Reacting to the Past: Frederick Douglass, Slavery, and the Constitution

Reacting to the Past: Frederick Douglass, Slavery, and the Constitution

Imagine becoming another person, a slave-owning person of property and family obligations, a man caught in the history of African-slavery in 1845 America. The role is troublesome and discomforting. The gender change is less difficult than the character’s obligation of being a slave owner. The opportunity to imagine was provided in a Reacting to the Past Workshop hosted by Assistant Professor of History Justin Carroll. Participants received selected readings, character role-sheets, and character goals. The information directed the game play and role-playing decisions based on “debate” at three meetings. The workshop provided IU East faculty and students a lively method of student engagement and interactive game participation.

The interaction and character immersion is a valuable experience for participants. My character’s name and background story developed from the study materials and history. An article by Robert Campanella in Preservation in Print references the 1815 Tremoulet Commercial business and provided my surname. In creating the names and the back-story I relied on family genealogy from Nantucket. My character’s mother, Eliza Barney Starbuck, was a northerner and wanted me to be a Harvard-educated minister. My name is Tristam Pierre Tremoulet, Esquire son of a slave-owning family from New Orleans, LA. My father is a proprietor of several commercial ventures including a slave-auction. Bearing witness to the auctions, seeing mothers and children viciously separated, selling fathers away from families brought me to a pivotal life-crisis. I have seen things I was powerless to change. My family duties, duties to other human beings, and duties to my country provided personal conflict as I attended the three meetings of the workshop. After listening to the debates and imagining the horrible experiences of slavery described by Frederick Douglass* I chose a path to support the abolitionist cause and in doing so used rationale that fulfilled my character’s role.

*An observation from Douglass’s narrative refers to partition. Current usage means to divide into parts, pieces. To slaves in 1845 it meant the separation of family members forever, dividing family members and friends into parts and pieces. In 1845 language masked the horrible atrocities that slaves experienced. As a librarian, a resource for words, books, articles, and information I am excited that Frederick Douglass’s book helped shape the abolitionist cause and continues to intellectually influence our human debate.


Campanella, R. (2013). On The Structural Basis of Memory: Cityscapes of the New Orleans Slave Trade Part I. Preservation in Print, Mar, 2013. New Orleans, LA: WWW.PRCNO.ORG.

Douglass, F. (1995 of the 1845 original). Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. New York, NY: Dover Publications, INC.

Higbee, M. and Stewart, JB. (2016) Frederick Douglass, Slavery, and the Constitution. A Reacting to the Past game book.

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