image of ship deck

The Middle Passage Experience: African Captivity in Brazil, 1750–1850

Virtual Reality Immersion Project: Dr. Yovanna Pineda (Associate Professor, History), Dr. Fon Gordon, (Coordinator of Africana Studies and Associate Professor in History), Dr. Emily Johnson (Assistant Professor, Games and Interactive Media), Dr. Amy Giroux (Associate Director, Center for Humanities and Digital Research), and Dr. Ezekiel Walker (Associate Professor, History)

map showing slave trade routes

Our virtual reality immersion project “The Middle Passage Experience: African Captivity in Brazil, 1750-1850” documents the transitional period from Africa to the Americas in a first person perspective. The ship journey from Elmina Castle in Ghana to Salvador, Bahia (Brazil) took between forty and fifty days from Luanda, Angola to Rio de Janeiro. This six to seven-week period was essential in transforming the captive’s body and mind from free to newly enslaved person.

elmina castle slavers and slaves

In this interactive VR, participants embody a newly captured African. They are first presented to Elmina castle. They line up with other captives as they enter the ships. Participants may interact with others while in line, though the majority of the interactive experiences take place on the ship. As a matter of survival, participants must make choices. They may do a variety of things, including winning favor by cleaning the deck, make a friend, steal food, and so on. The ship stories are based on research obtained from visual and archival materials, the database, and the numerous primary accounts from African captives, creoles, elite, ship captains, and ship logs.

captive below deck

Though this experience deemphasizes the more graphic violence and human atrocities that were all too often a reality for the captives, the simulation remains compelling. The feeling of being trapped without hope of escape and the conditions below the deck of the ship quite effectively convey to the participant feelings of dehumanization.

scene below deck

The project's long-term research goal is to measure empathy learning through virtual immersion and to serve as an educational experience for students learning about this topic and the history surrounding it. It is being developed in an intentional manner, utilizing isolated research studies to iterate the existing aspects and to inform each next step. A portion of it was showcased at UCF Celebrates the Arts on April 12, 2019.

scene at the shore in Ghana

We started this VR project in Fall 2017. We continue to write scripts, code, and illustrate scenes, people, and other art. This interdisciplinary project involves collaboration with history, the School for Visual Arts and Design (SVAD), Games and Interactive Media (GaIM), the Center for Humanities and Digital Research (CHDR), the Africana Studies Program, and Computer Science department.

boat journey
slave auction
boat journey
Ghana shore
ship deck
boat journey
below deck
boat journey