Atlantic Slavery Syllabus

Course Description:

Between the 15th and 19th centuries, nearly 11 million people were forcibly transported from Africa across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World.  This class is about those people.  We will explore the rise and fall of the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the experience of slaves themselves, and the impacts of their forced migrations on the Atlantic world.  We will unravel the impacts of this trade on four regions: the part of North America that would become the United States, the Caribbean islands, South America, and Africa.  Following a narrative arc, we will begin by examining the roots of Western slavery and the various unfree labor systems that existed throughout the Atlantic world.  Then we will discuss the rise of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the stories of people transported on slave ships to scattered destinations along the Atlantic coast.  We’ll move to investigate how the slaves who were transported to the New World formed communities, retained or discarded their African identities, and shaped the master culture into which they were forced.  Finally, we will look at how slavery came to an end and what that meant for millions of freed slaves.

This syllabus is the guide for this class.  As a student, you are responsible for everything that is in here, so read it carefully. This syllabus is subject to change.

Course Objectives

              Content goals: Students will learn:

  • The relationship between slavery and capitalism
  • The social, cultural, economic, and political dimensions of slavery
  • The origins of racial prejudice in the Atlantic world
  • How the trans-Atlantic slave trade shaped societies on both sides of the Atlantic
  • How enslaved people resisted slavery and altered its institutionalization.

Methodological goals: Students will learn how to:

  • Interpret, analyze, and evaluate primary sources
  • Analyze scholarly arguments

Required texts:

  • Marcus Rediker, The Slave Ship: A Human History (New York: Penguin, 2007).
  • Herbert Klein and Ben Vinson, African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).
  • Paul Lovejoy, Transformations in Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa, 2nd (Cambridge: University Press, 2000).
  • Various articles on eLC.


Your grade in this course will be determined by the following formula:

  • 50% exams
    • 10% – Exam 1
    • 15% – Exam 2
    • 25% – Final Exam
  • 15% Formal Paper
  • 20% Reading Responses
    • Five times during the semester, you will be responsible for bringing to class response papers on the readings that address the questions posed in this syllabus. These papers, which will be between one and two pages in length, typed, double-spaced (400-600 words), will be the forum through which you will develop your analytical skills.  See course outline for individual assignments.
  • 15% Participation in Discussions


This class requires careful and engaged reading of assigned sources.  This class does require a lot of thinking, and I will require you to organize and express your thoughts in writing.  If you come to lectures ready to learn and to discussions prepared and ready to participate, you can do well in this class.  However, that is no guarantee that you will get the grade you want.   I encourage you to come talk to me in office hours if you are struggling or you are unsure of how to improve.

Lectures and Discussions:

This class is divided into lectures and discussions.  You will need to come to lectures having done the assigned readings and ready to learn and take careful notes.   In discussions, you will need to come to class prepared to participate, using your notes on lectures and the assigned readings to help you engage in the discussions.  Your participation is required.

Make-up Policy:

Do not miss a test.  I will not administer a make-up exam unless your absence is due to extraordinary circumstances.  This means that you are either violently ill, on a prior approved school function, or at a funeral of a loved one.  You will need to provide documentation for any of these absences.

Classroom behavior:

Scientific studies have shown that students retain more information from lectures when they take notes on actual paper, rather than on a computer.  Studies have also shown that students are typically not as good at multitasking as they think they are.  Therefore, there will be no laptops allowed in the classroom.  Sorry.  Excessive talking, texting, eating, or anything else that, in my judgment, disrupts the learning environment, will not be tolerated.

Academic Honesty:

The University of Georgia, as well as the rest of academe, takes academic honesty very seriously.  Upon entrance to UGA, you pledged your commitment to perform “all academic work without plagiarism, cheating, lying, tampering, stealing, giving or receiving unauthorized assistance from any other person, or using any source of information that is not common knowledge without properly acknowledging the source.”  You will face severe penalties, including failure in the course and possible expulsion from the university, if you violate this oath.  For more information, see the school’s policy at

Writing Assignments

     Reading Responses – On each class period designated for discussion, you will prepare a 1-2 page “response paper.”  These assignments, each worth 2 percent of your final grade, are designed both to introduce you to the exciting art of historical interpretation and help prepare you for a lively discussion at the end of each week.   Drawing on the primary sources assigned for each week’s reading, you will practice developing a thesis and supporting it with relevant historical evidence.

  • Format:
    • Response papers will be 1-2 page, double-spaced, 12-point Times New Roman font, with 1-inch margins. You will cite your sources using either Chicago or MLA style (whichever you prefer).  Be sure to include a single-spaced header with your name, date, my name, and name of the assignment.  I will not accept late papers.

How you will be graded:

  • In theory, you are graded on your thoughts, not necessarily your writing. Writing is simply a way to organize and convey your thoughts.  I will reward those who think deep and hard about the prompts, taking into consideration past lectures, discussions, and readings and bringing them to bear on the sources at hand.  That said, the only way I know what you are thinking is through your writing.  So, over the course of the semester, we will work on organizing and conveying our thoughts through writing.  (SEE RUBRIC FOR MORE DETAILED INFO ON GRADING).

   Formal PaperDUE Dec. 5. Your reading response papers will prepare you for one final paper worth 15% of your grade.  It will follow the same instructions as the reading response papers, EXCEPT this paper will be 5-7 pages long and will be cumulative.  You will need to draw on relevant documents and lectures throughout the semester, paying particular attention to themes we have discussed, to address the following prompt:

Course Outline

– Jan. 5 – Lecture 1: Course Introduction
– Jan. 7 – Lecture 2: What is slavery?

Indigenous ‘slavery’ in the Atlantic region
– Jan. 9 – Lecture 3: Slavery in Western Development
o Edith Sanders, “The Hamitic Hypothesis: Its Origins and Functions in Time Perspective,” The Journal of African History 10, 4 (1969), 521-532.
– Jan. 12 – Lecture 4: Pre-Columbian Slavery in North America and Mesoamerica
o Christina Snyder, “Inequality, War, and Captivity,” Ch. 1 in Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America, 13-39.
– Jan. 14 – Lecture 6: Indigenous Slavery in Africa: did it exist?
o Suzanne Miers and Igor Kopytoff, “African ‘Slavery’ as an Institution of Marginality,” in Slavery in Africa, 3-81.
– Jan. 16 – Lecture 7: The Islamic Slave Trade in Africa and the racialization of slavery
o Paul Lovejoy, “On the Frontiers of Islam, 1400-1600,” Ch. 2 in Transformations in African Slavery, 24-41.
o Chouki El-Hamel, “’Racializing’ Slavery: the Controversy of Mawlay Isma’il’s Project,” Ch. 4 in Black Morocco, 155-184.
– Jan. 19 – Martin Luther King, Jr. day – NO CLASS
– Jan. 21 – DISCUSSION

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and its Impacts
– Jan. 23 – Lecture 8: Origins of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade
o Herbert Klein, “Slavery in Western Development,” and “American Labor Demand,” Chs. 1 and 2 in The Atlantic Slave Trade, 1-48.
– Jan. 26 – Lecture 9: African Paths to the Slave Coast
o Marcus Rediker, “African Paths to the Middle Passage,” Ch. 3 in The Slave Ship: a Human History, 73-107.
– Jan. 28 – Lecture 10: The Middle Passage, the Triangular Trade, and the development of a Black consciousness
o Marcus Rediker, “Olaudah Equiano: Astonishment and Terror,” Ch. 4 The Slave Ship: a Human History, 108-131, 263-307.
– Jan. 30 – Lecture 11: White Sailors and Black Captives
o Marcus Rediker, “The Captains Own Hell,” and “The Sailor’s Vast Machine,” Chs. 7 and 8 in The Slave Ship, 187-262.
– Feb. 2 – Lecture 12: Resistance on the High Seas
o Marcus Rediker, “From Captives to Shipmates,” Ch. 9 in The Slave Ship, 263-307.

Race and Slavery in the New World
– Jan. 30 – Lecture 11: Sugar and Black slavery in New Spain
o Herbert S. Klein and Ben Vinson, “Sugar and Slavery in the Caribbean in the 17th and 18th Centuries,” Ch. 3 in African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean, 49-64.
o Vincent Brown, “Worlds of Wealth and Death,” Ch. 1 in Reapers Garden.
– Feb. 2 – Lecture 12: The Emergence of Race-based Slavery in North America
o Winthrop Jordan, “Unthinking Decision: Enslavement of Negroes in America to 1700,” Ch. 2 in White Over Black: American Attitudes toward the Negro, 1550-1812.
– Feb. 6 – EXAM 1

Slavery in the Age of Revolution
– Feb. 9 – Lecture 13: Slavery and the American Revolution
o Peter Kolchin, “The American Revolution,” Ch. 3 in American Slavery, 1619-1877, 63-92.
– Feb. 11 – Lecture 14: The French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution and its Atlantic shockwaves
o Matthew Clavin, “A Second Haitian Revolution: John Brown, Toussant Louverture, and the Making of the American Civil War,” Civil War History (June 2008), 117-145.
– Feb. 13 – Lecture 15: The emergence of the abolitionist movement
o Marcus Rediker, “The Long Voyage of the Slave Ship Brooks,” Ch. 10 in The Slave Ship: a Human History, 308-342
– Feb. 16 – DISCUSSION

Atlantic Slavery in the Nineteenth Century
– Feb. 18 – Lecture 16: Slavery and the Slave Trade in Africa
o Paul Lovejoy, “The Nineteenth-Century Slave Trade,” and “Slavery and ‘Legitimate Trade’ on the West African Coast,” Chs. 7 and 8 Transformations in Slavery, 140-15
– Feb. 20 – Lecture 17: Slavery in 19th-century Brazil
o Herbert Klein and Ben Vinson, “Slavery and the Plantation Economy in Brazil and the Guyanas in the 19th Century,” Ch. 6 in African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean, 101-118.
– Feb. 23 – Lecture 18: Slave communities in the plantation U.S. South.
o John Blassingame, “Culture,” Ch. 3 in The Slave Community.
– Feb. 25 – DISCUSSION

African Diaspora: Cultural Passageways
– Feb. 27 – Lecture 19: How African ecological knowledge transformed the economies of the New World.
o Peter Wood, “Black Labor—White Rice,” Ch. 2 in Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion.
o Judith Carney, “Seeds of Memory: Botanical Legacies of the African Diaspora,” Ch. 2 in Voeks and Rashford, eds, African Ethnobotany in the Americas (New York: Springer, 2013), 13-34.
o William Pollitzer, ”Trans Plants and Economy,” Ch. 7 in The Gullah People and their African Heritage (Athens: UGA Press, 2005), 86-103.
– Mar. 2 – Lecture 20: Creolization of African Religion: Christianity, Candomble, Voodoo, and Santeria
o Albert Raboteau, “Death of the Gods,” Ch. 2 in Slave Religion: The ‘Invisible Institution’ in the Antebellum South, 43-93.
– Mar. 4 – Lecture 21: African Medicine in the New World
o James L.A. Webb, Jr., “On Biomedicine, Transfers of Knowledge, and Malaria Treatments in Eastern North America and Tropical Africa,” in Gordon and Krech, eds., Indigenous Knowledge and the Environment in Africa and North America, 53-68.
o Erica S. Moret, “Trans-Atlantic Diaspora Ethnobotany: Legacies of West African and Iberian Mediterranean Migration in Central Cuba,” in Voeks and Rashford, eds., African Ethnobotany in the Americas, 217-247.
– Mar. 6 – Lecture 22: African Music in the New World
o Celia Conway, “Signifying at the Crossroads: African-American Traditions of the Folk Banjo,” Ch. 2 in African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia: a Study of Folk Traditions (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995), 55-83.
– Mar. 11 – EXAM 2

The End of Slavery in the Atlantic World
– Mar. 13 – Lecture 23: Great Britain and the abolition of the trans-Atlantic trade
o Herbert Klein, “The End of the Slave Trade,” Ch. 8 in The Atlantic Slave Trade, 188-211.
– Mar. 16 – Lecture 24: The American Civil War and abolition
o Eric Foner, “The World the War Made,” Ch. 1 in Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1-31.
– Mar. 18 – Lecture 25: From Slavery to Freedom in Latin America
o Herbert Klein, “Transition from Slavery to Freedom,” Ch. 11 in African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean, 227-246.
– Mar. 20 – Lecture 26: Abolition in the Sokoto Caliphate and the Scramble for Africa
o Paul Lovejoy and Jans Hogendorn, Slow Death for Slavery: the Course of Abolition in Northern Nigeria, 1897-1936.

Analyzing Slave Narratives –
For the last few class periods, we will read and discuss selected narratives of slaves who traversed the Atlantic during the height of the slave trade.
– Ayuba Suleiman Diallo
– Olaudah Equiano
– Samuel Ajayi Crowther
– Ottobah Cugoano
– APRIL 29 – 8am – FINAL EXAM.