then
it was at the very least a collection of accurate and authentic second hand accounts which would be just
as valuable on the subject.
One of the struggles I had with this assignment was incorporating the questions into my summary in an
adequate and natural manner. This also related to the feedback I received on my previous assignment. I
wanted to make sure I was answering the questions but I also wanted to make sure they were
organically answered and did not appear to be a random element of my summary. One thing that
helped me achieve this was to have the question posted in a highly visible window so I would always be
aware of them and conscious of them. If they were always on my mind then while I was writing I would
always be looking for a place to naturally include them. In the case of this article I feel the questions
were discussed very naturally and organically. I answered and expanded upon them in the second part
of my interpretation. I also took the feedback from my first assignment to mean tying my summary into
lessons from our book which I was able to do with my closing paragraph. I linked the slave trade with
Chapter 4s discussion of Birth of a Consumer Society and the discussion of the consumer revolution.

One of the other aspects of this article I enjoyed and benefited from was the dialogue I had with another
student. In this dialogue one of my fellow students asked me to question my emphasis on Africans
involvement in the Slave trade. His response to my article was as follows:
Student: I understand the need to draw attention to the role that the Africans themselves played in
promoting the slave trade. However, I think the analysis that simply stops there does not appreciate the
extenuating circumstances involved with what compelled them to participate in the first place. Olaudah's
narrative mentions he was enslaved at a young age, with the reasonable conclusion to be that he was
taken during a conflict with Olaudah's natural tribe--though, as far as I can tell, it is not clear which side
was the aggressor there--and this means that the acting of taking prisoners was most likely common.
While this does not diminish the seriousness involved with forcing someone to serve against their will, it
does mean that African tribes were as vulnerable to internal conflicts and raiding as they were to external
ones. For some tribes, a way to pacify the external threat became the exportation of enemy
captives. Trading the enemy meant protecting your own. This, in my opinion, is the necessary distinction
between what African leaders did, and what white slavers did. After all, there is no clear evidence
presented that individuals like Olaudah were kidnapped solely for the purpose of being sold into slavery,
which is also an important difference between the two continents at the heart of the slave trade. I
suppose you could make the argument that the slave trade, initially, could not have been so successful
without willful involvement from African tribes protecting themselves. However, slavery was not a new
concept at the time the slave trade began, but the demand was unlike that of previous civilizations. More
than likely, African resistance would have simply and only temporarily delayed the inevitable. End of
This input caused me to consider a different perspective. What he said I agreed with absolutely. If the
Africans involved in the Slave trade were simply protecting themselves from becoming slaves themselves
this makes them a great deal more sympathetic. Any reasonable group of people would more likely give
up their worst enemies rather than their own family. I did some follow up research and responded.
My response: I believe that there were a wide variety of reasons for Africans to participate in the slave
trade. Some of those reasons may have been to protect "their own" people but there were also many
other reasons. Like you pointed out Africans were already making slaves of their enemies long before the
new world was discovered so selling these slaves to the Europeans was merely an extention of
something they were already doing. A seeming trend of this is that Olaudah himself had never seen a
European ship. Most of the slaves were coming from within the African continent not along the coast and
they were being traded for European for manufactured goods such as weapons. It would have given
Africans a huge edge against their enemies to be armed with European weapons. I think a situation
similar to the native american trade pattern emerged. Native Americans coveted the weapons and tools of
the Europeans so much they started to exhaust their own food and fur supplies to acquire them. Similarly
as the demand for slaves grew so did the supply. I can only speculate how successful or effective the
slave trade would have been without cooperation of African countries. In terms of "culpability" the person
or group of people who would kidnap a child and accept money or goods knowing that child will face a life
of slavery is just as bad or worse as the people who actually enslave them. End response
I did some research and found out that in most cases the Africans kidnapped were from other parts of
Africa entirely and likely kidnapped for the purposes of trading for European goods. I also learned that
Europeans relied on this trade for their supply of slaves. That is to say it was a mutually economic trade
not a trade based on fear of slavery. There was little or no indication that the Europeans themselves
captured very many slaves, they primarily relied on the coastal African communities for their supply. I
stand by my argument that without African involvement the slave trade would have been highly
diminished or even unsustainable. This dialogue did make me consider different perspectives and do
more research on the subject.

As a second assignment this was the first opportunity to improve and I feel I did that by responding to
feedback. This is also where I began to look at outside sources to help me come to a more meaningful
conclusion. Further it showed me how constructive feedback from other students can help me see
things a different way and consider alternative ideas, while encouraging me to strengthen my own
arguments. As my collection of assignments go I feel this was among the more meaningful.