How does the history of racial slavery shape our world today?
First Edition. August 2020. The Digital Editions format of this unit is FREE through September 30, 2021, thanks to funding through the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice at Brown University.

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Racial slavery was at the center of the Atlantic World’s economy for centuries. One of the primary legacies of racial slavery is that white supremacy and anti-Black racism—the justifying principles for profiting from the exploited labor of Black people—became so deeply ingrained in the Atlantic World that they became part of the structures of society that are with us to this day. Historians call this process the development of systemic racism (sometimes referred to as institutionalized or structural racism).

Racial Slavery in the Americas: Resistance, Freedom, and Legacies provides the opportunity for students to consider how the past shapes the present on these fundamental issues. This curriculum provides a wide-ranging overview of racial slavery in the Americas over many centuries. It is not comprehensive. Instead, it provides a broad and illustrative survey of the development of the colonial systems that led to the creation of racial slavery. The focus throughout is on how enslaved people experienced and resisted these systems of oppression and how the legacies of racial slavery have shaped our world today.

Preview this unit. Preview includes the Table of Contents for the Student Text and the Teacher Resource Book as well as a student reading excerpt and one lesson plan.

This unit was developed in collaboration with the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice (CSSJ) at Brown University. CSSJ is a scholarly research center with a public humanities mission. Recognizing that racial slavery was central to the historical formation of the Americas and the modern world, the CSSJ creates a space for the interdisciplinary study of the historical forms of slavery, race, and domination while examining how these legacies continue to shape our contemporary world. This curriculum unit, Racial Slavery in the Americas: Resistance, Freedom, and Legacies, was developed with the generous support of a gift from Mary and Jerome Vascellaro.


Data Analysis: Slavery, Empire, and Capitalism

Students analyze, calculate, and interpret data from the French colony of Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) and consider the connections between capitalism and slavery.

The Human Geography of the Transatlantic Slave Trade

After developing knowledge about the geography of the transatlantic trade, students read an enslaved person’s narrative and use it to map the person’s experiences.

Primary Source Analysis: Enslaved People's Perspectives on Life and Labor in the Americas

Students explore excerpts from slave narratives from across the Americas and consider the concepts of everyday resistance and community building for enslaved people.

Art Analysis: Portrayals of Plantations and Enslavement

Students compare artistic depictions of enslavement, identify the artists’ points of view, and place the images in their historical contexts.

Reporting the Haitian Revolution

Drawing from primary and secondary sources about the Haitian Revolution, students work cooperatively in groups to gather evidence and create a news report on the Haitian Revolution.

Juneteenth: Symbolism, Ritual, and Meaning

Students analyze text sources that reveal important symbolism and rituals in Juneteenth commemorations and reflect upon the significance of Juneteenth as an American holiday.

Reparative Justice: Writing an Appeal for Action

Students examine official government apologies and other historical documents and then write a letter to an international government panel considering beginning the reparative justice process for racial slavery.

Public Monuments to Slavery

After examining three memorials to Harriet Tubman and her role in U.S. history, students consider the challenges of memorializing the history of slavery and reflect on the present-day effects of public memorials on historical figures or events.

Historical Memory: Commemorating Racial Slavery

Students explore the purpose of memorials and consider the idea of historical memory. Students then design a memorial to commemorate racial slavery.


Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support.


Berry, Daina Ramey. The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Values of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation. Boston: Beacon Press, 2017.

Blackburn, Robin. Making New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern, 1492-1800. New York: Verso, 2010.

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

Eltis, David. The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Green, Toby. A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019.

Johnson, Walter. Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.

Morgan, Jennifer L. Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

Reid-Vazquez, Michele. The Year of the Lash: Free People of Color in Cuba and the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2011.

Sinha, Manisha. The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016.

Smith, Mark M. and Robert L. Paquette, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Slavery in the Americas. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Stephanie Smallwood. Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.

Taylor, Alan. American Colonies: The Settling of North America. New York: Penguin, 2001.

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