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Underground Railroad Project Ideas

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Underground Railroad is something that students may learn best when engaging with it on a personal level. These project ideas can offer some ways to encourage deeper interaction with the material.

The Underground Railroad

Prior to the abolition of slavery in the United States, many slaves found freedom by escaping through the series of secret networks and pathways collectively known as the Underground Railroad. Maintaining these routes was a way for abolitionists to fight against slavery, as well as a way for slaves to demonstrate their own participation in the pursuit of freedom. Obviously, slavery can be a sensitive topic so these project ideas are designed to be adaptable to students of different grade and comfort levels, but all of them can help your students engage with this history in new ways. It may be prudent to talk to your students about slavery, racial language and the history of racism in the United States before and during these projects.

Underground Railroad Project Ideas

Historical Fiction

Provide students with access to primary and secondary sources describing the history and experiences of the Underground Railroad. Students will research the time period, the routes, and the people who traveled along the Underground Railroad.

When they have completed their research, each student will write a short work of historical fiction which follows a set of characters along the Underground Railroad. This can be told in the first or third person. While this story should be a narrative with a plot, conflict, and resolution and is ultimately fictional, it should reflect the real experiences of people from this time. Students should use their research to build the plot and conflict, as well as express the views of various protagonists and antagonists. If you have students with an interest in art, you may consider asking them to write this as a graphic novel instead of a textual novel.

  • Materials: primary and secondary sources about the Underground Railroad, art supplies if desired

Map the Underground Railroad

Divide the class into small groups, and provide each group with a packet of primary sources that describe people's experiences along the Underground Railroad. Some secondary sources may be necessary as well. Students will read through these documents and look for clues about the physical locations of the routes, safe houses, and other places that comprised the Underground Railroad. They will map these routes onto a physical map, building up an idea of the complexity and breadth of various secret networks for escaping slavery. Once they are done, each student will write an individual report analyzing their data to explore the physical and geographic component of the Underground Railroad.

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