Class Year


Document Type

Blog Post

Publication Date


Department 1

Civil War Institute


Historical objects often have dark and horrible stories hidden just beneath their unassuming and innocent visage. The picture above is one such example of this type of object. At first glance the photo seems to depict a simple brick building; however, this building is anything but simple. It was used as a slave pen in the 19th century. Slave pens were buildings in which slaves were imprisoned and prepared for sale. The one pictured above was located in Alexandria, Virginia, the site of a major slave-trading center. While this photo’s association with the slave trade makes the photo a deeply disturbing one, the story that this picture tells is not completely devoid of hope or human agency. Indeed, the photo speaks to numerous stories of strength, as well as despair, in addition to the power of material objects and structures to enlighten both past and present Americans for the better. [excerpt]


This blog post originally appeared in The Gettysburg Compiler and was created by students at Gettysburg College.