Slavery and Emancipation in the Americas
Duke University, Fall 2011 


One of the most significant global transformations in the nineteenth century was the dismantling of African slavery across the Americas. This course will examine the development of a New World slavery system and will then follow how slave societies became societies in which former enslaved people were legally free but still faced significant political and economic constraints. The course will also delve into some of the scholarly debates on slavery and emancipation that have animated the discipline of history for the past several decades. Topics will include plantation labor; gender and family life during slavery; resistance; the relationship between war and emancipation; and the struggles between planters and freedpeople over wages and land. The first part of the course will focus on slavery across the Americas, while the second half of the course examines the end of slavery in three regions: Haiti, the British Caribbean, and the US South. Finally, we will consider the pros and cons of comparative history. As a gateway seminar, this course will also introduce the skills required for historical work: locating and analyzing primary sources; evaluating scholarly articles and books; formulating compelling historical questions and arguments; and conducting research. Course assignments will include short papers that analyze different kinds of sources and a final paper that evaluates a scholarly debate.

Select Readings

John Arnold, History: A Very Short Introduction
David Brion Davis, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World
Eric Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction, 1863-1877
C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution
Andrea Levy, The Long Song: A Novel
Marcus Rediker, The Slave Ship: A Human History
Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery
James Williams, A Narrative of Events since the First of August, 1834