The Slavery Project: Bringing the Past Alive With 3D Printing

The Slavery Project

Bernard Means

Bernard Means

Today’s technologies can bedazzle the mind and senses. One of the most amazing has been the development of 3D printing. For those of us intrigued with past lives, 3D printing allows us a unique intimacy with those who have gone before. Being able to hold the model of an artifact in hand, to realize how hundreds, even thousands of years ago, other hands similarly grasped this object, is profoundly moving. This is a vital component of The Slavery Project–to immerse ourselves in the past and to feel the humanity of those lost to enslavement. Not necessarily an experience easily had, but one of critical insight, especially for young people. And this is our hope for the legacy we hand the generations that follow. That through those painful memories of slavery can arise a global will, a new world of our collective creation, where human bondage is itself a thing of the past.

Read below Dr. Bernard Means’ description of the 3D printing specs he created for our prototype curriculum on the Triangular Trade. Go to the link and discover an array of objects, each with a story to tell.

The Virtual Curation Laboratory has partnered with a number of cultural heritage institutions to make available artifacts recovered from enslaved contexts in the Eastern United States.  These artifacts are available on the Virtual Curation Laboratory’s Sketchfab site ( and can be viewed and manipulated onscreen or downloaded for viewing and even 3D printing in most cases.  The goal behind making these 3D artifact scans available is to expand an overall understanding of the lives of enslaved peoples in pre-Emancipation U.S. history and contribute to AntiquityNOW’s Slavery Project, which highlights the history of slavery across time and space. These artifacts can be used in object-based learning assignments associated with curricula being developed for the Slavery Project. New digital models will be added on a weekly basis from the 3D scanned objects in the Virtual Curation Laboratory’s digital repository in the coming months and years. At present, the artifacts available include colonoware pipes and vessel fragments from enslaved contexts at Manassas National Battlefield Park, James Madison’s Montpelier, and George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Colonoware is a type of low-fired earthenware made by enslaved peoples for cooking, smoking, and other purposes.  Look for the colonoware folder for the models of vessel fragments and smoking pipes:


To learn how 3D printing works and for more information, see the links below from Dr. Means:

Also check out How 3D Printing Works from our friends at How Stuff Works. Mind-bending applications for the not-so-distant future.


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