Slavery in the Atlantic World

Thursday, October 4, 2012
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm (EST) Enter Classroom Enter Forum


James Sweet
Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison
National Humanities Center Fellow

About the Seminar

The first “20. and odd” Africans to arrive in British North America are generally believed to have landed in the Chesapeake in 1619 aboard a Dutch man of war. Though this watershed marks the beginning of the African slave trade to the lands that would eventually become the United States, its importance to the broader history of slavery and the slave trade in the Atlantic world is minimal. Prior to 1619, more than 500,000 Africans had already been toiling as slaves in Europe, Latin America, and the Spanish Caribbean. Moreover, thousands of Native Americans served as forced laborers for European colonists in Latin America and the Caribbean.

This seminar will situate British North American slavery in this broader Atlantic context. It will address questions crucial to telling this under-explored story. How did slavery, as practiced in African societies, contrast with chattel slavery as it developed first in Europe and then in the Americas? Why did African chattel slavery gradually replace Indian labor in Spanish and Portuguese colonies? How and why were slaves in those colonies treated differently than their counterparts in British North America?

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Assigned Readings

  1. Images (REQUIRED)
  2. "Africans in Colonial Atlantic Societies," in Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800, by John Thornton.
  3. “African Identity and Slave Resistance in the Portuguese Atlantic,” James H. Sweet, in The Atlantic World and Virginia, 1550-1624, edited by Peter C. Mancall.
  4. “Obama Has Ties to Slavery Not by His Father but His Mother,” The New York Times, July 29, 2012.
  5. “Obama Slave Ancestry Report Misses Mark,” John Thornton and Linda Heywood, The Root, July 31, 2012.

Suggested Additional Resources

  1. "The Making of African American Identity: Vol. I," from the National Humanities Center's primary source collection.

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Seminar Recording