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Two UConn students to join study trip on re-created Amistad

by Cindy Weiss - May 29, 2007

Two UConn undergraduates will be among up to 10 college students sailing from New Haven to London, England on the first leg of a yearlong voyage of the Amistad.

Recreated by Mystic Seaport, the ship recalls an 1839 revolt by Africans captured for the slave trade.

The AmistadThe four-semester college program at sea, “Sankofa, Sailing in the Wake of our Ancestors,” will focus on the transatlantic slave trade and the history and legacy of the 53 Amistad Africans who were kidnapped from what is now Sierra Leone and sold as slaves.

The voyage also will commemorate the 200th anniversary of England’s ban on the slave trade.

There will be ports of call in Canada, England, Portugal, Africa, the Caribbean, and the U.S.

On board for the summer are Erica Whyte, a maritime studies major from Hartford, and Logan Sennack, an environmental sciences major from Torrington, both students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The schooner will leave New Haven on June 21, stop in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and arrive in London around Aug. 9.

The students will study the underground railroad in Nova Scotia, the Return to Africa movement, and British connections to the transatlantic slave trade in three courses taught by a historian from Washington, D.C., whose research has focused on the African diaspora and the Black Atlantic.

They will learn practical navigation skills, and study how ships sail and the oceanography of the Atlantic.

They will also contribute to the ship’s web log, and will stand watches.

Under close observation by an experienced crew, the students will have a chance to sail the schooner themselves, paralleling the experience of the Africans who took over the original La Amistad.

They also will offer educational guided tours of the schooner at various ports of call.

The students’ participation in the Amistad college program will be fully paid by funds raised from 12 units on campus, including CLAS and several of its departments and programs, International Studies, the Honors Program, the Center for Academic Programs, the Provost’s Office, the Office of International Affairs, the UNESCO Chair and Institute of Comparative Human Rights, and the Avery Point Campus.

The Amistad’s voyage will track slave trade routes, and demonstrate to students that the economies of powers such as France and England and the wealth of the world were rooted in the textile, sugar, and coffee trades that the trade supported, says Jeffrey Ogbar, associate professor of history and director of the Institute for African American Studies.

“The connections between the three different continents – America, Europe, and Africa – are profound,” he says.

Ogbar chairs the UConn student admissions committee for the project and, with Ross Lewin, director of the Study Abroad program, raised funds for students to participate.

The program is recruiting a multi-ethnic team of students from several colleges.

The Study Abroad program is administering all college credits for the voyage, which is run by Amistad America, a nonprofit educational organization based in New Haven.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our students,” says Lewin.

“The Amistad uprising is a key event in Connecticut history, and participation in this program will allow our students to study that history both academically and experientially.”

Unlike the original La Amistad, which was a coastal trader, the contemporary schooner is a heavier vessel that has been outfitted to cross the ocean and has been certified by the U.S. Coast Guard.

This will be its first transoceanic voyage.

The ship will be manned by nine professional crew members and a captain, Eliza Garfield, who has 20 years of experience in sailing-based education.

The vessel is equipped with security and communications technology systems.

The trip has been vetted by nine desks at the State Department, representing every country ship will pass through, Ogbar says.

It also has established links with the U.S. Coast Guard and the navies of Britain and Portugal.

Students will begin their orientation to the ship and the historyof the Amistad on June 7 in New Haven.

A “captain’s party” fundraiser will be held in New Haven in June 20, the eve of the launch.

The fall leg of the voyage, Aug. 11 to Dec. 14, will sail from Liverpool, England, to Sierra Leone, making stops in England, Portugal, and Senegal.

The spring voyage will sail from Sierra Leone to Charleston, S.C., with stops in Senegal, Cape Verde, Barbados, and Puerto Rico.

More information about the UConn program is available from the Study Abroad web site, www.studyabroad.uconn.edu, under “New Programs.”

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