This article raises a lot of interesting questions and issues.
The use of documentary evidence to reconstruct past events, motivations and the movement of people raises the question: How do we learn about the past? When there is a gap in the historical record, it’s impossible for us to know certain things. Documents were also used to trace modern day descendants of these slaves who were sold.
This article also raises questions about whether we, presently, have any responsibility for the past actions of our institutions or governments. Can we make amends for the past? Can a moral “debt” be paid off monetarily? Through remembrance? Plaques?
Lastly, this raises the question of what history is worth knowing? When learning history we have to make choices about what to include and what to exclude in addition to the choices we make around interpretation.
You should also read some of the comments for this article because they communicate diverse opinions about these questions.
“In 1838, the Jesuit priests who ran the country’s top Catholic university needed money to keep it alive. Now comes the task of making amends.”
“Meanwhile, Georgetown’s working group has been weighing whether the university should apologize for profiting from slave labor, create a memorial to those enslaved and provide scholarships for their descendants, among other possibilities, said Dr. Rothman, the historian.
“‘It’s hard to know what could possibly reconcile a history like this,’ he said. ‘What can you do to make amends?'”
The Planet Money Podcast recently did two episodes on this question. You can find the links here: