Practicing Abolition in the Atlantic World, c. 1807-1870

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Jake Richards


This course is available on the MSc in Empires, Colonialism and Globalisation, MSc in History of International Relations, MSc in International Affairs (LSE and Peking University), MSc in International and Asian History, MSc in International and World History (LSE & Columbia) and MSc in Theory and History of International Relations. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

Britain’s parliamentary act to abolish the transatlantic slave trade in 1807 is a standard reference point in histories of slavery and abolition. But much less is known about the consequences of enforcing that act in West Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Enforcement required huge investment in colonial and naval forces to try to stop slave ships from crossing the Atlantic; it caused a build-up of captives on the African coast because some traders could no longer sell them overseas; it prompted other traders to develop a huge illegal slave trade to Brazil and Cuba; and it generated new forms of bonded labour (such as indenture) in the Americas to replace the diminishing supply of enslaved Africans. These changes altered Britain’s political and commercial relationships with polities in Africa and the Americas. This module envisages transatlantic abolition as a set of practices between British agents and the rulers, traders, slaves, and free(d) peoples of different Atlantic societies. How did Britain’s colonial empire adapt to accommodate the influx of Africans from captured slave ships? How did political authorities in Africa and Latin America respond to British demands for abolition? And what did the enslaved make of the transformations wrought by abolition? We will explore these questions using sources such as slave narratives, political pamphlets, travel literature, and diplomatic correspondence. Through this course, students will examine how abolishing the transatlantic slave trade produced new modes of encounter, empire, and labour in the Atlantic world.


- Students will engage with class content in large and small group meetings.

- Learning engagement includes recorded content, live sessions, small group meetings, asynchronous Moodle posts, and short presentations.

- There will be a reading week in week 6 of the Michaelmas and the Lent Terms.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT.

Indicative reading

  • Lauren A. Benton and Lisa Ford, Rage for order: the British Empire and the origins of international law, 1800-1850, Cambridge, Mass., 2016.
  • Nemata Amelia Blyden, West Indians in West Africa, 1808-1880 : the African diaspora in reverse, Rochester, NY, 2000
  • Christopher Leslie Brown,, Moral capital: foundations of British abolitionism, Chapel Hill, NC, 2006.
  • David Eltis, Economic growth and the ending of the transatlantic slave trade, New York, 1987
  • Ada Ferrer, Freedom’s mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the age of revolution, New York, NY, 2014.
  • Johnhenry Gonzalez, Maroon Nation: A History of Revolutionary Haiti, Yale, 2019
  • Richard Huzzey, Freedom burning: anti-slavery and empire in Victorian Britain, Ithaca, N.Y., 2012
  • Mary C. Karasch, Slave life in Rio de Janeiro, 1808-1850 (Princeton, N.J., 1987).
  • Kristin Mann, Slavery and the birth of an African city: Lagos, 1760-1900, Bloomington, IN, 2007
  • Jenny S Martinez, The slave trade and the origins of international human rights law, Oxford, 2012
  • R. Marquese, T. Parron, and M. Berbel, Slavery and Politics: Brazil and Cuba, 1790-1850. Albuquerque, NM, 2016.
  • Padraic Scanlan, Freedom’s debtors: British antislavery in Sierra Leone in the age of revolution, New Haven, Conn., 2017


Essay (40%, 4000 words) in the LT.
Essay (60%, 6000 words) in the ST.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2019/20: Unavailable

Average class size 2019/20: Unavailable

Controlled access 2019/20: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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