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Space, Place and Movement in Atlantic Slave Societies: Brazil, Cuba and West Africa, 1791-1888 (HI3S9)


Dr Camillia Cowling
Class times: One 2-hour seminar per week

Group 1: 10-12, Thursdays, FAB 1.10

Group 2: 2-4, Fridays, FAB 5.52


 CONTENT WARNING: On this course, we will discuss difficult topics throughout. These include racism and violence (including sexual violence). Every attempt is made to do so in a sensitive and respectful way, but the subject-matter is often painful.

This 30-CATS Advanced Option module uses the theme of human movement and spatial history as a window onto the histories of two major slave societies of the nineteenth century - Brazil and Cuba - and their deep, long-lasting connections to West and Central Africa. Atlantic slavery involved the greatest forced movement of human beings in modern history. Yet enslaved people were also able to use movement in creative ways to resist or reshape the conditions of their bondage. The course aims to place the voice and significant agency of enslaved Africans and Afro-Latin-Americans at the centre of our story, as well as focusing on free people of colour - who made up, at most moments of Brazilian and Cuban history, the majority of the Afro-descendant population.

On this course we'll study the role of slave trading in the making of an ÔÇťAtlantic World" in the nineteenth century, focusing on trading connections between West and Central Africa and Latin America. Even as the trade and slavery itself were abolished in some places (particularly Britain), it revived and expanded elsewhere, particularly in Brazil and Cuba. We will learn about the creation of new societies and cultural mixtures in the Americas, with a case study of the diaspora of Yoruba speakers, traded from today's Nigeria and Benin to Brazil and Cuba. Along the way, we'll also explore the relationship between gender, slavery and emancipation; war and rebellion in the long nineteenth-century Atlantic World; and the gendered processes that eventually led to slavery's abolition in Brazil and Cuba, thinking about the movements of ideas, as well as people, in formulating abolitionist movements and arguments.

This module has always had excellent student feedback. Students enjoy the chance to think about wide-ranging topics in Latin American and African diaspora history, exploring gender, race, and mobility in intersectional ways from a non-Anglophone viewpoint. Students who opt to attach their dissertations to the module have enjoyed researching topics from gender and slave emancipation in Cuba and/ or Brazil, to Yoruba and other West African histories, to the role of British diplomatic and naval pressure to abolish the trade. A range of primary sources for the module's assignments and for the dissertation are available in English.