Slavery and Plantation Societies in Latin America

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Thursday 08 October 2020
Friday 18 December 2020
10 June 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

The great majority of the 12 million enslaved Africans deported to the Americas during the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries ended up working on plantations in Brazil and the Caribbean. Sugar, cacao, indigo, tobacco, cotton and coffee were the main commodities slaves produced for the rapidly expanding European markets. But slavery did not only provide crucial inputs for developing capitalism, it also entered cultural representations of the other.

Enlightened writers reflected about its legitimacy or the fundamental differences between what was increasingly perceived as 'races'. Hence slavery in the Americas contributed in many ways to the making of the modern world.

The module will focus on the different plantation societies that were established on the coast of Brazil, in British Jamaica, in the French colony of Saint Domingue (present-day Haiti) and the Spanish colony of Cuba. We will examine how local conditions (environment and geopolitics) and external factors (such as the demands on the world market, religion, law and customs of the colonial power, and the African cultural backgrounds of the slaves) combined to shape the characteristics of every slave society. Introductory lectures on each colony will be followed by comparative sessions dealing topics such as the slave-holding elites, the social structure, slave women and the slave family, the religion and the culture of the enslaved. In the last sessions we will look at runaways, plots, and rebellions and other means whereby slaves sought to obtain freedom. The work in class will mainly deal with documents written by travellers, priests, and government officials and, more exceptionally, by overseers and the enslaved themselves. The discussion of these primary sources will allow us to gain new insights into the everyday reality of slavery.

Module aims

This module aims to:

1. Introduce a range of historiographical and conceptual approaches to the study of Latin American and Caribbean Slavery, ca. 1500-1888.
2. Promote a deep understanding of the significance of slavery to Latin American and global history.
3. Encourage wider understanding of and facilitate engagement with the various types of primary sources relating to this topic.
4. Develop research and writing skills.

Module learning outcomes

Students will understand the similarities and differences between the various plantation societies in Brazil and the Caribbean. They will be able to distinguish the variety of working and living conditions the enslaved were subjected to. They will have learned what kind of primary sources exist on slavery and how to interpret them. They will understand the main differences in interpretation and the key issues around slavery in historiography.

Module information

For introductory reading, see:

Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery (2010).
Curtin, The Rise and Fall of the Plantation Complex (1998).
Eltis and Engermann, The Cambridge World History of Slavery, vol. 3 (2011).
Beckles, Hilary McD; Shepherd, Verene (eds.) Caribbean Slavery in the Atlantic World (2000).

Learning and teaching methods

One-hour lecture and one-hour seminar per week.


This module does not appear to have a published bibliography.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Document analysis (2000 words)    40% 
Coursework   Essay (3000 words)    60% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Matthias Rohrig Assuncao, email:
Dr Matthias Röhrig Assunção
Belinda Waterman, Department of History, 01206 872313



External examiner

Dr Simon Rofe
University of London
Reader in Diplomatic and International Studies
Available via Moodle
Of 20 hours, 20 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

Disclaimer: The University makes every effort to ensure that this information on its Module Directory is accurate and up-to-date. Exceptionally it can be necessary to make changes, for example to programmes, modules, facilities or fees. Examples of such reasons might include a change of law or regulatory requirements, industrial action, lack of demand, departure of key personnel, change in government policy, or withdrawal/reduction of funding. Changes to modules may for example consist of variations to the content and method of delivery or assessment of modules and other services, to discontinue modules and other services and to merge or combine modules. The University will endeavour to keep such changes to a minimum, and will also keep students informed appropriately by updating our programme specifications and module directory.

The full Procedures, Rules and Regulations of the University governing how it operates are set out in the Charter, Statutes and Ordinances and in the University Regulations, Policy and Procedures.