Comparative Slavery

Course Description: This course will discuss some of the main themes in the history of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, focusing on African and African American slavery in the western hemisphere. We will begin with a brief look at classical slavery in Africa, then proceed to a more in-depth examination of African slavery in the Americas, between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries. We will also devote some time to Native American slavery in the Americas. Finally, we’ll consider emancipation and the transition to freedom in comparative perspective, including the related question of race relations after the end of slavery, and the emergence of the diaspora.  ​

Required Books: There are 8 assigned books for this course, along with some chapters that will be posted on our course website on Moodle. The books are available through the university bookstore, as well as third-party websites. Copies of the books are also on reserve in the library.


  • Sowande Mustakeem, Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage (Indiana University Press)
  • Michelle A McKinley, Fractional Freedoms: Slavery, Intimacy, and Legal Mobilization in Colonial Lima, 1600-1700 (Cambridge University Press)
  • Jennifer Morgan, Reckoning With Slavery: Gender, Kinship, and Capitalism in the Early Black Atlantic (Duke University Press)
  • Jessica Marie Johnson, Wicked Flesh: Black Women, Intimacy, and Freedom in the Atlantic World (University of Pennsylvania Press)
  • Vincent Brown, Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War (Harvard University Press)
  • Afua Cooper, The Hanging of Angelique: the Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montreal (University of Georgia Press)
  • Ada Ferrer, Freedom’s Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution (Cambridge University Press).
  • Marcus Nevius, City of Refuge: Slavery and Petit Maroonage in the Great Dismal Swamp (University of Georgia Press)


Content Warning: The readings for this course will contain racist terminology, graphic descriptions of slavery, and at times, racial and/or sexual violence. While inclusion of these difficult subjects  is necessary for understanding Atlantic slavery, it should not be construed as an endorsement by Simmons University, the History Department, or the instructor. If you need specific, more detailed trigger warnings, please let me know.

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. 


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.


Elevator Talks (15% total): Over the semester, we will periodically take time to discuss the research-papers-in-progress, as a seminar. The dates are indicated below in the course schedule. You should come prepared with a 5-10 minute talking point about your seminar paper on these days. This can include a progress report, successes you’ve had, or even things you have struggled with. 

Discussion Leader (10%): 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 (15%): 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 October 22th.

Research Proposal (10%): The research proposal should consist of a half-page abstract describing your research topic. The topic must be of relevance to the course. Your proposal should also include a short bibliography in which you identify at least 3 secondary sources and 3 primary sources that you anticipate will be of use to you in your research. For grad students in particular, the primary sources should include some sources from archives. Secondary sources must be scholarly in nature (i.e. from a university press or academic publisher). I encourage you to make an appointment with a member of the reference staff if you need help getting started on your research. Use Chicago style for citations. Submit through Moodle. 

Paper Outline (15%): Your outline of your paper should include an introductory paragraph, and a reasonably detailed outline that demonstrates to me how you plan to support your argument, including some indication of which sources you will use and where.  At this point, you should have at least 5 scholarly secondary sources, and a minimum of 4 primary sources. If you find yourself struggling with the outline, I encourage you to make an appointment with me, or to contact the Writing Center for an appointment at least a week ahead of the deadline. Outlines should be submitted through Moodle

Final Research Paper (20%): Your final research paper will be 20-25 pp. Papers should be double-spaced in a standard 12 pt font, and use Chicago formatting. Be sure to carefully proof-read. Submission is through Moodle.

Course Schedule

Part of the goal of this course is for students to gain familiarity with a very rich literature. As a result, students who lead discussion will be tasked with reading a bit more deeply into the historiography for the weeks in which they lead discussion. Other students are encouraged to read the additional reading in places that may align with their seminar research paper, MA thesis, and/or teaching goals.


Sept 2: Introductions

In Class: Berry, et al, “Teaching and Writing About Slavery;” Ashley Farmer, “Archiving While BlackBlack Perspectives.


Sept 9: Slavery in Africa

Readings:  [On Moodle] John Quirk, “ Defining Slavery in All Its Forms,” The Anti-Slavery Project (Penn), Ch. 5; Manning, Chs. 1 & 2; Lovejoy, Ch. 1; McDonald & Lane, Ch. 2;  Miers & Kopytoff, Intro & Ch. 1; Bouie and Onion, Slavery Myths Debunked

For Discussion Leaders, Optional for Everyone Else [On Moodle]: Smallwood, Saltwater Slavery, Intro. & Ch. 1; J. Alexander, “Islam, Archaeology, and Slavery in Africa,” World Archaeology, Vol. 33(1): 44–60.


Sept 16: Slavery at Sea

Readings: Mustakeem, Slavery at Sea

For Discussion Leaders, Optional for Everyone Else [On Moodle]: Inikori, “The Volume of the British Slave Trade, 1655-1807.” Hartman, Lose Your Mother, Ch. 5.

Sept 23: Slavery, Plantations, and the Law

Readings:  McKinley, Fractional Freedoms


For Discussion Leaders, Optional for Everyone Else [On Moodle]: Andrew F. Fede, Homicide Justified, Intro & Ch. 3

Sept 30: Slavery and Economics

Readings: Morgan, Reckoning With Slavery

For Discussion Leaders, Optional for Everyone Else [On Moodle]: Smallwood, Saltwater Slavery, Ch. 3; Swingen, Contested Visions of Empire, Ch. 1.

Assignment: Your research proposal is due via Moodle by 11 pm on Oct 1st.

Librarian Jess Wallis will be with us for the first hour for some library instruction.

Oct 7: Slavery and Gender

Readings:  Johnson, Wicked Flesh 

For Discussion Leaders, Optional for Everyone Else: [Moodle] Palmer, Intimate Bonds, Ch. 9; Winters, The Mulatta Concubine, Ch. 1; Snorton, Black on Both Sides, Ch. 2

Oct 14: Slavery and Religion

Readings:  [On Moodle]: Frey and Wood, Come Shouting to Zion, Ch. 1; Raboteau, Slave Religion, Ch. 2; Goetz, The Baptism of Early Virginia, Intro & Ch. 3; Gerbner, Christian Slavery, Ch. 2 and Epilogue; Diouf, Servants of Allah, Ch. 6; Young, Rituals of Resistance, Ch. 4.

For Discussion Leaders, Optional for Everyone Else: [On Moodle] Resendes, Ch. 8

Assignment: Your outline is due via Moodle by 11 pm on Oct. 17th.

Oct. 21: Maroonage and Fugitivity

Readings: Nevius, City of Refuge

For Discussion Leaders, Optional for Everyone Else: [On Moodle] Diouf, Slavery’s Exiles, Ch. 2; Chopra, Almost Home, Ch. 7

Assignment: Your primary source analysis is due via Moodle by 11 pm on Oct. 24nd.


Oct. 28: Slavery, Medicine, and Disability

Readings: [On Moodle]: Dea H. Boster, American Slavery and Disability, Intro. & Ch. 4; Kennedy, “‘Let them be young and stoutly set in limbs:’ Race, Labor, and Disability in the British Atlantic World,” Social Identities Special Issue: Disability and Colonialism: (Dis)encounters and Anxious Intersectionalities 21, no. 1 (2015), 37-52; Berry, The Price of a Pound of their Flesh, Ch. 6; and Long, Doctoring Freedom, Ch. 1

For Discussion Leaders, Optional for Everyone Else: [Moodle]: Owens,  Medical Bondage, Ch. 2; and Ellen Samuels, Fantasies of Identification, Ch. 1

Nov. 4: Slavery and War
Reading: Brown, Tacky’s Revolt

For Discussion Leaders, Optional for Everyone Else: [Moodle] Schneider, The Occupation of Havana, Ch.3

Nov 9: Slavery and the Revolution (ADMINISTRATIVE THURSDAY)

Reading:  Ferrer, Freedom’s Mirror

For Discussion Leaders, Optional For Everyone Else [Moodle]: Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture, Ch. 1; James, The Black Jacobins, Ch. 13.

Assignment: The rough draft of your paper is due via Moodle by 11 pm on Nov. 12th.. Note: This is an administrative Thursday

Nov 11: Veteran’s Day: No Class Meeting

Nov 18: Abolitionism and Birthrights

Readings: [Moodle] Jones, Birthright Citizens, Intro & Ch. 6; Newman, Hanley,  Beyond Slavery and Abolition, Ch. 2; Paugh, The Politics of Reproduction, Ch. 3; Sinha, The Slave’s Cause, Ch. 5 & 11 

For Discussion Leaders, Optional for Everyone Else: [Moodle] Blackett, The Captive’s Quest for Freedom, Ch. 1, Aidoo, Slavery Unseen, Ch. 4.

Nov 25: Thanksgiving Break – No Class Meeting

Dec. 2: The Hanging of Angelique

Readings: The Hanging of Angelique (entire)

For Discussion Leaders, Optional for Everyone Else [Moodle]: Berlin, The Long Emancipation, Ch. 3; Reidy, Illusions of Emancipation, Ch. 5

Dec 9: Reparations

Readings: Araujo, Reparations for Slavery and the Slave Trade, Chs. 1 & 5; McBeckles, Britain’s Black Debt, Ch. 1. Discussion leaders should read 2 of the university responsesto their legacies around slavery. 

Assignment: Final Paper is due via Moodle no later than 11 pm on Friday 17 Dec

vices, and accommodations are not retroactive.