Show/hide main menu

Level 5

5AAH1014 Atlantic Slavery: West Africa & the Caribbean, 1492-1807

Credit value:15
Module convenor/tutor: Professor Richard Drayton
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour seminars (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x 1,500-word formative essay; 1 x 3,000-word essay (100%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Assessment pre 2019/20: 2 x 2,500 word essays (100%)

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years

This module provides students with an overview of the trans-Atlantic slave trade as it affected societies in West Africa and the New World, from the 16th century to the early 19th century. The course is taught thematically, so that major themes are interrelated in both social and political history on both sides of the Atlantic. In Africa we look especially at Angola, Dahomey, the Gold Coast, Kongo and Senegambia while in the New World there is a focus on Barbados, Brazil, Haiti, and Jamaica. Finally, we also consider the impact of this history in Europe through discussions of the rise of consumer societies and the relationship between this and the Abolition movement. By the end of the module, students will have enhanced their critical understanding of this major historical event and will have developed detailed knowledge of specific case studies which sharpen this knowledge.

Provisional teaching plan

Week 1
Introduction: historiography and methodology of studying Atlantic slavery, including an introduction to the trans-Atlantic slave trade database.

Week 2
Warriors and Merchant Classes: Overview of the role of wars and of both African and European merchant classes involved in the export of enslaved people with a special focus on the case study of Angola and a comparison with Dahomey.

Week 3
Political Organization: Overview of arguments on the effects of Atlantic slavery on African polities, focusing on centralized and decentralized states through the case studies of Angola and Upper Guinea.

Week 4
Gender and Production: Overview of discussions about changes in agriculture and gender roles catalyzed through the Atlantic slave trade using the specific case studies of Upper Guinea and the Gold Coast

Week 5
Changes of Ritual and Social Relations: Overview of changes in ritual practice and social relations that accompanied the expansion of the Atlantic slave trade by the 18th century, with a focus on the expansion of slavery within West Africa as a consequence of Atlantic contacts: using the specific case studies of Upper Guinea and the Calabar region.

Week 6
An overview of the impact of Atlantic slavery in the New World: Introducing key themes, (1), the Middle Passage; (2), the question of African agency in the Atlantic World; (3), demography

Week 7
The Plantation and Production in the Caribbean and Brazil: Discussion of the institution of the plantation using the case studies of Brazil, Barbados and Jamaica, with an analysis of the rise of sugar in importance in Europe and its role in cementing the place of the plantation in Atlantic slavery.

Week 8
Slave Life in the New World: Discussion of the social worlds of African and Creole slaves in the Caribbean, with a focus on family, production of foodstuffs and marketing, relationships with slaveowners, and ritual and belonging. Drawing on case studies from Brazil and Jamaica, and on important new material which shows the crucial world enslaved peoples played in shaping food production techniques in the New World.

Week 9
From Runaways to Revolutionaries: An overview of patterns of resistance to the institution on enslavement in the New World through the practices of escape and through rebellions. Drawing on the case studies of Brazil, Jamaica and St Domingue, before proceeding in the second half of the session to look at the Haitian revolution in detail.

Week 10
Abolition and the “Future” of Enslavement in the New World: An overview of the wave of slave revolts and the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade in 1807, with a particular focus on the writing of Oluadah Equiano in the abolitionist cause, the causes of abolition, and the impact of abolition in Africa and the Caribbean in the 19th century.

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.

  • Alice Bellagamba, Sandra E. Greene and Martin A. Klein, eds., African Voices on Slavery and the Slave Trade: Volume 1, The Sources (2013). Key text for African perspectives on the history of slavery.
  • Robin Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery: from the Baroque to the Creole (1996). Major general overview on the institution of slavery in the New World.
  • David Brion Davis, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (2006). More recent history of slavery in the New World by key figure in the field.
  • Gad Heuman and James Walvin (eds), The Slavery Reader (2003). Good collection of general essays.
  • Paul Lovejoy, Transformations in Slavery: a history of slavery in Africa (2012; 4th edition). The major work on the impact of Atlantic slavery on slavery in Africa.
  • Claude Meillassoux, The Anthropology of Slavery (1991). The best ethnographic analysis of the institution of slavery  in Africa.
  • John Thornton,  Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World (1998). Major work that brought the role of Africans in Atlantic history into a wider public.
Sitemap Site help Terms and conditions  Privacy policy  Accessibility  Modern slavery statement  Contact us

© 2020 King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS | England | United Kingdom | Tel +44 (0)20 7836 5454