Slaving in World History

Spring 2014

HIST 5111

Slaving in World History

Joseph C. Miller

HIST 5111 is a small seminar-style class for graduate students and advanced undergraduates (with instructor’s permission) that will explore historical approaches to one of the world’s oldest, most ubiquitous, and most tragic, “institutions”.  Most Americans are familiar with slavery primarily (or only) as it developed racially in the decades before the Civil War on the plantations of the “Old South”.  In fact, Greeks, Romans, Muslims, Native Americans, Africans, Renaissance Italians, Brazilians, Chinese, South Asians, West Indian planters, and others also assembled significant numbers of outsiders – by no means all of them Africans – in private hands.  Most treated slavery as a way to integrate foreigners, not as the racially exclusive dead end prescribed in antebellum American laws.  And most took in far more women than the men who prevailed in the Americas.  A principal objective of HIST 5111 is to move beyond these static stereotypes, limited perspectives, and the political and emotional intensity of the subject in American culture to consider slaving as processes throughout the history of humanity.

Weekly discussions will draw on recent significant works in this enormous field (more than 1500 academic studies appear each year, in literature, sociology, and economics, as well as history) slaving in the histories of major world regions – the ancient Mediterranean, the Islamic world, Africa, medieval and Renaissance Europe, the Indian Ocean basin and Asia, Brazil, the Caribbean, colonial North America, and the United States.  The background reading for the modern Atlantic portions of the course will be Robin Blackburn’s The Making of New World Slavery:  Other, extremely varied readings will highlight aspects of the histories of slaving elsewhere.

Each member of the class will prepare a substantial term-paper (i.e. based on secondary authorities) setting the strategies and experiences of participants in a process of slaving (in a single region) in relevant aspects of their historical context.  The stages of writing a polished term paper (a preliminary topic proposal, annotated bibliography, an interim draft, a revised full draft, and the final submission) will receive close editorial attention, with the object of developing clarity in writing.  In lieu of a conventional final examination, students will write an analytical review of the instructor’s recent The Problem of Slavery as History (Yale 2012) to demonstrate their grasp of the issues developed in the course.

HIST 5111 carries no specific pre-requisites, but the many settings of slaving throughout world history presume a general familiarity with several parts of the globe, or a willingness to assimilate a considerable quantity of new material during the semester.

The objectives of the course emphasize historical ways of thinking, the distinctive aspects of attempting to think thus on world scales, and clear exposition of analytical ideas, particularly in written formats.  Students may adapt the course to support graduate field or undergraduate major distribution requirements by selecting a term paper topic set in the desired world region.

Students considering enrolling in the course should contact the instructor (<>, 924-6395) to understand its learning strategy and to plan their participation in it in ways that will develop their own broader educational goals.

Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904

tel: (434) 924-7147; fax: (434) 924-7891
office: M-F 8 am to 4:30 pm
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