University of Virginia Scholar Works to Preserve the History of the House of Slaves

SenegalA group of American and African scholars are working together to restore the home of Madame Anna Colas Pepin on Goree Island just off the coast of Senegal. Slaves that were to be transported to the New World were imprisoned in the basement of the home.

The so-called Maison des Esclaves (House of Slaves) is one of only five houses that were used in the slave trade in Senegal that still exist and the only one that is now a museum. Sites of Conscience, an international organization that seeks to preserve the sites of past atrocities for educational purposes, is mounting an effort to preserve the house and expand the museum.

Louis Nelson, a professor of architectural history at the University of Virginia, who has participated in several restoration projects relating to the slave trade, is a member of the international team working on the House of Slaves project. “It is an incredibly important historic site, especially for the Sengalese schoolchildren as they are grappling with the historical implications of slavery in Senegal and the legacy of the Middle Passage.”

In Senegal, the slave trade was controlled by Africans or mixed-race individuals. “Sengalese selling other Sengalese into the slave trade is a heated and uncomfortable topic,” Professor Nelson said. “Grappling with complex pasts equips us to face the very real political complexities of our present and helps us to face the realities of an inevitably complex future.”

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