Atlantic World Slavery

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Anne Ruderman 


This course is available on the BSc in Economic History, BSc in Economic History with Economics and BSc in Economics and Economic History. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit. This course is available to General Course students.

Course content

This course will explore the way the transatlantic slave trade and subsequent systems of slavery in the Americas have shaped our modern world. In doing so, it will offer a broad look at questions of slavery, resistance and abolition from the late seventeenth through the nineteenth century. Lasting over 300 years, the transatlantic slave trade resulted in the forced migration of 12.5 million people out of Africa, 10.6 million of whom survived the Middle Passage to become slaves in the Americas. That demographic movement and the disparities that grew out of it, has had deep consequences for development in Africa, Europe, the United States and Latin America. Thoroughly international in focus, this course will look at slavery in Africa, Europe and the Americas, considering the formation of transatlantic slavery, similarities and differences in Caribbean and North American slaveries and potential explanations for slavery's demise. We will consider the workings of the slave trade, the plantation complex, crops such as sugar, slavery outside of plantation economies, the intersection of slavery and science, gender, rebellion, revolt, abolition and war. The subject of Atlantic world slavery has also prompted a wide range of creative approaches from historians, and we will examine the different types of sources that historians of slavery have used to try to understand the past. In doing so we will juxtapose economic history with other historical methods, and consider some of the economic, social, cultural and legal aspects of slavery, from the commercial organization of the transatlantic slave trade to the multiple forms of slave resistance. Additionally, this course will introduce students to the rapidly expanding world of digital history, by incorporating digital projects related to slavery into weekly readings.  


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars in the LT.

This course will be taught over 20 one-hour lectures with a weekly discussion section. 

Formative coursework

The podcast project will include several formative assessments, due throughout the Lent term. These formative assessments are: A review and outline of an existing historical podcast, a topic and outline for the students' podcast and audio reading responses for discussion section.

Indicative reading

  • Behrendt, Stephen D.  (2001). "Markets, Transaction Cycles, and Profits: Merchant Decision Making in the British Slave Trade." The William and Mary Quarterly 58, no. 1: 171-204.
  • Berry, Daina Ramey. (2017). The Price for their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation, Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Galenson, David W. (1984). "The Rise and Fall of Indentured Servitude in the Americas: An Economic Analysis." The Journal of Economic History 44, no. 1: 1-26
  • Hunter, Tera. (2017). Bound in Wedlock: Slave and Free Black Marriage in the Nineteenth Century.  Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
  • Richardson David. (2001). “Shipboard Revolts, African Authority and the Atlantic Slave trade,” William and Mary Quarterly, 58: 69-92
  • Rosenthal Caitlin. (2018) Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press
  • Schmidt-Nowara, Christopher. (2011). Slavery, Freedom, and Abolition in Latin America and the Atlantic World.  Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
  • Wright Gavin. (2003) "Slavery and American Agricultural History." Agricultural History 77, no. 4: 527-52.


Essay (50%, 4000 words) and podcast (50%) in the LT.

Key facts

Department: Economic History

Total students 2018/19: Unavailable

Average class size 2018/19: Unavailable

Capped 2018/19: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Commercial awareness
  • Specialist skills