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HSTCMP 259 A: Race and Slavery Across the Americas

Meeting Time: 
TTh 3:30pm - 5:20pm
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Stephanie Smallwood
Stephanie Smallwood

Syllabus Description:


Instructor: Prof. S. Smallwood (



Virginia, growing tobacco, 1798.JPG    Runaway slave ad_VA_Thomas Jefferson.jpg   South Carolina, 18thC Plantation Dance.JPG

 Course Description: 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 and more knowledgeable thinker, researcher, and writer 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 can expect to:

  • Build solid analytical reading skills by synthesizing content and evaluating interpretations in assigned materials.
  • Strengthen mastery of the key tools of persuasive expository writing: formulating good questions, developing analysis and interpretations supported by evidence, 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 communicate effectively about difficult topics are invaluable skills that will serve you will in your personal and professional life beyond your time at UW.

Resources and Support: Click here for information on History Department resources and support regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as guidelines on grading, standards of conduct and academic integrity, disability access and accommodation, religious accommodation, sexual harassment, and the department's commitment to diversity and equal opportunity for all members of its community. I am proud to be an affiliate of the UW Leadership without Borders program and an "ally" of undocumented members of the university community. 

Office Hours: I will devote the second half of our Thursday Zoom sessions (4:30-5:30) to online office hours. Sign up for 20-minute time slots on your course calendar. I can be available for video or phone chats most days of the week with 48hr notice. Please don't hesitate to reach out, I want to help you succeed in the class!

Weekly Modules: All course content will be presented in weekly modules--click on the "modules" tab in the navigation bar to the left to view them. 

Required ReadingAll of the assigned reading will be available in Canvas as pdf files--you do not need to purchase anything. Most of our weekly assigned reading will come from the following two books:

  • Herbert S. Klein and Ben Vinson III, African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2007)
  • Ira Berlin, Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves (Harvard University Press, 2003)

We will also read and discuss primary source documents--you will see them in the weekly modules.

AssignmentsGraded assignments are described below

Weekly Quizzes (30% of course grade): There will be a short quiz each week on the assigned reading. These are meant to help you make sure you are keeping up with the reading and grasping the major points. Quizzes will become available on Monday of each week and must be completed by 11:59pm the following Sunday. You may take each quiz twice, the highest score will count toward your course grade.

Weekly Discussion Board Posts & Comments (30% of course grade): Each week students will contribute to our group Discussion Board. Topics will be posted on Wednesday of each week, and you will have until 11:59PM the following Sunday to make your contribution to the discussion. Your contribution will consist of two parts: first, you will post a response on the week's topic; next, you will comment on at least one other classmate's post.

Your comments should be substantive—do not just say you agree or disagree with a classmate’s post; explain why or why not and support your points with examples from the course materials. 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. 

Short Papers (25% of course grade): You will write five short (2 pp) papers during the quarter. These will be due Oct. 4 (Week 1), Oct. 18 (Week 3), Nov. 1 (Week  5), Nov. 15 (Week 7), and Dec. 6 (Week 10). Paper topics will become available on Monday the week the assignment is due.

Final Project (15% of course grade): In lieu of an exam, you will submit a final project in a format of your choosing. You may opt to write an essay (6-8 pp), record an audio podcast (10-15 minutes in length), or produce a slide presentation (18-24 slides). If you have other formats in mind, feel free to propose additional options. We will work out the specific details of the assignment together, but the primary goal will be for you to use course content (assigned materials, lectures, and discussions) to  explain three (3) key things any well-informed person in today's world should know about the history of racial slavery across the Americas. Think of this final project as an assignment that invites you to draw your own conclusions about and explain what matters most to you about the course content. Your final project is due Wednesday, Dec. 16.

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

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: 
June 28, 2020 - 9:13pm