Ruth J. Simmons Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice

An Update from the Atlantic Slave Trade Research Cluster

“This is a different way of learning and engaging in history,” notes Professor Zach Sell of the work of the Atlantic Slave Trade Research Cluster. Since 2017, the Simmons Center has been engaged in an ongoing collaboration with Firelight Media to produce a groundbreaking, multi-part documentary series entitled Creating the New World: The Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Laughing people in a meeting room

Professor Sell, a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Simmons Center and Associate Producer with Firelight, has been guiding this partnership. Creating the New World, directed by Stanley Nelson, will air on PBS in 2021 and take viewers on a journey that ranges over Europe, North and South America, West and Central Africa, the Caribbean, and beyond. The series will cover four centuries of history and reflect on the changing global character of the slave trade.

While Creating the New World will offer global audiences an expansive understanding of the Atlantic slave trade, the Simmons Center's partnership with Firelight also offers research cluster participants, many of them undergraduates, an unparalled opportunity to identify and delve into critical stories, historical figures and sites of significance related to the slave trade. As Professor Sell notes,“College students don’t often have the opportunity to engage in this kind of hands-on, direct work in film production on such a dramatic scale. It’s not just content transmission—teaching and learning—but also knowledge production. They are studying topics that have rarely, if ever, been studied before, and the results of their research could be broadcast to the world.”

For Professor Sell, the partnership is an important example of the fulfillment of a critical pillar of the Simmons Center's public humanities mission. “The collaboration with Firelight Media,” Professor Sell explains, “is part of the Simmons Center's ongoing commitment to supporting public-facing humanities projects focused upon the history of slavery and its legacies.”

by Nathaniel Pettit '20