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HSTCMP 259 A: Race And Slavery Across The Americas

Meeting Time: 
TTh 2:30pm - 4:20pm
SMI 102
Stephanie Smallwood
Stephanie Smallwood

Syllabus Description:


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HSTCMP 259, "Race and Slavery Across the Americas" (Autumn 2017)

Welcome to the Canvas site for our course, HSTCMP 259, "Race and Slavery Across the Americas." This is the place to come for all details related to the course, so please familiarize yourself and feel free to ask questions about anything that's confusing. 

Instructor Bio: My name is Stephanie Smallwood and I'm an Associate Professor in the History Department. You can call me "Professor Smallwood." I was born and raised in midwestern suburbs before escaping to New York City, where I was a member of the first co-ed class at Columbia University (class of 1987!) After receiving by B.A. in African Studies at Columbia, I did MA work at Yale University and then completed my PhD in History at Duke University. I've published an award-winning book on the Atlantic slave trade, and enjoy bringing the things I learn from my research agenda into my teaching in the fields of African, African Diaspora, and American History. 

Instructor Contact Info: The best way to reach me is by email: My autumn quarter office hours are after class on Thursdays, 4:30-5:30. My office is located in Smith Hall, room 104-A (right next door to our classroom). 

Course Overview: When U.S. students think of slavery, typically what comes to mind is the image of black men and women forced to grow cotton in the southern United States in the nineteenth century.  But enslaved Africans were key players in the shaping of English North America long before the colonies gained their independence.  More importantly, the English colonies that became the United States were not the only societies in the Americas that depended on black slave labor.  The institution of North American slavery did not exist in isolation from other slave systems in the Americas—to the contrary, the slave systems of the Americas were part of a large, interconnected process of European colonization that spanned geographic and political boundaries.  European maritime expansion in the Atlantic basin tied Africa to the Americas via the transatlantic slave trade and brought racial slavery to regions throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, South America, and the North American territory that became the United States.  From Rhode Island to Chile, enslaved Africans and their New-World born descendants labored as producers of sugar, cacao, indigo, rice, tobacco, cotton, and coffee; as miners and cattle ranchers; as urban manufacturers, artisans, and domestic servants. 

This lower division lecture and discussion course surveys the development and spread of racial slavery across the Americas from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries. Through comparative examination of racial slavery in North America, South America and the Caribbean Islands, we will explore such key themes as 1) how slavery supported systems of colonization that made European settlement across the Americas viable; 2) how ideas about racial difference developed and operated differently across place and time; and 3) how enslaved peoples' resistance to bondage helped bring about slavery's abolition across the Americas by the end of the nineteenth century.

The course thus aims to broaden the range and depth of your knowledge about an institution that has profoundly shaped the history of the modern western world; introduce you to the comparative method of historical analysis; and get you excited about the active, dynamic work of historical scholarship—asking questions of and producing knowledge about the past.

Learning Objectives: Your goal should be not just to get a “good” grade, but to grow intellectually—to end the quarter a better thinker, researcher, writer, and collaborator than you were at the beginning of the term.  In addition to learning new things about the history of racial slavery in the Americas, students who attend class regularly, keep up with readings and give their best effort on assignments can expect to:

  • build solid analytical reading skills by identifying and evaluating arguments, and synthesizing content, in assigned texts

  • strengthen your mastery of the key tools of persuasive expository writing: formulating good questions, developing arguments, and presenting your work in clear, well-organized prose

  • develop research skills using primary and secondary textual sources as well as multi-media resources

  • improve your skills as a productive collaborator—being able to learn with and from others, share ideas, and work as a team to produce an end product is an invaluable skill that will serve you will in your professional (and personal) life beyond UW

Student ResponsibilitiesI expect you to conduct yourself with professionalism, courtesy and respect in all interactions (whether in person or online) with one another and with me. This means you should:

  • Plan to attend all class meetings and come prepared to participate in classroom activities.
  • Most weeks our classroom time will include in-class exercises involving short writing assignments, so please remember to have paper and pen/pencil on hand.
  • Do not nap, read the paper, check email, send texts, surf the net, etc. in class. Turn cell phones off or set to vibrate.
  • Use laptops or tablets only for class-related activities—i.e. note taking.

UW History Department Statement on Diversity: In recent months, a number of events have threatened the values that are the foundation of any university or democratic society, values such as religious freedom, the freedom to express one's political ideas without being threatened with violence by those who disagree, and the freedom to be a member of the university community without having to fear harassment on account of one's religious beliefs or other aspects of one's identity. We, in the History Department, are utterly committed to defending these values. We stand against gender, sexual, and racial violence, intimidation, and religious discrimination. We stand for the inclusion, protection, and overall well-being of all in our community, especially the most vulnerable. Our faculty and staff are here to provide assistance and support.

If you are a student impacted by current immigration laws and deportation policies, please feel free to speak with me, in strict confidence, to accommodate any specific needs you may have. I am proud to be an "ally" of undocumented students and an affiliate of the UW Leadership without Borders program.

UW History Dept Policies and Procedures: Click here for information on the History Department's policies and procedures on plagiarism, grading, disability accommodation, sexual harassment, and equal opportunity.  


Weekly Analysis Papers and Discussion Board: For each of the ten weeks in which there is reading assigned you will write a 3-paragraph analysis paper. As the title indicates, these assignments are opportunities for you to practice using writing to develop a coherent analysis of the assigned reading. They are meant to help you organize your understanding of the content of the assigned reading, evaluate specific arguments presented in the reading, and formulate questions for us to discuss in class. What new ideas about the subject at hand does the reading leave you with? Which specific points are most interesting (or puzzling, or confusing, or problematic) to you and why? These responses should reflect the depth of your engagement with the reading—this means you want to have something more to say than simply whether you liked or disliked the reading, and you are expected to do more than just summarize content. Focus instead on what you learned from the reading and how it has advanced your understanding and challenged you think harder and more deeply. These should be three substantive paragraphs in length and must be posted on the Discussion Board.

After you have posted your paper, read and comment on another classmate’s analysis paper. Your comments should be substantive—do not just say you agree or disagree with a classmate’s analysis; explain why or why not and support your points with examples from the reading, lectures, or class discussions. Remember that we are a diverse and inclusive community of learners and must engage one another respectfully—it is fine to disagree but disrespectful language or tone will not be tolerated. Due: 10pm on the Sunday of the week the reading is assigned.

Weekly In-Class Participation: Consistent participation will play a large part in determining the success of the class for yourself and for your fellow classmates.We will often do in-class exercises involving small group discussions, work with primary source documents, or short impromptu writing assignments. All of these will count toward your in-class participation grade. In order to earn participation credit you have to be present in class, so be sure to attend class regularly.

Midterm Essay: You will write a short (750-1000 words) essay on material covered in weeks 1-4. Due: Fri. 10/27

Final Project: In lieu of a final exam, for your culminating project you will write content (1500 words) for an interpretive tool explaining to readers three key things any well-informed person in today's world should know about the history of racial slavery in the Americas. Due: Tu. 12/12.


Weekly Analysis Papers and Discussion Board: 30%

Weekly In-Class Participation: 30%

Midterm Essay: 15%

Final Project: 25%

Please note that in order to receive a passing grade, you must have a record of performance in each of the four course components outlined above. 

You can find Prof. Smallwood's grade conversion scale for final grades here.



Required Reading: The following two required books are available for purchase at the University Bookstore:

Herbert S. Klein, African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean (New York, 1986)

Ira Berlin, Generations of Captivity: A History of African American Slaves (Cambridge, MA, 2010)

All other required readings marked by an asterisk (*) below are assembled in a course packet that will be available for purchase by Mon. Oct. 2 at Rams Copy Center, 4144 University Way NE (Corner of the Ave and 41st), 206-632-6630.  Hours: M-F, 8-10; Sat-Sun, 10-7. Please be aware that assigned readings will be amply supplemented with primary source documents that we will read and discuss in class.

Remember that reading should be completed by the start of the week in which it is assigned—in time to submit analysis papers due Sunday evenings ahead of that week’s lectures. For example, the reading assigned for Week 1 should be completed in time to submit the analysis paper due the evening of Sunday, October 1.

Any slides, handouts, or other additional materials used in class will be posted here and resources to help you with writing assignments can be found here.


Week 0

Th. 9/28          Introduction 

Week 1

Week 1 Reading

Herbert S. Klein and Ben Vinson III, Ch. 1, “Origins of the American Slave System,” and Ch. 2, “The Establishment of African Slavery in Latin America in the 16th Century,” in African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2nd ed. (1986; New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 3-16 and 17-47.

Tu. 10/3          Beginnings: Mexico, Peru, and Brazil in the 16thC

Th. 10/5          VIDEO: “Mexico and Peru: A Hidden Race” (Henry Louis Gates, Black in Latin America

Week 2

Week 2 Reading

Klein and Vinson, Ch. 3, “Sugar and Slavery in Caribbean in 17th and 18th Centuries,” in African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean, pp. 49-63.

*James H. Sweet, “The Iberian Roots of American Racist Thought,” William and Mary Quarterly, 54: 1 (1997), pp. 143-166.

*María Elena Martínez, “The Black Blood of New Spain: Limpieza de Sangre, Racial Violence, and Gendered Power in Early Colonial Mexico,” William and Mary Quarterly, 61: 3 (2004), pp. 479-520.

Tu. 10/10        Ideas about Racial Difference in Early Spanish America

Th. 10/12        Sugar and  Slavery in Brazil and Beyond in the 17th and 18th Centuries

Week 3

Week 3 Reading

Ira Berlin, Ch. 1, “Charter Generations,” and Ch. 2, “Plantation Generations,” in Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), pp. 21-49 and 51-96.

*Kathleen Brown, “Engendering Racial Difference, 1640-1670,” in Good Wives, Nasty Wenches & Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1996), pp. 107-136.

Tu. 10/17        British Colonization and Unfree Labor in North America

Th. 10/19        A “Terrible Transformation”: Toward a Racial Slave Society in British N. America

Week 4

Week 4 Reading

Klein and Vinson, Ch. 4, “Slavery in Portuguese and Spanish America in the 18th Century,” in African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean, pp. 65-83.

*Kathleen J. Higgins, “Patterns of Living and Working Among Slaves, Ex-Slaves, and Free Persons in Colonial Sabará,” in “Licentious Liberty” in a Brazilian Gold-Mining Region: Slavery, Gender, and Social Control in Eighteenth-Century Sabará, Minas Gerais (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State Press, 1999), pp. 43–88.

Tu. 10/24        Writing Workshop

Th. 10/26        Mines, Cities, and Slavery’s Expansion across Brazil in the 18th Century



Week 5

Week 5 Reading

Berlin, Ch. 3, “Revolutionary Generations,” in Generations of Captivity, pp. 97-157

*Thomas Jefferson, “Query 14: Laws” and “Query 18: Manners,” in Notes on the State of Virginia, edited by William Peden (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), pp. 130-149 and 162-163.

Tu. 10/31        Questioning Slavery in Jefferson’s America

Th. 11/2          The United States: A New Nation’s Commitment to Racial Hierarchy and Slavery

Week 6

Week 6 Reading

*Jeremy D. Popkin, Ch. 1, “A Colonial Society in a Revolutionary Era,” and Ch. 2, “The Uprisings, 1791-1793,” in A Concise History of the Haitian Revolution (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), pp. 10-34 and 35-61.

*Laurent Dubois, Ch. 8, “The Opening,” in Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Belknap-Harvard, 2004), pp. 171-193.

Tu. 11/7          Challenging Slavery in Toussaint Louverture’s Saint Domingue

Th. 11/9          No Class Meeting



Week 7

Week 7 Reading

Klein and Vinson, Ch. 5, “Slavery and the Plantation Economy in the Caribbean in the 19th Century,” in African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean, pp. 85-100.

*Aisha Finch, “Introduction,” and Ch. 2, “Rural Slave Networks and Insurgent Geographies,” in Rethinking Slave Rebellion in Cuba: La Escalera and the Insurgencies of 1841-1844 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2015), pp. 1-20 and 51-78.

Tu. 11/14        Haiti: A New Nation’s Commitment to Racial Equality and Abolition of Slavery

Th. 11/16        Hemispheric Reverberations of Black Freedom (I)

Week 8

Week 8 Reading

Klein and Vinson, Ch. 6, “Slavery and the Plantation Economy in Brazil and the Guyanas in the 19th Century,” in African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean, pp. 101-118.

Tu. 11/21        Hemispheric Reverberations of Black Freedom (II)

Th. 11/23        No Class (Thanksgiving Holiday)

Week 9

Week 9 Reading

Berlin, Ch. 4, “Migration Generations,” in Generations of Captivity, pp.159-244.

*Walter Johnson, Ch. 5, “Reading Bodies and Marking Race,” in Soul by Soul: Life inside the Antebellum Slave Market (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), pp. 135-161.

Tu. 11/28        The Second Middle Passage

Th. 11/30        Racial Thought in the 19th-Century U.S.

Week 10

Week 10 Reading

Klein and Vinson, Ch. 11, “Transition from Slavery to Freedom,” in African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean, pp. 227-246.

Berlin, “Epilogue: Freedom Generations,” in Generations of Captivity, pp. 245-270.

Tu. 12/5          The Final Emancipations

Th. 12/7          The Afterlives of Racial Slavery Across the Americas


Catalog Description: 
Surveys development of racial slavery across North and South America and the Caribbean from 1500-1880s. Comparative examination of slavery exploring how slavery supported colonization making European settlement across Americas viable; how ideas about racial difference developed, operated differently; how enslaved peoples' resistance to bondage helped abolish slavery in Americas by late 1880s.
GE Requirements: 
Diversity (DIV)
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:27pm