Not available in 2017/18
Slavery, Capital, and Empire in the British World, 1700-1900

This information is for the 2017/18 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Padraic Scanlan


This course is available on the BA in History, BSc in Government and History and BSc in International Relations and History. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

This course is capped at 15.

Course content

From the late sixteenth century until the early nineteenth century, Britain was one of Europe’s most prolific slave-traders. British colonies in the West Indies and the colonies that eventually became the United States of America were among the most brutal and fully realized slave societies in world history. And yet, Britain was also the first major European state voluntarily to abolish its slave trade, and the first to resolve to emancipate its slaves. This tension,between an empire of slavery and an empire of freedom, is the puzzle at the heart of this course.

Using primary and secondary sources, this course explores the interconnected histories of slavery, commerce, and capitalism in the history of Britain and the British world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The course explores how the British slave trade functioned both as political economy and as a system of everyday oppression, how it intertwined with trade in other commodities and financial products like bonds and insurance, how Britons profited by it, and how enslaved and free people resisted it. The course interrogates the limits of ‘British’ history in the context of a global system of trade, and investigates the complicated history of the end of slavery and continuities before and after abolition – what did it mean to be ‘free’ in the British empire?


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT. 2 hours of seminars in the ST.

Each seminar is structured around analysis of an historical document, and debate about a problem or theme in the historiography. Students are expected to read essential primary and secondary materials for each meeting and to participate in discussion.

There will be reading weeks in MT and LT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 exercise and 1 other piece of coursework in the MT and LT.

Formative coursework includes a 250-word primary source analysis exercise and a 1,000-word review of a film related to course themes, as well as occasional short response papers and in-class writing assignments.

Indicative reading

Beckert, Sven. Empire of Cotton: A New History of Global Capitalism. London: Allen Lane, 2014;

Brown, Christopher Leslie. Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism. Chapel Hill, NC: Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture/University of North Carolina Press, 2006. [HT1163 B87];

Brown, Vincent. The Reaper’s Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008. [HQ1073.5.J26 B88; also available online from LSE Library];

Curtin, Philip D. The Rise and Fall of the Plantation Complex: Essays in Atlantic History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. [HT1048 C97; also available online via LSE Library];

Curtin, Philip D. The Image of Africa: British Ideas and Action, 1780-1850. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1964. [DT502 C97];

Davis, David Brion. The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770-1823. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1975 [HT867 D26; also available online from LSE Library];

Holt, Thomas C. The Problem of Freedom: Race, Labor, and Politics in Jamaica and Britain, 1832-1938. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992. [HD1471.J3 H75; also available online from LSE Library];

Johnson, Walter. Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999. [FN379.N59.N4 J71; also available online from LSE Library];

Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books, 1986. [GT2869 M66];

Paton, Diana. No Bond but the Law: Punishment, Race, and Gender in Jamaican State Formation, 1780–1870. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004. [HV9323.A5 P31];

Smallwood, Stephanie E. Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007. [E441 S63];

Thornton, John. Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. [DT31 T51; also available online from LSE Library];

Williams, Eric. Capitalism & Slavery. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1994. [HT1091 W72].


Exam (50%, duration: 2 hours) in the main exam period.
Essay (20%, 3000 words) and presentation (15%) in the LT.
Other (15%) in the MT.

Students will be assessed on 750-word analysis of a document or other primary source (15%), as well as on a 3,000-word essay (20%) and a group presentation based on primary research (15%). In Summer Term, students will be assessed on a 2-hour unseen written examination, including 2 essays (50%).

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2016/17: 14

Average class size 2016/17: 15

Capped 2016/17: Yes (15)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills