Bowdoin Web Site Simulates Escape From Slavery
A Bowdoin College professor and a group of his students last semester unveiled a Web-based game that simulates the pre-Civil War experience of escape from slavery. The Web site, titled “Flight to Freedom,” allows a user to experience the real stories of ex-slaves who escaped from slavery in the South. More than 750 stories are captured in the Flight to Freedom database. Users can “play” the role of famous narrative authors such as Frederick Douglass or Harriet Tubman.
“This simulation has been designed around an important body of historical sources — the autobiographies and personal narratives of enslaved African Americans who had fled bondage, traveled North, and eventually found freedom,” according to the Web site.
Users, who take on the persona of a historical figure, travel about a map of the 19th century United States. They are presented with events taken from fugitive-slave narratives. After a user selects a course of action, the computer randomly chooses an event drawn from the database. The ultimate goal is to rescue family members enslaved in the South and to escape with them to Canada into freedom.
The Web site grew out of a two-year collaboration by history professor Dr. Patrick Rael, Rael’s students, and Bowdoin’s Educational Technology Center. Rael, who teaches American history at Bowdoin, says he has been interested in educational simulation since his graduate school days.
Some scholars have questioned the propriety of a Web site simulating escape from slavery, anticipating that some users might fail to comprehend the seriousness of American slavery. Bowdoin officials have welcomed comments and suggestions on the Web site.
The Flight to Freedom Web site can be viewed at
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