Age of Emancipation: Slavery & Labour in the Atlantic World, 1790-1890 - HIST6113

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2024 to 2025.


By the middle decades of the nineteenth century, the collapse of slavery in many parts of the Atlantic World heralded, for some, the coming of a new, modern age. Revolution decades before in America, France and most powerfully in Haiti, had pushed new ideas to the forefront about who ought to govern themselves, and who those governments ought to serve. In fits and starts, an emerging capitalist system cut a broad path through the international economy, disrupting older systems of trade and upending older ideas about labour and work. For more than two centuries, slavery, we are told, was part of that older world which had become imperilled by mid-century. The institution had been everywhere in the Atlantic by the end of the eighteenth century. By 1840, however, only slaveholders in the United States, Cuba, Brazil and Puerto Rico would continue to hold onto their human chattel. Change seemed everywhere. Modernity was on the march.
This is the traditional story historians tell about the Atlantic World in the nineteenth century: a triumphalist tale that we will challenge in this module. Focused on the period between the 1790s and the 1890s, the module surveys Atlantic history in the nineteenth century and follows lines of connection between ideas about race, slavery, freedom and labour, to see this period in new light. We will take up the social, cultural, intellectual, economic and political battles between abolitionists and proslavery advocates, slaves and slaveholders, freedpeople and landowners, labourers and factory owners, whose struggles for power would turn the nineteenth century into one of the most chaotic periods of modern history. Traversing the history of the United States, Caribbean and Latin America, the module invites students to think in new ways about slavery, labour, capitalism, emancipation and the foundations of the modern world we live in.


Contact hours

A total of 88 contact hours across the autumn and spring terms.

Method of assessment

This module will be assessed by 40% Coursework and 60% Exam, broken down as follows:

Examination 1 (two hours, essay based): 30%
Examination 2 (two hours, primary source analysis): 30%
Essay 1 (3,000 words, historiographical): 10%
Essay 2 (3,000 words, primary source analysis): 10%
Portfolio (3,000 words): 10%
Seminar Participation: 10%

Indicative reading

Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A New History of Global Capitalism (London, Allan Lane, 2014).

Daina R. Berry and Leslie M. Harris ed., Sexuality & Slavery: Reclaiming Intimate Histories in the Americas (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2018).

Seymour Drescher, Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Thomas Holt, The Problem of Freedom: Race, Labor and Politics in Jamaica and Britain, 1832-1938 (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992).

Amy Dru Stanley, From Bondage to Contract: Wage Labor, Marriage and the Market in the Age of Slave Emancipation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

Dale Tomich, Through the Prism of Slavery: Labor, Capital and the World Economy (Lanham, Rowan & Littlefield, 2004).

Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (1944; Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994).

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes, on successfully completing the module students will be able to:

- Critically engage with the main themes of Atlantic World history in the nineteenth century, with a particular emphasis on debates over abolition and emancipation, as well as the process of emancipation across the Atlantic World.
- Demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the key concepts and developments of the period, including the impact of the American, French and Haitian Revolutions on Atlantic slave systems; the development of the abolitionist movement; the rise of the "second slavery"; differences between emancipation processes in a global context; and the relationship between emancipation and the development of other systems of coerced labour in the Atlantic and global South in the decades that followed.
- Demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the causal factors that brought about emancipation, and the factors that limited the development of free labour systems in regions where slavery once dominated.
- Demonstrate a clear sophisticated understanding of the relationship between the history of emancipation and the development of racial imperialism in the back half of the nineteenth, and beginning of the twentieth centuries.
- Critically engage with the broader significance of emancipation and the part that it played in the development of modern capitalism in the Atlantic World.
- Critically engage with the major historiographical debates and approaches in the comparative history of slavery and emancipation and be able to connect the local and regional variations of struggles over land and labour to broader processes of historical change, when set against a broader global canvas.

The intended generic learning outcomes, on successfully completing the module students will be able to:

- Demonstrate their ability to present complex ideas and arguments coherently, in oral and written form.
- Demonstrate enhanced skills in presenting ideas in written work, in both essays and in smaller assignments, as well as critically reflecting on their work and the development of their transferrable skills.
- Demonstrate their ability to analyse, synthesise and critique complex written material, through primary and secondary source analysis.
- Demonstrate enhanced skills in problem solving, influencing and negotiation.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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