Language Choice

One issue this project faces is the language we use when describing the various phenomena that constitute the Middle Passage.

Particularly with regards to the captive African victims of the slave trade, there are no value-neutral terms available. With that in mind, we have chosen to employ the term “enslaved” as an adjective and modifier and avoid using “slave” as a noun or referent to some fixed or essential identity (although we still use “slave” as an adjective when appropriate). As a whole, our team feels that those who suffered the oppression of slavery are more respectfully remembered as having been subject to an externally-imposed and violently-enforced state of capture or condition of enslavement, rather than as having borne the status of “slave.”

For a more general “usage guide” with suggestions for what language to use when discussing slavery, please see this community-sourced document: Writing About Slavery? Teaching About Slavery?

Rugendas.J (1830), Below deck of a slave ship headed to Brazil [online image]. Retrieved July 31, 2019 from