Black Revolutionaries

HIST 371/571: Black Revolutionaries of the Atlantic

Simmons University

Spring 2022

Course Description: This course will explore the ideological and revolutionary ideas of Black intellectuals, soldiers, and activists during the Age of Revolution in the Americas. From the origins of Black humanism, to key events such as the Jamaican Maroon Wars, American Revolution, Haitian Revolution, and the early years of Black Nationalism, we will discuss different streams of Revolutionary thought, as well as political, legal, and military approaches to freedom, and debates over the use of violence in confronting slavery and colonialism. The course will include a consideration of the role of Black women revolutionaries.


There are 7 required books for this course, along with some supplemental reading on Moodle. They can be purchased via the bookstore or third party vendors. They are also available as e-reserves via the library. The licensing of the e-books may limit the number of readers who can access the books at any one time, so please plan in accordingly

  • Carter Jackson, Force and Freedom: Black Abolitionists and the Politics of Violence (2019)
  • Frey, Water from the Rock: Black Resistance in a Revolutionary Age (1991)
  • Holden, Surviving Southampton: African American Women and Resistance in Nat Turner’s Community (2021)
  • Horne, Confronting Black Jacobins: the United States, the Haitian Revolution, and the Origins of the Dominican Republic (2015)
  • Mitchell, Venus Noire: Black Woman and Colonial Fantasies in Nineteenth-Century France (2020)
  • Reid-Vazquez, The Year of the Lash: Free People of Color in Cuba in the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World (2011)
  • Scott, The Common Wind: Afro-American Currents in the Age of the Haitian Revolution (2018)

How to Read for this Course: For a graduate course, our primary focus will be on understanding the historiography, and how the readings fit together. You should read for argument, method, and connections between the assigned readings. You should also make note of what types of sources the historians we will read use, and how they use them. Since this is an intellectual history course, we will spend substantial time thinking about the archives.

Course Assignments


Engagement (25%): Students are expected to come prepared, be intellectually present, and contribute productively to class. Engagement can include talking in class, participation in the group note taking, and use of my office hours.

Discussion Leader (15%): Each student will sign up for at least 2 weeks where they will help to lead the discussion on our readings. Sign up will take place via a Google doc in Moodle. Students who need to quarantine or who become ill can email me for an alternative arrangement.

Primary Source Analysis (20%): Each student will write a 1-2 pp primary source analysis that discusses the context, creation, and strengths and weakness of a primary source. You may use a primary source you intend to use in your research paper. The paper should be double spaced, with a standard 12-pt font. Use Chicago style for citations. This assignment is due via Moodle by 11 pm on February 20th.

Archives Paper (15%): Choose one of the books we are using for the course and write a 3-5 page essay examining the ways in which the scholar has used the archives. Use our discussions in the first two weeks of class as a framework for your paper. In particular, I would like you to discuss the types of sources used and how the scholar might have approached silences or limitations in their sources.The paper should be double spaced, with a standard 12-pt font. Use Chicago style for citations. This assignment is due via Moodle by 11 pm on the Sunday of the week we have discussed the book you have chosen.

Historiography (25%): Write a 10-15 page historiography that focuses on some sort of theme of Black revolution, resistance, or revolt. It might discuss a broader concept like the Haitian Revolution or maroonage, or it might focus on an individual. I am happy to discuss your ideas in advance. Your historiography should draw from a minimum of 5-6 major works that focus on the area you are exploring. I have posted some sample historiographies on Moodle.

Course Schedule:

20 Jan (Virtual Meeting): Introductions

27 Jan: Interrogating the Archives, Part 1

Reading: Sharpe, Immaterial Archives,  Intro & Chs. 1 & 2; Hartman, Scenes of Subjugation, Intro. & Ch. 1; Clark, Intro; Johnson, Mark Up Bodies; Fuentes, Disposessed Lives, Ch. 5; Thompson, Flash of the Spirit, Ch. 1

3 Feb: Interrogating the Archives, Part 2

Reading: Elmer, “The Black Atlantic Archive,” American Literary History, 17: 1 (Spring, 2005): 160- 170; Kazanjian, Freedom’s Surprise: Two Paths Through Slavery’s Archives, History of the Present, 6:2 (Fall 2016): 133-145; Nicole Aljoe, “Going to the Law: Legal Discourse and Testimony in Early West Indian Slave Narratives,” Early American Literature, 46:2 (2011): 351- 381; Gates, “‘Blackness of Blackness:’ A Critique of the Sign and the Signifying Monkey” Critical Inquiry, 9:4 (Jun., 1983): 685-723 

10 Feb: Black Humanism

Reading: Daut, Baron de Vastey and the Origins of Black Humanism, Intro & Ch. 3; James, The Black Jacobins, Intro & Ch. 1; Cameron, Black Freethinkers, Ch. 1; Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe;” Vartija, The Color of Equality, Ch. 1

17 Feb: Revolutionary Currents

Reading: Scott, A Common Wind (entire)

Assignment Due: Your primary source assignment is due via Moodle by 11 pm on Feb. 20th.

24 Feb: Revolution and Rebellion

Reading: Zoellner, Island on Fire (entire)

3 Mar: Black Revolutionaries

Reading: Frey, Water from the Rock (entire)

10 Mar: Spring Break – No Class Meeting

17 Mar: African Americans During the American Revolution

Reading: Nash, The Forgotten Fifth, Ch. 1; Intro, Chs. 1 & 2; Hermann, No Useless Mouth, Ch. 8; Chopra, Chs. 1 & 7.

24 Mar: Maroon Communities

Reading: Mackie, “Welcome the Outlaw: Pirates, Maroons, and Caribbean Countercultures,” Cultural Critique, Winter, 2005, No. 59 (Winter, 2005): 24-62; Lockett, “The Deportation of the Maroons of Trelawny Town to Nova Scotia, then Back to Africa,”  Journal of Black Studies, 30: 1 (Sep., 1999): 5-14; Reeder, “Liberty With the Sword,” Journal of the Early Republic,  37: 1 (Spring 2017): 81-115; Bilby, “Image and Imagination: Re-Visioning the Maroons in the Morant Bay Rebellion,” History and Memory, 24:2 (Fall/Winter 2012): 41-72; Yingling, “The Maroons of Santo Domingo in the Age of Revolutions: Adaptation and Evasion, 1783- 1800,” History Workshop Journal, 79 (SPRING 2015): 25-51; Brown, Tacky’s Revolt, Ch. 1

7 Apr: The Haitian Revolution and its Contours

Reading: Horne, Confronting Black Jacobins; On Moodle: Byrd, The Black Republic, Ch. 1

14 Apr: Abolitionism

Reading:  Mitchell, Venus Noire

21 Apr: Violence

Reading: Carter-Jackson, Force and Freedom

28 Apr: Nat Turner’s Rebellion

Reading: Holden, Surviving Southampton

5 May: Free People

Reading: Reid-Vazquez, The Year of the Lash; On Moodle: Lovejoy, Prieto, Intro, Ch. 2

Assignment Due: Your Historiography Paper is due via Moodle by 11 pm on 8 May.

Class Expectations:

Attendance: Students should do their utmost to attend class, but in the event of an illness (yours or a family member/house mate), please stay home and quarantine as necessary. You may ask a classmate if they are willing to Zoom you into class. If you experience an ongoing medical situation (including mental health), you can email me, but you should also contact the Office of Student Affairs. For privacy reasons, please don’t send me medical documentation.

Academic Integrity: You are expected to do your own thinking, write your own words, and come up with your own arguments. If you use someone else’s words, ideas, or arguments, you must always cite them in your paper using footnotes or endnotes. You may not recycle work from a previous course without speaking to me first. The use of unauthorized aid, such as collaborating on the exam is a violation of the honor code. Cases of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Simmons Honor Board. Please ask if you have any questions. 

Checking Email: You should get in the habit of checking your Simmons email and the 2U site regularly, and ensuring that your profile is linked to an email account you use. I send announcements, assignments, and other course materials via email. Students are responsible for knowing the contents of those emails. Please note that due to federal privacy laws and institutional policies, I cannot discuss grades over email.

Late Assignment Policy: Students are responsible for making sure that they understand all expectations and keep track of deadlines. Each student is eligible for a 48-hour no-questions asked grace period on written assignments where possible. 

Incompletes: Incompletes are awarded only for extenuating circumstances that are beyond the student’s control. Applications for incompletes are subject to the review of the Simmons Academic Board.

Classroom Citizenship: The classroom is a professional environment. Uncivil conduct towards other students or the professor is a violation of the student code of conduct and will not be tolerated. 

Technology: Please silence cell phones during class and refrain from texting. Laptop and tablet use should be limited to note-taking, viewing class materials, or other activities of direct relevance to the course. Also, be mindful that computers are not infallible. It is wise to save a second copy of your paper somewhere you can access it if your computer fails. Failures of technology are still subject to the late policy. Finally, class can only be recorded with advanced permission of the instructor, and recordings may only be used for study purposes. They may not be shared with third parties. I reserve the right to tell students to turn recording devices off.

Communication: Email is the fastest way to reach me. I respond to all messages within 24 hours of receipt, Monday through Friday. I check email occasionally on weekends, but may not respond quite as quickly. Please allow sufficient time for me to respond before emailing again. 

Grades: Most assignments will be graded within two weeks. As a general rule, grades are only changed in the event of a mathematical error. When graded assignments are returned, please take the time to read your feedback before coming to me with questions or concerns about grades. If you still have concerns about your grade after reading your feedback, please write me a memo, which includes a paragraph-length response that directly addresses each of your concerns raised by your feedback, using the assignment guidelines, and explaining why it merits a re-grade. I will take your concerns seriously, but there are no guarantees that your grade will be changed, and all decisions are final. Please note: I can only assign grades based on the quality of the final product, and cannot take effort, life circumstances or other factors into consideration. If you are unclear on the expectations for an assignment, it is your responsibility to ask for clarification in advance of the assignment’s deadline. You should bring any concerns about your grade to my attention within a week of receiving the graded paper back. Queries made thereafter will not be entertained.

Grading Policy:

Listed below are the criteria for the various letter grades used in this course:

A: This is a superior grade and is given to work that has far exceeded the specific requirements of the assignment.  Additionally, a student receiving this grade must have shown both insight and initiative in completing the graded task.

B: This is a very good grade and is given to work that has carefully and thoroughly met the specific requirements of the assignment and shows evidence of extra effort.

C: This is an average grade and is given to work that has met the specific requirements of the assignment.

D: This is a below average grade and is indicative of work not completed. It is given when the specific requirements of an assignment are not met.

F: This is a failing grade and is given to work that is wholly an inadequate representation of college-level work.

0: This is a grade given when an assignment is not turned in.  Most work will be assigned some points.  Try to avoid not doing your assignments.

Final letter grades will be assigned on the following numerical basis:  A=100-94; A-=93-90; B+=89-87; B=86-84; B-=83-80; C+=79-77; C=76-74; C-= 73-70; D+=69-67; D=66-64; D-= 63-60; F=59-below

Academic Integrity:  You are expected to do your own thinking, write your own words, and create your own arguments. If you use someone else’s words, ideas, or arguments, you must always make that clear in your paper using footnotes, citations, or references.  Please ask if you have questions about citation.  Cases of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Simmons Honor Board. To learn more, information is available at: