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Department of the Languages and Cultures of Africa

Britain and slavery

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Full Year


There are no pre-requisites for this course, however, students from the programmes of study listed will be given preference on NYUL courses.  This course is taught and administered by the New York University of London and governed by their regulations.  Students should contact them directly for further information.  Their contact details are:

NYU in London
6 Bedford Square
London WC1B 3RA
020 79073200

Full details of this course is available on the following web address:  www.nyu.edu/global/london

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of a course, a student should be able to demonstrate…

  1. a knowledge and understanding of key issues in the history of slavery in Britain and its empire
  2. that they  can critically analyse contemporary historical documents, setting them in historical context
  3. the ability to analyse historical problems, research them and communicate findings succinctly and clearly, both orally and in writing, using supporting evidence, properly referenced


This course is taught over 11 weeks with 3 hours classroom contact per week (1 hour lecture, 2 hour tutorial).

Scope and syllabus

This course examines the place that slavery played in Britain’s past and its legacy today. In the eighteenth century, Britain prided itself on the liberty enjoyed by its people, yet it was the largest participant in the Atlantic slave trade, and grew rich on the wealth created by ports such as London, Bristol and Liverpool.  In the same period some 10 to 15,000 black people lived in English ports and their presence has only recently been properly acknowledged.  In the nineteenth century, however, Britain perceived itself as in the forefront of the global battle to end the slave trade and slavery itself.  This pioneering campaign contributed to a more positive sense of British national identity. Yet Britain continued to depend on the importation of slave-grown produce and even began to ship hundreds of thousands of Indians as virtual slaves to many parts of the world.  The ambivalent legacy of Britain’s past involvement with slavery remains important to Britain’s multi-cultural identity  and its global role today.

Opportunities are taken for students to engage with primary sources of Britain’s slave trade and to visit sites of importance such as Greenwich, London docklands, the Africa Gallery at the British Museum, and the slave-trading ports of Bristol or Liverpool. Classes mix short lectures, group discussion, video viewing, and field-trips.

Method of assessment

One two hour written (seen) paper (2 essay questions) (30%); a 1,000 word report and presentation in week 6 (20%); one essay of 1,500 - 2,000 words to be submitted in week 9 (30%).

Suggested reading

  • Hochschild, A. Bury the Chains: The British Struggle to Abolish Slavery. (Macmillan: 2005.) 0333904915
  • Olaudah Equiano,  The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings ed. V. Carretta (Penguin: 2003) 0142437166, but various editions available)
  • M. Rediker, The Slave Ship: A Human History (John Murray:2008) 0719563038
  • J. Walvin Questioning Slavery, (Routledge: 1996) 0415153573[ a thematic approach]
  • R. Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery, 1492-1800 (Verso: 1998) 1859841953 [detailed and scholarly]
  • K. Williamson (ed.), Contrary Voices: representations of West Indian Slavery, 1657-1834   (University of the West Indies Press: 2008) 978-976-640-208-2
  • R. Blackburn, The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery 1776-1848 (Verso: 1989) 0860919013
  • S. Engerman, et al. Slavery (Oxford Reader) (OUP: 2001) 978-0192893024
  • P. Kolchin, American Slavery, 1619-1877 (Penguin: 1995) 0140241507
  • G.Heumann & J. Walvin (eds.), The Slavery Reader (Routledge: 2003) 0415213045
  • K.O. Morgan, Slavery, Atlantic Trade and the British Economy 1660-1800 (Cambridge UP:  2008)  0521588146
  • The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database,   http://www.slavevoyages.org/tast/index.faces (a resource for essays, statistics, maps, and a searchable database of all voyages)

N.B. This list is only indicative of required readings.  A full reading list will be given at first session. If you wish to see this in advance or for any advice  please contact the tutor via e-mail, philip.woods@tiscali.co.uk