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Runaway Art: In-Classroom Curriculum

Historic documents that describe people fleeing enslavement are the basis for this integrated arts/social studies curriculum.
During the colonial period, so-called “runaway slave” advertisements were published in nearly every newspaper. Today these primary documents serve as painful reminders of our nation’s history, indicate the size and scope of colonial enslavement in the North, and provide evidence of ongoing, active resistance by enslaved individuals, like Nell, against the institution that bound them. These ads also form the basis for Historic Hudson Valley’s interdisciplinary school program, Runaway Art: Interpreting Colonial Slave Ads.

In Runaway Art, students analyze these advertisements, published in colonial newspapers in the New York area. Such documents are often the only evidence of the life of an enslaved person. Students create a portrait of the individual described in the ad, and write a personal statement to reflect on the experience of exploring this forgotten history.

Participating teachers have cited Runaway Art as a powerful and effective way to connect students with primary documents. They also describe the importance of this project in helping foster empathy in today’s students. The entire curriculum is available, for free, on the Runaway Art website.