Sunken Slave Ship Unit Driving Question: How do artifacts and their preservation impact communities?

Uncovering the Past Lesson Driving Question: How are artifacts and stories of past lives uncovered?

Choose from the following tasks. Complete one or two of the following tasks as a class or divide your class and have each group complete one of the tasks and present. If you choose to complete all the tasks below, it will take approximately 12 hours. Note, however, that 3d and 3e are dependent on completing either 3a, 3b, or 3c first.

1. Engage students in a discussion on the community of Africatown’s rights to the Clotilda.
  • Ask: Who do you think “owns” a historical find, such as the underwater remains of the Clotilda?
  • Explain that, in this case, the Clotilda legally belongs to the State of Alabama. It once was privately owned and insured, but the owner never claimed insurance because it was illegally scuttled, and any other legal claims have expired. However, there are moral and cultural claims, too, like Africatown’s. It’s up to individuals to express their perspectives to the state.
  • Display the following quote from National Geographic’s article With Slave Ship Clotilda Found, the Work of Healing a Community Begins: "The ship should be raised and put on display in Africatown and become part of the Civil Rights Trail,’ Raines said. ‘It should generate millions of dollars in tourism for a community that needs and deserves it more than anywhere else.'"
  • Explain that the Civil Rights Trail is a series of more than 100 locations across 15 states that were places of importance during the Civil Rights Movement. For example, there is a marked route between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, that marks the path of the Selma-to-Montgomery March that took place in 1965. The Selma-to-Montgomery March was a protest march organized as part of a campaign for African-American voting rights.
  • Ask students:
      • Do you agree or disagree with quote? Why?
      • What barriers do you think might get in the way of the State of Alabama agreeing with Raines’ suggestion?
      • Especially when considering the condition and fragility of the Clotilda, is this responsible for him to suggest?
      • What does it mean to deserve something?
      • Do you feel that that is an appropriate term to describe the relationship between the descendants of those on the Clotilda and the remains of the ship? Why or why not? Is there a better word?


2. Prompt students to analyze articles and understand how the discovery of the Clotilda and the story it tells might impact Africatown and the descendants of its founders.
  • Ask: Just like many stories have ways of bringing up emotions or connections within the reader, what stories or artifacts about the Clotilda and the people of Africatown have drawn you in or engaged you in some way? Why?
  • Explain that students will be designing their Clotilda exhibits or memorials. As they read these final articles, they are to think about the following questions to help them navigate the decisions they will have to make.
  • Project the questions below to guide students in reading with a purpose:
    • What parts of the stories that you’ve heard in this unit would be powerful enough to engage audiences that are not directly connected to this history?
    • How can the artifacts from the Clotilda wreckage and other objects we’ve seen through our study of Benin, Africatown, and the people who live there be organized and used to tell the story of those who founded Africatown and those of their descendants?
    • How can the development of this exhibit or memorial be a part of that story?
    • How could this exhibit or memorial potentially impact the lives of those still living in Africatown and the descendants of the founders of Africatown?
  • Have one student read the National Geographic article With Slave Ship Clotilda Found, the Work of Healing a Community Begins and have another student read the article With Slave Ship Clotilda Found, the Work of Healing a Community Begins.
  • Student pairs share their thoughts about the impact of the finding of the Clotilda on the community in Africatown based on their separate readings and provide text evidence.
  • Invite student pairs to share their thoughts with the whole class.


3a. Prompt students to design an exhibit sketch of their proposed Clotilda exhibit or memorial.
  • Show students examples of exhibit sketches such as the Smithsonian Institution’s West Cretaceous Wing or the Rhode Island School of Design Concept Sketches.
    • Point out how the Smithsonian Institution sketch includes labels and multiple dimensions.
  • Tell students they will be designing a sketch of an exhibit they will be proposing to develop.
  • Instruct students to review the Sunken Slave Ship: Final Project Rubric and explain that in their proposal, they will need to include what is in the rubric.
  • Tell students they will also need access to previous articles, resources, and handouts for this activity.
  • Have students review previous work and design an annotated sketched map of their exhibit that includes labels for the artifacts they will use to tell the story of the Clotilda, its passengers and crew, and Africatown.


3b. Prompt students to develop a trifold brochure meant to entice potential museum visitors and share highlights of the proposed Clotilda exhibit or memorial through text and images.
  • Refer back to Sunken Slave Ship: Final Project Rubric and identify where the brochure could fulfill rubric requirements (provides background about the Clotilda and the transatlantic slave trade, as well as information about the history of Africatown and its founders).
  • Provide students with printed or digital access to the Trifold Brochure Template.
  • Share brochures from other museums as examples to help students imagine what their brochure could look like.
  • Encourage students to use Creative Commons images, inspiration from their exhibit sketches, and/or their own drawings to provide visual examples within the brochure of featured exhibits and artifacts.


3c. Engage students in researching the Alabama Historical Commission (AHC) to prepare for writing a pitch proposing their Clotilda exhibit concept to the AHC.
  • Have students read about the history of the Alabama Historical Commission identifying keywords that should be included in their pitch to ensure they are addressing the AHC’s mission and values.
  • Ask: What keywords or phrases did you find?
  • List students' responses on chart paper or another surface that can be visible while the students complete their work. (Possible keywords or phrases identified: preservation and promotion of state-owned historic sites; statewide programs to assist people, groups, towns, and cities with local preservation activities; state law makes the AHC responsible for the acquisition and preservation of state-owned historic properties and education of the public on historic sites in Alabama; advocate and advise on the preservation of African-American historic places in Alabama; preservation of African-American historic places. The AHC also created the Maritime Advisory Council and the Council on Alabama Archaeology to advise on topics relating to maritime archaeology, archaeology, and history.)
  • Ask students to identify three to five words or phrases that they will intentionally include in their pitch.


3d. Engage students in writing a letter to the AHC pitching their plan for a traveling or permanent exhibit featuring the Clotilda.
  • Referring to the Sunken Slave Ship: Final Project Rubric, remind students that their letter should answer the driving questions: What should happen to archaeological finds? How do artifacts and their preservation impact communities?
  • Encourage students to share the story they hope their exhibit will tell in their written pitch.


3e. Students present their exhibit pitches as if they were presenting to the AHC.
  • Students practice their oral pitch, prior to the final presentation, incorporating both the exhibit sketch and the brochure as visual aids.
  • Students in the audience provide their presenting classmates with feedback, identifying key elements that were presented well and respond to each classmate with a specific compliment on an index card or sticky note.


Sunken Slave Ship: Final Project Rubric: Use the rubric's standards to assess students' work on the pitch letter, exhibit sketch, and brochure.

Extending the Learning

Video Pitch: Have students video themselves as if presenting their letter to a panel of representatives from the Alabama Historical Commission.


Authentic Audience: Have students mail their pitches to the Alabama Historical Commission, specifically asking for feedback on their work and ideas.


Virtual Reality Museum: Rather than sketching their exhibit design, have students create a 3D example using classroom-friendly VR programs.

Subjects & Disciplines

Teaching Approach

  • Project-based learning

Teaching Methods

  • Discussions
  • Information organization
  • Writing

Skills Summary

This activity targets the following skills:

Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

Energy Literacy Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts

  • D2.Civ.10.6-8:  Explain the relevance of personal interests and perspectives, civic virtues, and democratic principles when people address issues and problems in government and civil society.

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6.1:  Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on Grade 6 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6.2:  Interpret information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how it contributes to a topic, text, or issue under study.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.8:  Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.9:  Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research. 
  • WHST.6-8.2:  Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/experiments, or technical processes.
  • WHST.6-8.4:  Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

The College, Career & Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards

  • D1.5.3-5.:  Determine the kinds of sources that will be helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions, taking into consideration the different opinions people have about how to answer the questions.
  • D4.3.6-8:  Present adaptations of arguments and explanations on topics of interest to others to reach audiences and venues outside the classroom using print and oral technologies (e.g., posters, essays, letters, debates, speeches, reports, and maps) and digital technologies (e.g., internet, social media, and digital documentary).

What You’ll Need

Materials You Provide

  • Colored markers
  • Colored pencils
  • Construction paper
  • Index cards
  • Pencils
  • Sticky notes

Required Technology

  • Internet Access: Required
  • Tech Setup: 1 computer per classroom, 1 computer per learner, Color printer, Monitor/screen, Printer, Projector, Speakers

Physical Space

  • Classroom
  • Computer lab


  • Heterogeneous grouping
  • Large-group instruction
  • Large-group learning
  • Small-group learning
  • Small-group work

Background Information

Whether exhibits are permanent or traveling, museums are all about stories. Artifacts tell stories. Through these stories, we can connect the past, present, and future and help visitors make sense of the objects and their importance. Museums use storytelling techniques such as setting the scene, building to a climax, or a plot twist to keep the story engaging. When developing a storytelling museum, the curator should strive to ensure that the presentation of facts and artifacts sparks curiosity and helps the visitor become a part of the past through their experience. 



Writing a pitch should begin by introducing the topic with a lead or hook that draws the reader in. It should connect to timely news or a topic of interest to the organization that a proposal addresses, in this case, the Alabama Historical Commission. Then, the pitch should have a call to action, identifying exactly what actions the presenter hopes the audience will take.


The majority of the pitch should be the value proposition. In the value proposition, the idea is described in detail, including the story the exhibit will tell and how it will meet the mission and values of the organization, and why it is important to the community at large. Any claims should be supported with evidence and reasoning. The concluding statement should thank the organization and reiterate the goals and call to action. The concluding statement should be short and to the point.



having to do with the study of ancient people and cultures.


study of human history, based on material remains.


display, often in a museum.

in situ preservation

protecting an archaeological asset while maintaining its original location.


having to do with more than one country.


having to do with the area around a specific place.

adjective, noun

something designed or written to preserve the memory of an event or person.


having to do with the government or people of a country.


present an idea or information in such a way as to gain support from one’s audience, usually in the form of a short speech or presentation, which is referred to by the same word (pitch, noun).


protection from use.


payment of damages done.


to return something to its former status or quality.

sketch map

rough, hand-drawn representation of spatial information.

Articles & Profiles