The Atlantic Slave Trade
Duke University, Fall 2012 


The largest forced migration in human history, the transatlantic slave trade is one of the most significant transformations in global history. The shipment of over 12 million Africans—10.8 million of which survived the journey to the Americas—fundamentally transformed the culture, demographic makeup, economics, and political histories of at least four continents: Africa, Europe, and the Americas. The Western world gained much of its wealth and advantage from slave labor. Moreover, although slavery and the slave trade were abolished in the nineteenth century, their legacies—especially racism—still shape our societies. This course will first examine the development of the transatlantic slave trade and systems of slavery in the Americas. We will then look at the ways enslaved people challenged the slave trade and slavery, followed by the successful campaigns to abolish the British and American slave trades in the early 1800s. During the last part of the semester, we will consider different ways to write about and commemorate the slave trade and the enslaved.

Select Readings

Robert W. Harms, The Diligent: A Voyage through the Worlds of the Slave Trade
C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution
Lisa A. Lindsay, Captives as Commodities: The Transatlantic Slave Trade
Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom
Marcus Rediker, The Slave Ship: A Human History
Barry Unsworth, Sacred Hunger
Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery