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Unit information: Comparative American Slavery in 2018/19

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Unit name Comparative American Slavery
Unit code HIST30092
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Livesey
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


In this unit students will develop their understanding of the evolution of European ideas of slavery and race through reflecting on the development and dissolution of various Atlantic slave systems.

In early meetings we will think about the formation of racialised perceptions of identity and nationhood, and how the beginnings of consumer society and other modern processes ensured slavery was expanded and secured. Students will then critically examine the debate over comparative slavery, focusing in particular on the contrasting demographic fate of slaves in different parts of the `New World’, the labour they were expected to perform on and off the plantation, the treatment they received from their owners, and the rich cultural and community lives they developed in the midst of adversity.

There will be the opportunity to compare slavery and emancipations in Mainland North America, South America and the Caribbean through a range of secondary and primary materials. This comparative approach will connect students to the most recent historiographical debates on the stages of Atlantic slavery (a ‘second slavery’ approach); allow them to evaluate the complex experiences of enslaved life, and the nuances of political, economic and cultural changes over time.

Unit aims

  • To explore the rise and fall of Atlantic slavery from a social and economic perspective, and to examine the relationship between different slave societies
  • To develop students’ understanding of the historical and contemporary significance of race, identity, and the formation of the modern world.
  • To introduce students to a broad variety of critical debates and concepts used in the historiography of slavery, including critical race theory, literature on slavery and capitalism and the ‘second slavery’, and the most recent debates over reparations.
  • To develop students’ skills in the critical evaluation and historical interpretation of a broad range of primary and secondary sources, including the use of digital humanities.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will be able to:
1) Locate key concepts of nation, race, and ethnicity within the historical context of the early Atlantic through to the nineteenth century.
2) Summarise and evaluate secondary sources, and define and apply the critical concepts contained within them.
3) Critically analyse a range of primary sources and connect them to their historical context and relevant theoretical material on slavery.
4) Make meaningful reflections on slavery and the long-term impact of emancipation, and present these in a scholarly manner appropriate to level H/6.

Teaching details

1 x two-hour interactive lecture

1 x one-hour workshop

Assessment Details

One 3000 word summative essay (50%). [ILOs 1-4.]

One two hour-exam (50%). [ILOs 1-4.]

Reading and References

O. Patterson, Slavery and Social Death

G. Heuman & J. Walvin (eds.), The Slavery Reader

D.B. Davis, Inhuman Bondage: the Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World

W. Johnson, River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom

R. Huzzey, Freedom Burning: Antislavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom

S. Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A Global History