BA History and German

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Slavery & the Old South

Course unit fact file
Unit code AMER30022
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


Slavery shaped all facets of southern life and thought in the antebellum period (1830-1861), making an indelible mark on the culture and society of the Old South. This module uses a variety of primary sources (including slave autobiographies, folklore, interviews with ex-slaves, plantation records, novels, political tracts, travel accounts, letters and diaries) to explore three main themes: first, slave life and plantation culture, emphasising the diverse nature of the slave experience and the endurance of the slave community in the face of immense brutality; second, the position of both black and white women in the South; third, white society and relations between planters and nonslaveholders, especially with regard to debates over consensus or conflict in the run up to the Civil War. American slavery has stimulated some of the finest historical research in the last thirty years and this module pays particular attention to the rich historiography of this subject.


  • To critically evaluate the influence of slavery within the antebellum South and explore the various ways in which slavery shaped the lives of planters, elite white women, male and female slaves, and non-slaveholding whites;

  • To consider the enduring significance of slavery to the historical development of the United States;

  • To develop and refine skills of documentary analysis and historical interpretation to a level appropriate to final degree work;

  • To become familiar with the historiography of slavery and the Old South, focussing in particular on current research issues.

Learning outcomes

On completion of the course successful students should be able to demonstrate:

  • A detailed knowledge of slavery's influence in the antebellum South across divisions of gender, race and class, and of slavery's wider impact on the historical development of the United States;

  • An ability to recognise and critically appraise different historical approaches and schools of thought about slavery and the Old South;

  • Skills to utilise and interpret a wide range of primary and secondary sources;

  • The capacity to organise and articulate arguments cogently and effectively in essays, under pressure of time, and in seminar discussion.

Teaching and learning methods

One 1-hour plenary session and one 2-hour seminar per week

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Students taking this unit will be able to analyse and evaluate arguments and texts. Above all, committed students will emerge from this course unit with an advanced capacity to think critically, i.e. knowledgeably, rigorously, confidently and independently.
Group/team working
Students taking this unit will be able to work courteously and constructively as part of a larger group.
On this unit students are encouraged to respond imaginatively and independently to the questions and ideas raised by texts and other media.
Students on this unit must take responsibility for their learning and are encouraged not only to participate in group discussions but to do so actively and even to lead those discussions.
Project management
Students taking this unit will be able to work towards deadlines and to manage their time effectively.
Oral communication
Students taking this unit will be able to show fluency, clarity and persuasiveness in spoken communication.
Students on this unit will be required to digest, summarise and present large amounts of information. They are encouraged to enrich their responses and arguments with a wide range of further reading.
Written communication
Students on this unit will develop their ability to write in a way that is lucid, precise and compelling.

Assessment methods

Essay (40%)

Exam (45%)

Presentation (15%)



Feedback methods

- Written feedback on essays

- The opportunity to submit, and discuss, an essay plan 

- Additional one-to-one feedback (during office hours or by making an appointment)

Recommended reading

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass; Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl; Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin; Willie Lee Rose, ed., A Documentary History of Slavery in North America; Ira Berlin, Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves; David Brown and Clive Webb, Race in the American South: From Slavery to Civil Rights; E.D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made; Walter Johnson, Soul By Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market; Michael Tadman, Speculators and Slaves: Masters, Traders, and Slaves in the Old South; Steven Deyle, Carry Me Back: The Domestic Slave Trade in American Life; Lawrence W. Levine, Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought From Slavery to Freedom; John W. Blassingame, The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South; William Dusinberre, Them Dark Days: Slavery in the American Rice Swamps; Bertram Wyatt-Brown, The Shaping of Southern Culture: Honor, Grace and War; James Oakes, The Ruling Race: A History of American Slaveholders; Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South; Emily West, Chains of Love: Slave Couples in Antebellum South Carolina; Stephanie McCurry, Masters of Small Worlds: Yeoman Households, Gender Relations, and the Political Culture of the Antebellum South Carolina Low Country; Tim Lockley, Lines in the Sand: Race and Class in Lowcountry Georgia, 1750-1860; Charles C. Bolton, Poor Whites of the Antebellum South: Tenants and Laborers in Central North Carolina and Northeast Mississippi; Peter Kolchin, American Slavery, 1619-1877; Sally McMillen, Southern Women: Black and White in the Old South; P.J. Parish, Slavery: History and Historians; Mark Smith, Debating Slavery: Economy and Society in the Antebellum South.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 165

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
David Brown Unit coordinator

Additional notes


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