Skip to main content

Class creates virtual exhibition exploring Atlantic voyages

An online exhibit showcases the work of students in Ernesto Bassi’s Atlantic Travelers course, who researched the experiences of travelers who crossed the Atlantic Ocean between 1492 and the 19th century.

The exhibit highlights the diverse range of experiences of the travelers, who included conquistadors (male and female, white and black), indigenous people, sailors, pirates, military adventurers, merchants, religious missionaries and slaves.

“The world has been connected for centuries, and oceans, far from being insurmountable barriers, have always been highways connecting distant lands,” said Bassi, associate professor of history in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Early in the semester, while still on campus, each class member selected a traveler. The class visited the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art as well as Uris Library, where they explored primary sources such as letters and personal documents, with the help of research librarian Virginia Cole.

“The multiple Atlantic crossings of our 14 travelers were sometimes tedious and monotonous and other times eventful and traumatic,” students wrote on the website. “The Atlantic crossing, however, was always laden with danger and a catastrophic outcome could never be discarded. The Atlantic that our travelers inhabited and traversed was also socially and politically malleable, and therefore predictable only in its unpredictability.”

April Townson ’20 said the online exhibit was one of the main reasons she took the class.

“The promise of working toward an online exhibit was particularly enticing, as I had never really been in a class with this type of hands-on experience before,” she said. “It was both exciting and daunting to know that whatever we wrote would not only be read by someone other than our professor, but would be available online well after the class ended.”

Townson, an English and history major, chose to research Paul Cuffee, a wealthy black/Native American man of the late 18th century who crossed from the U.S. to Africa. Her research revealed his difficulties expanding his whaling and shipping business farther south in the U.S.

“He took a ship to Vienna, Maryland, in order to join the corn trade,” Townson said, “but had to spend several days proving to the local populace that he and his crew were sailors and traders, not runaway slaves as they had presumed.”

Bassi said his students learned about creative ways to present historical knowledge. “I hope they left the class with an appreciation of the value of collaboration,” he said. “This group was really good at working together and helping each other. This collaborative spirit made the class a pleasure.”

A version of this story can be found on the Arts and Sciences website.

Aarushi Machavarapu ’23 is a communications assistant for the College of Arts & Sciences.

Media Contact

Gillian Smith